Photographer Shelly Mosman on crafting surreal images

The Minneapolis photographer enjoys “the mystery of things.”

Portrait photographer Shelly Mosman poses for a portrait with work at her studio in Minneapolis on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.

Meagan Lynch

Portrait photographer Shelly Mosman poses for a portrait with work at her studio in Minneapolis on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.

by Gunthar Reising

The white floor and walls of Shelly Mosman’s studio are broken up by bright photographs three to four feet tall.

The photographs range from imitations of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine” to a family portrait with a horse indoors next to a grand piano. All of Mosman’s photographs combine realist detail and surreal content.

Mosman has photographed everything from weddings to famous actors in Los Angeles.

“I really enjoy the mystery of things,” Mosman said. Part of it, she explained, is simply to keep people looking.

“When you look at something and you immediately understand it … I personally just move onto the next picture. But when you see something and you don’t really understand what’s going on — and you feel it more in the gut than in the head — you can venture into it more,” she said.

However, the enigmatic mood of her work serves another function.

“It allows you to just be in that space and take a break from where we live every single day.”

Which leads to Mosman’s ultimate goal: “[to] create spaces where we can sit and ponder.”

This fascination with escapism goes back to Mosman’s childhood.

“I think it starts way back when you’re little. There used to be this painting in my parents’ living room … almost like a Bob Ross painting,” she said. “I would sit and stare at that and daydream.”

In fact, much of Mosman’s photography draws on her childhood. Stylized portraits were something she did while playing with her sister.

“Back in the day, I was 12 years old, and I was dressing up my two-year-old sister and posing her next to the 1986 Grand Am,” Mosman said.

Likewise, her photos often feature young children with a bow and arrow.

“I like what slingshots and BB guns represent during your childhood. When we’re young, we’re just out playing around, but we’re so serious about it,” Mosman said.

Since she often works with children, many of Mosman’s photo shoots are short. Sometimes she only gets 10 photos.

“The key is to not go for perfect. I’m not interested in perfect — it’s an energy more than anything. This is going to sound cheesy, but I like to look through the lens and see, ‘This is it, we’re done.’ I like that to be within the first 10 shots.”

For Mosman, it’s important to be spontaneous. No scheming is allowed.

“I don’t think too much about it … it messes stuff up if I think too much,” she said.

Even while being interviewed, Mosman didn’t like to overthink her pieces. Whenever a question was too direct or sought a strong definition, Mosman would squirm a little bit.

“I don’t want to put a pinpoint on it. I like to tell stories, and I don’t necessarily need to know what the story is because I want be able to go back to the image and tell it again,” she said.The effects of the photographs are just bonuses — it’s the process that matters, Mosman said.

“I’d go crazy if I didn’t [photograph] … it really is just my love for working with people,” she said. “The images are really just a bonus forhaving another social level.”