It's easy to be impressed by W. C. Morse barista Lindsey Shea's range as a photographer. Her lens has captured the very big (vast desert landscapes) and the very small (coffee beans), the momentous (engagement spreads) and the casual (hiking trips). From her years working with film and digital photography—including taking photos for Blue Bottle's Instagram account—and collage, Lindsey has developed a craft that makes her truly stand out as an artist. Many might expect that accomplishments like these indicate a formal education; they would be surprised to learn that Lindsey has never once taken a class.
"I am one-hundred percent self-taught," she says, laughing. "I'm a terrible professional photographer." One glance at her work will tell you that she's anything but.
Falling in Love with Photography
At Blue Bottle, we have always been proud to count creatives among all the thoughtful, dedicated, and kindhearted people who keep us up and running—Lindsey, a barista of seven years, among them.
"When I was twenty-two, my younger brother, who was always cooler than me, had taken my parents' guitar and typewriter and old film camera," says Lindsey. "I was so mad that he got all the cool stuff and I didn't, so I complained to my mom and she told me to go ask my grandparents. My grandmother gave me her old Nikon FM film camera."
Shortly thereafter, after attending UCLA to study English and art history, she moved to New York City, where she quickly put her new camera to use.
"I moved there, totally broke, with one suitcase. I didn't have a job or friends or money. I didn't know what I was doing. I walked around with my camera taking pictures every day, and that's how it really started."
New York was also where Lindsey's interest in, an art form she sees as distinct from her photography, was born.
"I lived in this tiny little room without any art on the walls and it wasn't very homey. I went to the Strand and out front they have dollar carts. I bought a bunch of magazines and old books with images and I started making collages."
Her casual effort at sprucing up her apartment eventually became an artistic pursuit all on its own. "I view my collages more as Art with a capital 'A' than my photographs," explains Lindsey. "Personally, I think they're better than my photographs."
Lindsey, who tends to collage her own photographs together, finished a series earlier this year in which images of landscapes and urban scenes are arranged on top of each other in a way that makes them feel all of a piece, to disorienting and beautiful effect.
"I feel like most often I am taking nature and landscape photos," she goes on, "and while it's artistic, I don't see that as having a lot to say necessarily. But when I collage, I feel like I'm creating something rather than capturing something."
Building Community in the Bay
Since relocating to Oakland in 2013, Lindsey's become part of a thriving artistic community.
"Art ebbs and flows depending on what's going on in my life," she says. "It ebbed a little when I returned to LA after coming back from New York." Once in Oakland, she felt it returning again. "That change of scenery plus having creative friends out here had an effect on me. I started actively making art pretty frequently, and I think a lot of the impetus for that had to do with making creativity a part of my job. At the time, I was working at a restaurant and looking to supplement my income by making things to sell with my photos, so I was creating constantly."
That sense of community is one Lindsey has come to rely on. "The excitement of being around friends in a positive, supportive environment has been really amazing," she says. "Seeing people's work, in real life, on Instagram and Tumblr—having that exposure to what other people are doing can be really inspiring.
"There's pressure, too," she admits. "With that sense of competitiveness, I feel pressure to create as well." The flexibility of her job as a barista helps her keep up, and stay in touch with other creators, many of whom are behind the bar with her slinging coffee.
Realizing Herself as an Artist
Despite everything she's accomplished, and even though Lindsey's been on the working end of a camera for years, she admits that seeing herself as a photographer took a long time.
"It's only happened super recently," Lindsey admits, with characteristic self-deprecation. "I've always thought of myself as a writer who was too timid to actually write, so I picked up a camera because there was no pressure there." She laughs. "I'm a writer who's never written, but I take a lot of photos."
An Artistic Adventurer
Nevertheless, how she sees herself and her work has continued to evolve. "I feel like I’m almost a better curator than I am an artist," she says. "I have a strong sense of aesthetics and very strict standards of what I like and how I run my social media accounts. Having high standards but not always able to get my work to that level... knowing where you want to be and not being there yet is very difficult."
So she stays busy, throwing herself into forthcoming projects (including one that she calls her Chair Series), and traveling solo when she can, something she started to do after being inspired by photographer Molly Steele.
"She's an outdoor film photographer like myself. She's inspired me in an adventure sense. She goes on long camping trips alone to take photos, and I've started doing that myself. It's so rewarding."
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