Elizabeth Huey first started taking photographs as source material for her paintings. She was painting scenes from the early 1900s and realized that the Hasidic community, a quick walk from where she lived in Brooklyn, were perfect subjects for what she wanted to paint. The more she took photos, the more she became attracted to the medium.
“What happened there was this progression for me,” she said. “Sometimes the painting would drive the photographic image, and sometimes I would find an image and that would drive elements to the painting. I had a discourse between painting and photography.”
Huey said that although painting was her first love, she enjoyed getting out into the streets to take photographs. She felt a bit like a hermit, holed up in her studio.
“I do see something in the world, and I think, ‘Oh, I should get a photo of that because I want to remember that for a future painting,’ ” she said. “But then there are other times when I think I better take a photo of that because that could never be a painting.”
As a teenager, Huey got in trouble a lot and was placed in the controversial treatment facility Straight, Incorporated, where she said she had to sit in chairs from 8 a.m. until midnight with nothing to do. It was particularly brutal for a kid who wanted nothing more than to express herself through her art.
“As soon as I was able to make art again, I did,” she said. In college she studied psychology and art and felt she was “really trying to understand what had happened to me and to some degree try to wrap my head around that experience.”
“Sometimes we’re not conscious of the reasons we make decisions until much later,” she added. “Frequently we realize how much we love something when it’s actually pulled away from us. I feel very lucky to make art; it’s a privilege to be able to capture the world, even it’s just on an iPhone.”
The photographs Huey creates don’t necessarily fit into one genre. Although a lot of what she captures takes place on the streets, she balks at the title “street photographer.”
“What I try to do is to capture intimate moments … inexplicable moments that are hopefully complex and can be both sad and humorous simultaneously or could be a moment when people are connecting or disconnecting on some level,” she said. “Sometimes life surprises me, and then I press the button.”
Huey, who has since moved to Los Angeles, said that she’s a shy person and, like a lot of other photographers, describes her camera as a “good friend” that gives her a reason to invite herself into different situations and to photograph people who might not typically be photographed.
“I’m just socializing with people,” she said. “And they get so excited to have their picture taken; maybe it’s the first time they’re being seen in years.”
Follow Huey on Instagram.