Student Specializes in Vintage Photography

Lori Oden, a specialist in vintage photography, posing with her daughterDuring the production of this newsletter, Lori Oden made a bold decision. After she completes her master’s degree program in December she intends to pursue her photography full-time. Although she no longer works for the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition, she still serves as editor for Art Focus Oklahoma. 

A photographer specializing in 19th century photography, Lori Oden sees the world from a different vantage point. Because her large format view cameras don’t have mirror corrections, the initial images in Oden’s viewfinder are upside down and backward.

“Due to the older processes I use, I have learned to see light,” she explained. “I don’t use modern technology, such as light meters, to gauge my light, f-stop and exposure time. Seeing the world upside down and backwards was natural for me and I am able to produce good images with excellent composition.”

You might say Oden’s path to a master’s degree from the College of Liberal Studies was a bit upside down and backward as well. As a self-described nomad, the Oklahoma native started college life at Oklahoma State University and a year later moved to Tulsa to attend the University of Tulsa.

“I was young and crazy then,” she said with a laugh. “I was sitting in a Laundromat talking to some friends one day and they said they were thinking about moving to Kansas City and asked me if I wanted to go. At that time, I could pack my whole life in a car, so I said, ‘Sure!’”

Oden graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1997 with a degree in art history and was determined to move to a big city. However, she learned that she had been accepted into the graduate school at the University of Oklahoma, thanks to her mom who had applied for her. Although not happy about it – “I thought all great art was not  in Oklahoma,” she said – Oden returned to the Sooner State.

Vintage photography, a train in GuthrieAs director of marketing and publications for the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition, that opinion changed.  “It’s just incredible the number of great artists we have here,” she said. “It is an honor to be able to help promote Oklahoma artists, and they inspire me as an individual artist as well.”

But back in the late Nineties, life was not going as planned. In graduate school at OU and waiting tables, Oden had decided to pack up and head north on Interstate 35 when she got a call that would change everything. Red Earth, the Native American Museum inside Oklahoma City’s Omniplex, offered her a job. Soon after, the International Photography Museum down the hall hired her away.

“I was hired to be a registrar and curator and I saw this as a real career opportunity,” she said. “I decided I was going to get as much education as I could.”

Although she had never taken photos in her life, the art historian in Oden discovered a passion for the history of photography. “I really like the period between 1880 and 1930 when everything in art changed,” she said. “Photography really played a major role in this change. With the camera now able to record accurate historic moments, artists were freed to explore expression.”

In an effort to save money for the museum’s education program, instead of bringing people in to teach the history of photography and the various photographic processes, Oden learned them herself.  “Back then, I was learning these things to further the mission of the museum and teach these processes,” she said. “I learned how to make daguerreotypes, which not many people know how to do. Then I went to the next process and I decided to go ahead and learn them all.”

During the next six years, Oden learned a number of photographic processes including: wet collodian, which encompasses ambrotype, tintype and glass negatives; albumen printing; calotype; salt prints; Van Dyke Brown; cyanotype; platinum and palladium. She also does traditional black and white photography and Polaroid emulsion lifts, transfers and manipulations.

Imagine her surprise when one day someone asked to buy one of Oden’s images. “It was a shock,” Oden said. “Then it just clicked that photography was something I really enjoyed and I wanted to continue to do it in my professional and personal life. It all came together in that one shining moment.”

Then, another event occurred that would shift her priorities yet again. Oden gave birth to her daughter, now 7. “All this time, I had been working at the museum and working on the graduate degree,” she said. “The degree was put on hold. I wasn’t married and I had never been around children, so I took a break from school to be with my daughter.”

“So, I was looking for something that would gear up the artist side of me, combined with my continued interest in art and literature. I’m glad I took that break because the MLS is what I really needed.”

That break led her to find the Master of Liberal Studies degree at the College of Liberal Studies. “When I was ready to go back to school, I did some research on the Internet to see if I could find a program that matched my new interests as well as work with my full-time job,”  she said. “Nobody in Oklahoma does what I do, and if they do, they learned it from me – I have taught hundreds of students. So, I was looking for something that would gear up the artist side of me, combined with my continued interest in art and literature. I’m glad I took that break because the MLS is what I really needed.”

Oden is on the self-design/independent study track with an emphasis in 19th century photography and literature.

She studies with: Andrew Strout, photography instructor at the College of Fine Arts, who is her committee chair; Byron Price, OU professor of art and director of the Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West; and Susan Baley, OU professor and Curator of Education at the Fred Jones Junior Museum of Art.

Vintage photography, an old blue doorShe is set to graduate in December. Her final project includes a research paper and an exhibition of photographs that were made with 19th century processes that she has produced during her MLS program. Her exhibit opens on Dec. 3 at the Lightwell Gallery at the School of Art.

In the meantime, she serves as editor of the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition magazine, Art Focus Oklahoma, teaches at Oklahoma City University, promotes Oklahoma artists and enjoys a renewed appreciation for her home state from her new husband.

“My husband loves Oklahoma,” Oden said. “I always thought I wanted to move but he has helped change my perception of the state. If you would have asked me where I was going to be in life almost 10 years ago, I would have never guessed it would be here. Now I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”

Update: The College of Liberal Studies was renamed the College of Professional and Continuing Studies in 2017. 

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The College of Professional and Continuing Studies is a fully accredited academic unit of the University of Oklahoma, offering 100% online, hybrid and onsite degrees for working adults and non-traditional students.