With an accomplished background in theatre as a writer and an actor, Shawn Overton has always felt at home creating compelling stories through artistic means. His most recent work in the performing arts was serving as a writer for Playhouse Merced for their melodrama “Deadwood Dick.” It’s also not uncommon to find him working alongside of Merced Shakespearefest, the Merced County Writers Group, or any number of theatre education or outreach programs throughout the Merced area. So when he took the opportunity to get behind the camera for a change of pace, it only seemed natural that he would find himself coming back to the stage to make use of his skills behind the lens.
His work with a camera began during a two-week trip to Yellowstone National Park where he began taking landscape and nature photographs. “The pictures I brought back were nice,” Overton recalled. “But they didn’t look nearly as good as I knew they could have been.” Never one to settle for less, his competitive personality kicked into gear and he began to educate himself on what he needed to do to produce better work. “I started reading about photography, got myself a better camera, and began taking pictures of anything and everything,” he noted. Once he found himself in Merced, he enrolled at Merced College and headed to the Fine Arts Department to begin formally studying photography inside the classroom in addition to working with the camera on his own time. “Ultimately, though, the only way to get educated in photography is by taking a lot of pictures.”
As his formal education came to a close, Overton found himself returning to where he felt most comfortable to do just that. “I still do a bit of landscape and nature photography, but my interests evolved over time to people photography,” he explained. Working with local performing arts organization, he began working himself into their production schedules to photograph live theatre performances and using his work to draw awareness to the many different facets of Merced’s art scene. As each new show neared it debut date, he would make his was to the stage with a plan and camera in hand for the current shoot, then quickly find himself planning for the next show. “The pictures matter to the organization I’m shooting for and the people involved, but I rarely look back into my archives to even look at the pictures,” he said. “I’m always more interested in what’s happening next.”
For each new shoot, Overton finds himself trying to capture the essence of the subject matter in front of his lens. ”For me, photography is about telling a story. Whether I’m photographing a play or designing a concept for a creative portrait, I’m looking for an emotional connection to something beyond what’s contained in the image,” said Overton. “It’s the story outside the frame that I’m drawn to, with the photo as a doorway into that story.” He went on to add that as a photographer, he loves learning about people’s personality, interests and sense of humor and strives to distill those traits down to a single image that expresses something both unexpected and familiar.
Currently Overton is working on a new series of images that consist of concept photographs of local artists — everything from sculptors and dancers to musicians and novelists — as they express their creativity through their medium of choice. Using his camera to capture a sense of Merced’s artistic community, Overton hopes to spark interest in art and have others become involved. “Reading or hearing about what is happening in a community is important, but a good photograph captures the emotion,” he concluded. “The idea is to incorporate an aspect of their art into creative portraits that, when taken all together, will give an overall sense of what the Merced art community actually is.”