By Mary Starr
A current exhibit at Glynn Visual Arts provides the perfect spot to take a peek into the world of Paula Eubanks’ nearly 40-year career as a photography student, teacher and artist. Eubanks is currently one-half of the “RISE” exhibit at the island art center, sharing the space with renowned sculptor Syd Summerhill.
The photographs in the exhibit highlight Eubanks’ gift of manipulating photographic images. According to the promotional material from GVA, “The surrealistic photography of Paula Eubanks makes a statement about sea level rise in a unique and provocative way. A native of the Georgia coastal area and a scholar of the historic architectural sites along with the ecology of Georgia’s barrier islands, Paula addresses the issue of sea level rise through juxtaposing images of the historic coastal buildings with imagery of water within those architectural boundaries creating beautiful and thought-provoking imaginings and compositions.”
Eubanks’ pursuit of photography as an expression began nearly 50 years ago during her first photography class at University of Georgia, which was a requirement for her as an art education major.
“It wasn’t what I thought it would be,” she said. “My first camera was a wooden box with a tiny hole for a lens; used it all quarter.”
She further explained that nothing about photography at UGA was normal.
“At times I was required to draw what I was photographing before I opened the shutter, Eubanks said. “There was a lot of manipulation of the photographic image. It was far more expressive than I expected so I kept taking photo courses, which usually meant taking an overload.”
Her enthusiasm for the study of photography paid off. When she graduated from UGA, her photography professor mentioned he needed a graduate assistant, which allowed Eubanks to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree in photography. She continued with her concentration on photographic manipulation, and used the technique in her master’s thesis.
“I’ve done straight photographs, but never gave up the idea of manipulating photographs as a way of having something personal to say,” she said.
Eubanks is a native of Macon, and grew up in Jesup. After college, she married, and gave birth to twin sons who were extremely premature, and who only had a 2 percent chance of surviving.
The boys, she said, took up “every minute” of her time for many years. Both suffered severe hearing loss, and required special schooling, so Eubanks commuted from Gainesville to Atlanta daily for six years.
“When they were finally more independent, I worked as an art consultant, and continued my work as an artist with Georgia Sea Grant,” she said. “When I divorced, I went back to UGA for a doctorate in art education, and took a job at University of Northern Iowa, where, contrary to my expectations, I did not freeze to death – almost, but not quite.”
Her resilience and sense of humor have kept her going. Eubanks shared an anecdote about her first encounter with winter weather in the Upper Midwest.
“The river in front of my house started freezing over; I thought it must be pollution,” she said. “The only ice I had ever seen in a river fell out of someone’s drink.”
Eventually, she returned from “up north,” and began teaching at Georgia State University, in Atlanta. Subsequently, she met and married David Blumenfeld, and bought a place on Little Cumberland Island, where Blumenfeld enjoyed fishing.
“When he retired, after a year he told me that my working was interfering with his fishing schedule, and convinced me to retire as well to spend much more time on the coast,” Eubanks explained. “Eventually, we decided to give up on Atlanta entirely, and moved to St. Simons.”
Eubanks may be retired from academics, but photography certainly remains an integral part of her life. One of the things she loves most about the genre is the way it captures light.
“Rembrandt is my favorite artist because of the way he captures light, and the drama it creates,” she said. “About my work in particular, I like the notion of infinite possibilities involved in what I do.”
Eubanks says she has a bank of images of historic coastal architecture, and another bank of images of water, sea and sky.
“Matching them to each other creates infinite possibilities which I enjoy exploring,” she said.
This is where her muse, “Jimmy King,” an imaginary childhood friend, enters the scene.
“These images take me to places that only exist in my imagination, a place I share with ‘Jimmy King, …” she said. “(He) inhabits my computer when it goes into overload, and spits out pictures I didn’t anticipate.
“Then, I have to decide whether Jimmy is on to something I like.”
Ever the teacher, Eubanks has some advice for aspiring photographers.
“First, you have to have something to say, and you need to look objectively at the image to see whether the image communicates what you want it to,” she said.
She advises people to forget what type of camera they have, the lens, the f-stop, etc. and to focus on what’s included (or not) in the frame, where the light is coming from and what’s illuminated or not.
All in all, the process is a simple one.
“Pay attention to where you are pointing the camera,” she said.