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Meet Matt Shallenberger

Today we’d like to introduce you to Matt Shallenberger.

Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
I was born in Hawai’i, where my mom’s side of the family has been for about 150 years. But my parents and I moved around a lot. By the time I graduated , we had also lived in Virginia, Oregon, and New Mexico. Hawai’i feels like home, but I’m still a little restless. My wife and daughter and I live in Altadena now, up near the mountains, which is ideal as far as feeling like I’m close to the city but can be in the middle of nowhere quickly.

I started taking pictures in my 20s while working as an actor. Most of my workdays involved dozens of other people around, so I used photography as a way to justify what I most wanted to do, which was be alone out in the woods. I’m self-taught as a large format photographer, and most of my work is based around the intersection of humans and nature. A new project usually starts by taking an existing piece of literature, often mythology, and trying to reinterpret it through photography.

Please tell us about your art.
It took me a long time to figure out what kind of photography was the most ‘at home’ for me. Large format film photography is methodical, and slow.. it can often feel a little more like painting than taking pictures. Constantly returning to the same locations in different conditions, a lot of planning. People obviously assume that a photograph is a true document of a place and time, but I like the challenge of upending that. Especially in the Hawaiian landscape, there’s the potential for landscapes that feel disconnected from time. My most successful photographs should be nuanced enough that if one of them is on your wall for a decade, your relationship to it can change over time. Some of that comes from seeking out places that are a little bit surreal, but also from being more concerned with what a place feels like than what it looks like in some given moment.

As an artist, how do you define success and what quality or characteristic do you feel is essential to success as an artist?
I guess there are two definitions, right? There’s the hope that you make work that you’re proud of, that gets better over time, and engages or challenges you. And then there’s whether you support yourself in some way through it… being a ‘working artist.’ But those are two totally different skill sets. The most important thing, I think, is to cultivate an adaptability in the way you make work. You can’t just take pictures (or write, or compose, or whatever) when you feel like it, or it’s easy, or when you’re inspired. Most of the time you’re gonna have to do it when you’re the least awake, the most broke, the least inspired, the most pessimistic. I think people over-romanticize being an artist at the expense of their own ability to craft art. And even if you’re someone like me, who would most like to be alone shooting pictures and to anonymously show them, you have to get out there and meet other artists and other art-minded people.

How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
My most recent series, The Leaping Place, exhibited at the Honolulu Museum of Art last year, and I’ll likely be showing it again soon. In the meantime, a book of the series just came out. It combines images of the black and white and color landscapes with archival photographs and pieces of my research. The whole series, along with my previous work (which is mostly California) is on my website, The book was printed in a small first edition, but there are still some copies available through my website, too.

Contact Info:

  • Address: Altadena, CA
  • Website:
  • Email:
  • Instagram: mattshallenberger

Image Credit:

Matt Shallenberger

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