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Wheaton Mahoney

Portrait of a long-term passion

"When I saw the first prints, the black and white tonal quality literally put tears in my eyes. It was superb."
I was a lucky young artist wanting to express my imagination. Wearing punk rock hair and combat boots, I found my voice in the darkroom and with a camera. The way I see it, photography chose me. My first dream was to become a commercial photographer, so I worked as an intern and an assistant, in photo labs and stock agencies. I would study the Black Book for artists who inspired me, and I would reach out to them for advice. Many said “yes” and took time to teach me. 

I attended the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) for training in traditional fine art and started shooting for myself- with an eye now turned towards galleries, museums, and earning awards. When I started studying, it was with this very clear determination of wanting my work bigger than life, big enough that I could walk into it, or in someone’s home so that they could see it everyday. It was a gradual but steady process- an evolution. Part of that process was that after years of shooting with 35mm DSLR gear, last December in 2015, I realized that the system just wasn’t giving me what I needed…that technically I wasn’t achieving that final image that I visualized.

The details weren’t there. When I’d enlarge the image, the grain, the resolution wasn’t high enough. It just didn’t hold up. I chose the Phase One XF IQ3 80MP system because I knew I wanted a full frame sensor and exchangeable viewfinders. For my portrait work I chose the Schneider Kreuznach 80mm and 150mm Blue Ring lenses. Yes, it was a big investment, and if you asked me what’s the difference, I’ll tell you that when I saw the first prints, the black and white tonal quality literally put tears in my eyes. It was superb. Now I’m shooting images that are printing 40” x by 40”— so I really need the high resolution and the incredible texture.

Not only is the tonality richer because of the camera; it’s even richer with Capture One. What a stunning difference. For years, I’ve been a Lightroom user, but when I shot one image with the Phase One and opened up the image in both Capture One and Lightroom, the comparison was profound. The dynamic range and contrast alone were far greater with Capture One; in Lightroom my image looked muddy by comparison. Since that day, I haven’t looked back. I still use Photoshop for minor tweaks, but the majority of my editing is done in Capture One Pro.
"This camera is allowing me to get the job done to the level I want and what I have envisioned"
For my most recent personal project, Cradle to Grave, I wanted consistency in crop and lighting for both men and women. Normally, I would light for my subject’s features. It was important for me to set this context and work within the parameters to create the series. I am a calm photographer, but one who clearly knows what I want to capture. While I need to make people feel comfortable in front of my camera, I also need to know when I can push them further to create an image that’s emotionally moving.

To evoke the feeling in my subjects, I added prompts that span cradle to grave triggers- words like, “teenage angst”, “first kiss”, “illness” etc. I wanted to capture intimate photos that conveyed their life experiences, the subtle, micro-expressions. How you can tell their shoulders are tense and they’re about to exhale but haven’t yet. The process has led to screaming, laughs and tears. I’ve been in tears behind the camera and find it all quite therapeutic. And through it all, this camera is allowing me to get the job done to the level I want and what I have envisioned.

For me it’s about knowing my goal and being determined to get it. I believe that people are comfortable with me because I listen and have the work to back up my ideas.  Plus I always love a challenge.

My focus is now on commissioned studio portraiture. Images that are life size or larger, commanding attention of their viewer. Big enough that you can see every character line and hair on the person’s face, feel what they’ve gone through so it stirs something in you. I still follow my own advice: it never hurts to ask. And when the answer’s yes, then you do the happy dance.

Phase One Partner of Choice: Digital Transitions


About Wheaton Mahoney

Wheaton Mahoney is an award-winning portrait photographer based in Los Angeles and western Massachusetts.
Over the past 25 years, Wheaton has created portfolios featuring black & white fine art architectural and landscape studies, product and still-life photography, behind-the-scenes stills on music videos and films, as well as actors’ headshots.  Her passion is portraiture, which has earned her several awards from Photo District News and Rangefinder Magazine. She has also earned two Honorable Mentions from The Monochrome Awards and a highlight in Shutterbug Magazine.

Wheaton Mahoney, a mother of two, has been carrying a camera since she was a teenager.  She studied photography at the Rhode Island School of Design and graduated in 1993.  Wheaton's photographs have become part of private collections nationwide and she has displayed portfolios in many solo and cooperative gallery and museum exhibitions.

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