It is difficult to express the surprise and joy I felt when I first discovered Syd Moen’s “Little Planets.” Landmarks from my childhood were transformed into worlds of their own, as each building became the prominent focus of the photograph. I stumbled upon her portrayal of River Oaks Theater and thought, “I know that place!” But the picture is so much more than a just snapshot of the vintage styled theater. It truly is its own “Little Planet,” encompassing the building and surrounding area into a sphere of individuality.
Artist Syd Moen is a native Houstonian and many of the buildings she captures are personal touchstones from her life. One of my favorite photographs is “The Heights House,” because the spherical dimension of the photo leads the viewer into an experience similar to one in Alice in Wonderland. In reality, this house, located in the Heights neighborhood of Houston, is just an ordinary white house on a residential block owned by friends of Moen.
Growing up in Montrose, Moen remembers walking down the street to the original Westheimer Art Festival, which has now evolved into the large scale Bayou City Arts Festival. She watched the Menil Collection grow and other art groups develop, and was able to experience Houston’s acceptance of its current diverse art scene.
Moen always considered herself an artist, but didn’t have the confidence to dedicate herself fully to her art until after working many different jobs. She received her Bachelors Degree in Art History and Architecture from the University of Houston, and her background and study of these fields can be seen in her work. Moen has experimented in cyanotypes, which correlate with the blueprints of architecture, and many of the buildings in the “Little Plants” series are chosen based on their architectural uniqueness.
Moen has always wanted to stay in Houston but the city’s distinctive layout hasn’t affected her work. She grew up in the core of the city, engulfed in the sprawl, and is too used to the haphazard arrangement for it to make an impact on her inspiration. Moen has instead found that the lack of zones simply doesn’t allow residents to be “spoon fed” the attractions of the city. The people and places are here; they just have to be discovered on one’s own. She feels that the character of Houston is what truly makes it different from other cities. There is a spirit of “anyone can make it,” and the community, especially the art community, is extremely generous. She has had supportive mentors who have helped her with the process of becoming a profitable artist. Moen was able to find her niche in the interesting mixture of art that Houston houses, which ranges from graffiti to fine art and everything in between.
Moen considers her photography a full time job and is a one-woman show. She controls every aspect of her work, including marketing, email, website, printing, and sales. Each spherical panorama is about thirty shots stitched together and takes anywhere from 2 days to a week to complete. Most buildings are chosen because of their architecture or sense of place; jewels from her background waiting to be encapsulated into their own planet. Some places are instantaneously picked, such as the yellow beach house. The sky was particularly expressive that day and Moen wanted to capture it in one of her works. Many buildings are also done on commission.
For more information, visit her website at: http://sydmoen.com