The St. Petersburg Arts Alliance will honor Edel Moore at the Feb. 8 MUSE Awards. As the official photographer for the annual SHINE Mural Festival, Moore is chronicling a key aspect of our city’s artistic renaissance. And she’s doing it on her own time, and on her own dime, which is why the Alliance is giving her a Special Volunteer Recognition this year.
“Edel,” says director John Collins, “epitomizes what a great volunteer can do. Her passion and commitment to capturing every mural in perfect light over the years has earned the respect of our mural artists.”
Indeed, there’s more to photographing a mural than simply aiming your camera at a wall. Mohr takes time to make each photo compositionally ideal. “It’s a task,” she says. “I am not just driving by there, snap, here is my picture. It needs to be the right time of the day.
“I don’t want a car in front of it, I don’t want somebody walking into my mural. It all needs to fit. If there’s a lamp post next to it, that needs to be included. It all needs to be pleasant to look at.”
The organization has just published a private, limited edition book of Mohr’s mural photographs. Murals of the Sunshine City is not available for sale; it’s a gift for St. Petersburg artists, to use as a resume, and for Arts Alliance sponsors at a certain level. “Her book,” says Collins, “is an exhibition catalog of murals that define St. Petersburg as an outdoor art museum.”
Edel Mohr, therefore, is part of the renaissance. Does she consider herself an artist? “As shy as I am, people tell me and I think yeah OK, I might be … maybe, if you say so,” she laughs.
A native of Augsburg, Bavaria, in southern Germany, Mohr came to the United States in the late 1970s. For several decades, she worked for the Roll-a-Way shutter company.
“I was busy working and raising children, and I just did the usual photography, documenting your family life,” Mohr explains. “At that time I needed to have a camera which was simple – you pick it up and you click the button, and that’s all. I was not able to deal with anything else; just give me a simple camera, that’s all I can handle.”
Ten years ago, her eldest son gave her a fancy Nikon. “I said ‘I don’t want to. This is too scary. It’s too big. I have to adjust too much.’ But he insisted. He put it in my hand and he said Mom, once you get used to it, you are not gonna give it back.’”
He was right. “I got home and tried it out, and I saw the difference between the little instant camera, where you click the button, and what I can do with the big camera.’”
Mohr’s induction into photography as an art came during the transition from film to digital, which she also resisted – at first. “I didn’t want all that modern stuff,” she says.
But she adjusted, took photography classes, learned the settings and what they meant – “and from then on, I was hooked.”
In order to improve, writers must write. Painters must paint. Practice, that’s how you get to Carnegie Hall.
Photographers must take photographs.
“My photography started to drastically improve during my travels,” Mohr says. “I went back to Germany every year, and I had a friend whose children are graphic designers. And they are also into photography. Once I started being conscientious about my photography – besides the normal clicking – I wanted to get feedback. Because I didn’t want to just like my own photos.”
Ultimately, she adds, “I got the most stringent education from those two guys, because they ripped me to pieces. They hurt my little photography feelings so often, I barely survived.
“They got tired of me asking and they said ‘You need to start posting your photos and get feedback from other people, and that’s how you learn.’” So she signed up with 500px, and continued to study and improve.
Three years ago, upon her return from Germany, she began to notice the stylized murals that were popping up all over town. “I saw them and I wondered ‘Have they always been here? Did I never notice?’” Mohr took it upon herself to seek them all out – “Google knows everything” – and her fascination with the art led her to SHINE, which the Arts Alliance had initiated in 2014, and to John Collins himself.
“Edel is a joy to work with,” he says. “I wish you could hear her smile.”
She develops easy rapports with the muralists, who come in from all over the world. “In the beginning, I was very shy … just let me take the photo and I’ll be gone again,” Mohr says. “But slowly I came a little bit out of my shell and started talking to the artists.”
And like all artists, she’s self-critical and always ready to learn more technique and style. Which is why she still studies the other photographers posting work on 500px.
“I will never consider myself being done,” she muses, “because I always admire the better ones and I think ‘Oh, I will never be as good as those people, but at least I’m on the way.’”
Meet the other 2019 MUSE recipients: