Beau Comeaux’s boyhood in Louisiana wasn’t privileged but it was enriched with a Huck Finn flavor that has provided fertile ground for his fine art photography. Beau grew up on the outskirts of Baton Rouge in a hard-working, blue-collar household with a Cajun connection on his dad’s side. ‘I spent most of my youth doing sports, taking art classes and exploring the forests around our neighborhood,’ he says. ‘We lived on the edge of town so I had lots of areas to roam, and that translates into the work I do now. I like to be the lone wanderer, to go out and see what’s over the hill. I’m a what’s-around-the-corner kind of guy.’
Beau now does most of his photographic exploration at night, seeking out ‘inhabited or near-inhabited spaces’ on the outskirts of the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex. ‘I’ve been really attached to night photography ever since my first college photography course,’ he says. ‘I love the dramatic night lighting, the other worldly feel. And I like working when there are no distractions, no people wandering around. Digital has made it much easier because exposures that might have taken an hour with film now last about 30 seconds. Everything starts off as a straight capture with the camera on a tripod. Then I manipulate fairly heavily in Photoshop.’
Focus, color and canvas-size are the attributes Beau manipulates most frequently. ‘Focus is the main thing,’ he says, ‘I start with an entirely crisp capture. Sometimes, it’s very clear to me what I want to blur while I’m capturing the image, sometimes not. The goal is to lead the viewer’s eye around the image. With digital, I’m not bound to an optical focal plane. I’ll make selections, dodge and burn, and use filters to control what you’re looking at.’
To give the viewer’s eye plenty of roaming-room, Beau digitally stitches multiple frames into super-sized, high resolution images. The largest so far is a 40”x50” image that required 750-megabytes of disk space, without layers. ‘They take up some room,’ he laughs, ‘so I’m getting a new computer next month to speed things along. For around $30,000, I can probably get a digital camera back that provides nearly the same image quality. But for right now, I’ll use Photoshop.’
Beau’s images are represented by Marty Walker Gallery in Dallas and have appeared in more than 20 exhibitions from Denton, Texas to Denver, Colorado and Pingyao, China. He has been published in Camera Arts Magazine and in Artl!es. Beau has taught photography at Collin County Community College, Richland College, Tarrant County Community College, and the University of North Texas. He participates in many professional photographers’ associations, including the Society for Photographic Education, the Texas Photographic Society, the Silver Eye Center for Photography, the Center for Fine Art Photography and the National Association of Photoshop Professionals. And like many artists, he has held a variety of day jobs, including construction, file clerk and bartender.
Beau is the only artist in his family but his visual side emerged early. ‘In middle school, I signed up for at least one art class every semester. My first photography class was in seventh grade. It was a full semester. We had a darkroom, and I loved it.’ Outside the classroom, Beau played point guard in basketball and pitched for the baseball team. ‘I was kind of a wild thing on the mound,’ he says. ‘I hit at least one kid per game-unintentionally, and felt bad about it.’
As an undergrad at LSU, Beau initially majored in Graphic Design, took photography as a prerequisite and soon found himself skipping other classes to stay in the darkroom making prints. ‘I switched majors to photography, and that’s all she wrote,’ he says. ‘I have really vivid memories of how hard my dad worked delivering furniture and appliances, and I wanted to do something that I would love every day that I went to work.’
Since fine art is not always the most reliable way to pay the bills, Beau considers himself fortunate to enjoy teaching and to have skills that others are eager to learn. ‘Lucky for me, digital photography is hot. And having jumped on the digital bandwagon as soon as I did, I’m in a good position. At community colleges, I’m often teaching people who don’t know much about digital anything, so I’m really able to open their eyes to this whole new world of digital imaging possibilities.’
As a teacher, Beau has two main goals. The first is technical. ‘Mastering the medium is important,’ he says, ‘even in basic classes. A painter needs to know how to mix the paint and use various brushstrokes, and we have to do the same thing with photography.’
Beau also wants his students to realize that clicking the shutter is only the beginning of the digital imaging process. ‘People kind of get stuck in thinking: here’s a picture, I pressed the shutter and captured this,’ he says. ‘I like the idea of seeing the potential in your images, of not being satisfied with what you captured, of saying, here’s a picture and look what I did to bring it to its full potential, to make it full-fledged art.’
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“I wanted to thank you for sharing your knowledge with us in class Saturday. It was my first class of any kind on photography or Photoshop. I really enjoyed it. I can’t wait to try out the b&w conversion method you showed me.”
– David Leaser