An Interview with Delayne Spain

Delayne Spain owns Spain Photography and the Peacock Gallery in Peoria Heights. She’s been a professional photographer for more than 25 years and attended the Winona School of Professional Photography. She earned a master of photography degree from the Professional Photographers of America.

Spain has three children.

Tell us about your background, family, education, etc.

I am a born and raised native Peoria product. My father was a photographer, and my mother was a very talented artist. I have three children: Wes, 21; Haley, 17; and Paris, 8. My brother, Steve, owns the Costume Trunk on Main Street.

I began taking pictures with my dad’s 35mm Pentax when I was about eight years old. It just seemed like the natural thing to do. I experimented a lot with manipulating images because it was fun and interesting. I had no idea I was laying the groundwork for a career that would lead me to earning a master of photography degree from the Professional Photographers of America.

Who/what inspired you to become a photographer? How long have you been a photographer? What special techniques did you learn from your father?

My mother and father both inspired me to pursue photography, and in 1977 I packed my bags for the Winona School of Professional Photography. This is where I leaned the “rules” of how to create portraits. Those first few years I analyzed, practiced, and even embraced the rules I’d been taught. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize I wanted something else. One day I literally had a surge of inspiration and visualization. That’s also when I realized sometimes breaking the rules is more important than following them. That was the moment I began to think outside the box. Ever since that day, my images carry my signature look—quiet, but with strong impact. They’re dramatic, but convey an undeniable sense of realism.

It was at about this time my father was stricken with cancer. At that time he was primarily doing commercial photography and lab work, so we did have a chance to work on a few jobs together. I remember we did a brochure for a local hotel/restaurant where I learned the basics of photographing interiors. We also did several clothing catalogues, as well as a variety of small products. He fought the battle against cancer for three years and finally lost the battle in 1979. The few projects we worked on together are truly precious memories to me.

My mother was also directly involved in the business, as she was the photographic retouch artist and the person who did the “colorizing” of the then-black and white images. Many people in the Peoria area have oil “portraits” of their children and grandchildren she hand painted that are treasured heirlooms. This particular art, in which she was so gifted, is one very few people still practice. The advent of color photography made the need for it obsolete. She, too, was diagnosed with cancer and passed away in 1987. As to how long I’ve been a photographer, let me just say I’ve been photographing people for a long time.

Would you classify your photography as a certain style?

I describe my portraits as classic and timeless. My goal is for my images to be just as engaging in 20 years as they are today, much as other artists both past and present expected their works to stand the test of time. I’ve spent countless hours in museums all over the U.S. and Europe studying the works of the Old Masters. I love to study the composition, the depth, the lighting, and the technique each artist embraced. I realized that of course nothing the Old Masters painted involved artificial light as we think of it today. It simply didn’t exist. I still use this as rule today; use the light as it naturally occurs. This is what makes my work look different from other photographers who rely on strobe light.

How has photography changed though the years?

Photography itself has changed so much in just the past 30 years. Just think, it wasn’t that long ago—back when I was a kid—that we didn’t even have color photographs. We had black and white images that were meticulously hand-colored by my mother and others like her with artist’s oils.

What are the current trends in the art of photography?

The most exciting change that has affected my work is the introduction of the Masterworks Canvases. We can now use my photographic images as the blueprint for a “painted” work of art. The final portrait blends digital technology, photographic reality, and the soft beauty and depth of an oil painting for an effect that has a truly amazing impact. These “paintings” are unbelievable. Plus, they are archivally significant in the fact that they’re far more color-stable than ordinary photographs. We’ve known for a while now the images in photographs are transient—we can expect a fairly limited life span from them . But, the Masterworks Canvases are expected to not experience deterioration for more than 100 years, far longer than traditional photography. This is incredibly important for clients desiring to pass their images from generation to generation, something that’s traditionally been done with oil portraits.

Another interesting trend is the resurrection of black and white photography. It seems a whole new generation has opened its eyes to the beauty and simplicity of the black and white image. Although, in many cases, the true silver image has been replaced by a faux black and white. We still offer the genuine black and white images.

What are the misperceptions clients may have regarding their photo sessions?

People have all sorts of wild ideas about how they think their photo session will go. Generally, I think there’s nervousness and apprehension. I respect the fact that this is a very personal experience—almost an invasion of privacy for some. Some people are nervous because they’ve had a less than positive experience being photographed sometime in the past. The most common phrase I hear is “I know I just don’t photograph well,” or “I’m just not very photogenic.” I have a firm belief that everyone can photograph well. I try to address any concerns up front and put everyone at ease—I think that most of us have a tiny bit of “ham” inside. I just try to tap into it and turn everyone into a model. Almost everyone I photograph is pleasantly surprised that it’s such an enjoyable experience and that the results are so good.

With small children I have an “anything goes” policy, but the one thing I do like to do is work with kids one on one without the parents in the room. I seem to be able to connect better without the distractions of other people watching. Most of the time it works out beautifully; many mothers are amazed at how well behaved and cooperative their children are when they aren’t hovering. But it’s still anything goes.

How should clients interview a photographer?

I love this question; it’s so important. First and foremost, people need to realize that in reality, you’re commissioning an artist to create a very personal and custom-made piece of art for you. This isn’t like shopping for a sofa. Every photographer has a style unique to them, just as every painter has a personal style. A prospective client needs to find a photographer whose style speaks to them. Photography, as an art form, is very visual, so once people visit my gallery/studio and like what they see, I’ll likely be the right choice of artist for them. Every portrait I create begins with a consultation, especially if I haven’t worked with someone before, and I’m unsure of their personal style. This brainstorming session allows me an opportunity to get to know my clients—their likes and dislikes, lifestyle, tastes, etc. This is what really allows me to create truly personal art for them.

I also encourage my clients to consider using props from their own collections, furthering the personal touch in their images.

Explain the copyright laws regarding the use of professional photography.

There’s a federal blanket copyright law that protects any and every image I create from being copied without my written permission. This is a huge issue for photographers/artists because duplication of images has been made so easy by the accessability of scanners, home computers, etc. Many people simply don’t understand the image I create is just that—something I created. Just as a watercolor artist creates an image that’s theirs, I do the same thing, just with a different media.

More often than not, people also are simply unaware that copying is against the law. Also, this is the photographer’s livelihood, and unauthorized duplication is akin to theft. Some photographers have already begun to compensate for the copying problem by simply charging much more for the initial sitting, and in some cases, copy-proof photographic papers are also being tested.

What are some of the more unique requests for photography that you have had?

I’ve had some real dillies. They range from the guy and his pet boa constrictor, a family where all of them were wearing rubber noses, rock star impersonators, female impersonators, to portraits that included small rodents. I once had a guy hire a girl to pose with him—go figure. All in all, I’m pretty open minded; just toss an idea my way, and I’ll more than likely give it a go.

You’ve expanded your business to include the Peacock Gallery. How does this complement your photography in the home?

It was the next logical step because fine art and fine photography go hand in hand. Typically, I have an ongoing relationship with my clients, so I do many home consultations. We like to plan the right size and framing for the portraits and select the right area to hang them as well. I had so many people ask my opinion about what else to hang on their walls besides my portraits that I then began to notice many homes beautifully appointed with lovely furnishings had virtually bare walls. Many people seemed to simply not know what to do when it came to the walls. They knew they wanted something, but they were afraid of making the wrong choice, so they just didn’t do anything.

We are now solving that problem and filling that niche. We already had expanded to include frame design for art besides our portraits anyway, so offering the art itself just came naturally. We have a good feeling for what our clients like, and all of us at the gallery have fine arts backgrounds, so the knowledge and love of art was already one of our passions.

As to how art complements my photography in the home, art complements art.

How does the finishing of your portraits set you apart from most photographers?

Retouching and “finishing” are all part of the total look and are of monumental importance. I’ll talk about the finishing of a portrait first. This really separates the men from the boys in this business. Most people have no idea what goes into the finishing of a portrait. We offer five styles of finish on our portraits. This really is something you need to see to appreciate and one of the major stumbling blocks when it comes to price comparison. You just can’t compare an apple to an orange. I will, however, give you a brief idea of the different steps my photographs go through to become a finished Spain portrait.

Cropping, negative retouch, and or digital retouch (from the often extensive notes written on the front of the proof), color correction, printing, dri-mounting, positive retouching, lacquering (with multiple coats of photographic lacquer), texturing, and/or canvas mounting, and then several more coats of lacquer to seal the textured finish and make the use of glass in framing totally unnecessary. Only now will we call this a finished portrait—quite a difference from a piece of Kodak paper in a plastic bag.

What special techniques can you use on your portraits to cover flaws, braces, etc.?

This is also a question pertaining to finishing and retouching, something every one of our portraits goes through. For basic flaws such as dark circles under the eyes and general blemishes and moles, we still do traditional negative retouch. However, for more extensive “thinning”—clothing wrinkles, braces removal, and the ever popular “head swap” —those are things done in the digital realm.

What about the frame? How important is it? What should people know about your frame design?

When it comes to framing, I must say, not only is it important, it’s critical. Again, the frame is part of the visual package. This is the primary reason we have our own frame shop. Beautiful frame design can really enhance a piece of art or a portrait, whereas poor frame design and improper methods of framing can totally ruin even the most stunning of works. We have an impressive selection of moulding choices you aren’t likely to see elsewhere in this area. We offer everything from affordable, classic pre-made frames to highly ornate, hand finished Italian frames with exquisite patinas, as well as 24 karat leafs and water guilded moulding. That’s one of the things that sets us apart from other shops; we seek out the unique and beautiful. The frame itself is like jewelry for the piece of art; it enhances the piece itself and works beautifully with its surroundings.

To avoid making a costly mistake when taking something to be framed, find a framer with experience. You should consult a professional frame designer for the same reason you would consult a doctor, a financial advisor, or an attorney—they’re experienced professionals in their field. You wouldn’t believe some of the things we’ve found when we’ve been asked to reframe pieces originally framed by some of the big chain craft stores that tout their professional custom framing.

Whether the piece you have is a valuable original or limited edition, an irreplaceable, heirloom christening gown, or even a priceless hand-painted creation by your second grader, they all deserve experienced, professional care. My staff and I have a combined 45 years of experience in frame design and preservation techniques, and we’re exceptionally proud of that fact.

What will be the future trends for photographers?

Future trends are clearly headed to digital. Film as we know it will quite possibly be obsolete in fairly short order, at least where the professional is concerned. Digital opens up an entirely new world of what can be done with a photographic image. Our Masterworks Canvases are proof that portraiture can and will be taken to an entirely new plateau. The photograph itself will be only the beginning of the process instead of the end product.

Do you have plans to expand your business with additional services?

I don’t have plans in the works for a further expansion in the near future; however, nothing is carved in stone. By keeping my staff small and concentrating on what we have going now, we’ll be able to retain that which keeps us unique—our ability to take a sketch of an idea, from its conception, and make it a beautiful reality, a timeless piece of art for people to enjoy for many years to come. That’s what we do best.

What would you like our readers to know about your business that we haven’t already asked?

Again, I want to emphasize the fact that I’m in the business of creating art. Photography is an art form, and my specialty lies in creating portraits of people. I’m extremely passionate about what I do, and I have a great love for the art of photography. I have the further luxury of an exceptionally talented and loyal team working with me. We work together on multiple projects—creating scenes, painting backgrounds, and brainstorming ideas—not just occasionally, but all the time. We don’t all see everything the same way, and that, too, is what makes the creative process work. They also have the passion for creating things of lasting beauty and that passion is reflected in every finished work that leaves our studio. You might say art is in our blood.

I also hope I’ve piqued the curiosity of more than one reader to stop in and visit our studio/gallery and allow us to create a magnificent piece of art for your home—art that just happens to feature the people you love. TPW