story by Darl Devault
Imagine being able to create the world you want to see. Oklahoma City photographer and award-winning digital artist Mary Horn has found that with a camera, loads of curiosity and lots of practice in a photo editing software application called Adobe Photoshop, she can do just that. The world Horn creates is full of images that surprise and delight.
Horn, 65, was first introduced to photography at the age of nine by her mother when film was the medium. Later at Putnam City West High School, she took a photography class where she fell in love with black and white photography. She was intrigued by the magic of developing the images in the darkroom.
“Digital photo manipulation involves a lot of the same processes as darkroom manipulation — like changing the exposure of a photo or creating a composite — but now, it’s all done on a computer,” Horn said. “I can now achieve the image I want without the darkroom and smelly chemicals. The software developers have given us a magic wand in the form of photo-editing software.”
After college at the University of Central Oklahoma, she made a career in healthcare financial management and later as a systems analyst.
“I began working with computers at work in 1978,” Horn said. “I purchased my first home computer in 1986, so using a computer daily for work and at home just seems natural.”
During this busy period, including raising a daughter, photography became more of an occasional hobby. Upon returning to Oklahoma from Southern California in her mid-50’s she took a part-time job at a photo studio, which reignited her passion for photography.
She dabbled in painting for a while but decided that she much preferred photography because it combined her love of art and technology. That background in painting transfers as the software now allows for realistic sketching and digital painting by using brushes controlled with a stylus on a pressure-sensitive tablet.
Horn began learning to use the industry-standard photo manipulation software Photoshop to restore old family photos. Soon other people saw her talent for restoring images. Many asked her to work on their damaged photos. In 2009 she started a small business restoring photos that were damaged by time, neglect & tornadoes.
Horn and her restoration company were featured in a 2013 online CNN Business article about unique business startups.
After restoring images for a member of the Oklahoma City Metro Camera Club, he invited her to visit a meeting. Horn soon joined Metro, then a few years later joined Oklahoma Camera Club.
“Joining a camera club is one of the best things an amateur photographer can do,” Horn said. “The local clubs offer so many learning opportunities, opportunities for competition, along with great social connections.”
Horn assists as a volunteer with Oklahoma Camera Club’s Annual Youth Photography Competition which promotes photography in high schools across the state.
Horn submits her photos and digital artwork to the Oklahoma Camera Club as well as international exhibition competitions sanctioned by the Photographic Society of America.
PSA started in Oklahoma City in 1934. Its headquarters is in south Oklahoma City. It now has members in more than 80 countries. PSA offers a monthly journal, online photo galleries, image evaluation, study groups, courses, and competitions.
The photo clubs have a category called Altered Reality which really piqued her interest. Horn finally had an opportunity to employ all the possibilities Photoshop provides and use her images to create something unique. She could now combine photo elements to create surreal or implausible images.
In 2016, Horn received a PSA International Gold Medal for a monochrome portrait of successful local boxer Bo Gibbs, Jr. She has since earned many other medals and ribbons.
In 2017, Horn was awarded Image of the Year at Metro Camera Club, and Oklahoma Camera Club for the same Altered Reality image.
“It was a real surprise because Altered Reality images usually don’t win when competing against more traditional photographs,” Horn said.
Adobe Photoshop has been an essential element for creative imaging and graphic design for 30 years. It is available in a $9.99 month-to-month subscription model. Photoshop allows users to create photo composites, move and remove objects, and add effects. The user can realize any creative concept by working with unlimited layers and masks. Artists can paint with a seemingly endless choice of brushes that are controlled with a mouse or stylus. The rental subscription includes Adobe Lightroom with 20GB (or more) of Cloud storage.
This year at the Oklahoma Camera Club she placed first in her division for both Monochrome and Nature as well as best of show for the in-camera challenge. In July, Horn received first place for a monochrome image in the Gulf States Camera Club Council Regional competition. “I am now waiting on feedback from my submissions to several international salons,” Horn said.
Her goal is to learn something new every day and Photoshop has made achieving that goal quite fun, Horn says. She says there is always something new and different to learn and try.
Horn hopes her creative images will bring a laugh, a sense of surprise, or even a shock to those who view them. “Some ideas percolate for months or years before I can bring them to life,” Horn said. “Others happen quite serendipitously while I am at the computer, then I have the finished image in just an hour or two.”
Her granddaughter has become a frequent subject for Altered Reality or fantasy photos. The four-year-old makes up elaborate stories to go along with them. Her new grandson is now becoming part of the fantasy as well.
Horn still loves ‘regular photography,’ especially monochrome. She occasionally shoots a roll of black and white film just to stay in touch with the deliberate mindset that film photography requires.
“So many new photographers who have never used film just fire away as the digital images cost them nothing but time once they have bought the camera,” Horn said. “The phrase is ‘spray and pray’ in the digital world in hopes of getting a good image. The cost of film and developing the image makes a person more deliberate. Using film compels a person to think, plan, and take their time to get it right by composing the photo carefully in-camera the first time. I try to keep that film mindset while working with my digital camera as it saves a lot of time editing.”
Right before her 65th birthday, Horn was diagnosed with Ocular Melanoma. The treatment has left her with increasingly poor vision in her dominant eye used for photography. She has needed to transition to making images with the other eye. “I was devastated at first, but decided I had to make the transition,” Horn said. It continues to be a challenge, but I will not give up photography for anything. It brings me so much pleasure.”
Horn reminds everyone to get a yearly dilated eye exam because it can save your life and your livelihood.
Horn finds it important to stay both physically and mentally active. A healthy diet, daily power walk, and strength training keep her in shape for long hikes in search of wildlife and landscapes to photograph. “It also helps me keep up with the grandkids!” Horn said “Being retired is great as long as you don’t retire from life. Take classes. Try something new. You might surprise yourself.”
You can find her photos and restoration work at www.ampersand.photography or find her on Facebook at www.ampersand.photography.