Artist profile: Diane Schuller

Now and again, I discover someone whose work makes my jaw drop and moves me profoundly. I decided to launch a series of occasional blog posts featuring such artists, for two main reasons. First, because this calibre of creative expression deserves to be shared and celebrated. And second, because I was curious to know more about them!

I’m kicking off the series with photographer Diane Schuller, who lives happily at the “hem of the sea” on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Like many of us, Diane has been taking photos all her life. But some time around 2000, she started to get more serious about photography. As a freelance writer, she realized that images could enhance her articles.

How did she develop her skills? Partly from reading, partly from courses, but mostly from hands-on experimentation. Although Diane enjoys playing with post-processing, she’s not smitten with it, and prefers trying new things in camera.

She dedicated herself to portrait photography for several years, beginning with animals and pets, and also continued to do editorial work. (Her images of dogs are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. You can see the love there.) She’s had her photos featured on magazine covers and she sells beautiful fine art prints. Upon moving to the west coast last year Diane put her business on hold and now devotes herself to making images for the pure joy of it. Her camera rarely leaves her side.

I delight in every new blog post of Diane’s; they make me feel as though I’m chatting over a honey-laced cup of tea, wrapped in a cashmere shawl, with a caring friend. I’m a huge fan of Diane’s visual style, which is pure and fresh and without artifice.I asked Diane to select some of her favorite images and tell me a bit about each of them.  And then she kindly agreed to answer a modified version of the Proust questionnaire, which is believed to reveal an individual’s true nature. I hope you’ll agree that reading her responses is a great way to get to know her better.

Diane’s ability to convey a deep sense of melancholy makes her first photo haunting. She deftly uses composition, framing, and post-processing choices to communicate emotions clearly and directly to her audience. She says this about her first image: Walking along the seawall on a vacation, I noticed this elderly gentleman walking towards me. He didn’t seem to want to engage in a “hello” and I could tell he was sad and also had something on his mind. I walked past him and when I looked back, I noticed he had stopped. I couldn’t help but pick up my camera and take this quiet image of him. I wanted to hug him, but didn’t. I’ve never stopped thinking about him.

What is your dream of happiness? Contentment in all forms; being content with what I have. 

What is your idea of misery? The death of a loved one.

Where would you like to live? Where I am right now, at long last, along the hem of the sea.

What qualities do you admire most in a man? Honesty, independence, sensitive enough to be willing to cry.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman? Honesty, kindness, sense of adventure.

What are your chief characteristics? People pleaser, highly observant, daydreamer.

What is your principal fault? Procrastinate far too much and lack patience.

What is your greatest extravagance? Wine and too much good food.

Diane says this about her image: I adore black and white images, always have. This just makes me feel so good.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of? Social inadequacies and tardiness.

What do you value most about your friends? Their acceptance.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others? Lying and excuse-making.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?  My impatience.

What is your favourite virtue? Can’t say just one: being respectful, courage, honesty.

What is your favourite occupation? Well, that’s tough because there are things I’ve done I’ve loved and things I’d love to do but haven’t yet: photography of course, writing, and if I had it to do over again … I’d love to have a radio program where I interview a variety of people and I’ve often thought how interesting and challenging it would be to work in the medical field (emergency room nurse or occupational therapist perhaps).

What is your favourite colour?  All of them; but orange makes me very happy, and green fills me with calm.

Diane says this about her image: I love photographing food but the day I made these jars of marmalade was such a special day for me. I was thoroughly enjoying the process and not even minding all the fiddly work involved in making marmalade. I felt such a feeling of accomplishment and joy. This image depicts all of that for me.

What is your favourite flower?  So many, especially the fragrant ones: lilac, stargazer lilies, alyssum, Hansa roses.

Who are your favourite prose authors? So many and an eclectic bunch (forgive me if I don’t mention them all): Lisa Genova, Jane Urquhart, Anita Shreve, Alistair MacLeod, Andre Dubus III, Rohinton Mistry, Maeve Binchy, Rosamunde Pilcher, Tatiana de Rosnay.

Who are your favourite poets?  I just know I’ll forget some but let’s start with: Mary Oliver the most but also Carl Sandburg, Leonard Cohen, William Carlos William, Shel Silverstein, Kahlil Gibran. 

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction? Penelope Keeling in The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher and Lily In The Secret Life of Bees.

Who are your heroes in real life?  My mother. She was strong, kinder than anyone I know, and she never ever complained despite all the obstacles she had to endure. For a public figure, Terry Fox was a true hero.

What natural talent would you most like to possess? Singing.

How do you want to die? I fear death, so quietly and in my sleep.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment? Raising my son to be a gentle, responsible, loving man with very good manners.

What is your motto? Carpe diem (seize the day).

Diane says this about her image: This image is simple. It’s a calm, quiet image of the beach near my home towards the end of daylight. Calm with waves gently lapping.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this first artist profile and a peek into the life of Diane Schuller. Please let me know if you would like to read more…