Changing Focus

It’s not lack of interest in the rodeo that has forced Denise Whithorne to quit shooting action photos of the annual MGRA event. It’s an arthritic knee with a possible knee surgery looming that is keeping her from crouching long hours inside the arena this year to get the perfect photo.

Whithorne has been photographing the rodeo since 2008. In fact, the cover of this rodeo issue of Camp is her work from that year’s rodeo.

“I wasn’t really invited. I just went. And then I asked if I could take pictures, and they said, ‘Sure.’”

Whithorne wasn’t raised with horses, she said, but she used to have a thoroughbred with her former partner, who kept the horse when they broke up.

She is a veteran of professional photography in Kansas City, having worked as a freelancer for the Kansas City Kansan and the Kansas City Star.

“I’m studying now. You study every day,” she said about her work. She’s taking classes at Johnson County Community College on design software to incorporate with her photography. She was trained in film photography.

“With film, you had to know everything. You didn’t have an automatic button. You had to know your exposure,” she said. Whithorne described a conversation with a person who told her she always is surprised when she gets a good digital photo and asked her how she gets her photos. Whithorne responded, “Well, that’s what I wanted — what I shot. How can you take a picture if you don’t know what you’re taking?” She laughed at the memory.

Whithorne has been to other rodeos to take photos. She was invited to photograph the Oklahoma City rodeo for two years. Now with her professional photographs, she does everything from prom pictures to portraits and even the occasional wedding.

“I go down to the Bottoms,” she said. “There’s a lot of graffiti down there. That’s a really good place to take pictures of high schoolers for their high school graduation pictures. They like that kind of stuff. Railroad tracks, railroad cars, they’re climbing all over that stuff.”

But even with those jobs, photography for her is not full-time work. She relies on her position as a pharmacy benefits analyst with Argus Health Systems to pay the bills. “I push paper,” she laughed.

We met for this interview in the art gallery of the Vulcan’s Forge store at 3936 Broadway in Kansas City, where she was exhibiting her photography along with several other artists during July as part of the annual Fringe Festival. “I did sell quite a few. I’ve sold three that were matted and two are framed,” she said.

Whithorne says that much of her work these days in done in a process called High Definition Resolution (HDR), which gives her work a deep, almost three-dimensional feeling. “Most of the time, you want the camera on a tripod since you want to take that exact same picture three times, one overexposed, one underexposed and one correctly exposed. Then you combine those and you get those deeper, darker blacks, and what you see as black you would see lighter with more detail.”

Whithorne said her portraits account for about 25 percent of her work. “Seventy-five percent is what you see on the wall [in the Fringe Festival exhibit>. I just go out and like, two weeks ago, before the show started, I went out to Atchison, Kan., because I thought the Amelia Earhart festival was that weekend, but it wasn’t. And so I was driving down the highway and I just saw this inlet, and I saw this big tree with kudzu hanging on it and I thought, I’ve got to go back. So I turned around, and there was this beautiful sunflower. So I took pictures of it, and the big droopy tree and all that. And then I looked up and this big train went whizzing by and I thought ‘holy shit,’ and I picked up the tripod and started taking pictures of the train.”

Whithorne said she really hasn’t chosen to exhibit at big art fairs like the Plaza Art Fair or Brookside Art Annual.

To view the art photography she has for sale or to hire her services, she can be reached through her company, Denise Whithorne Photography, at Denise Whithorne Photography.
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