Wide-Focus Introspection

So ingrained is Kylee Isom’s passion for photography that its terminology subconsciously creeps into her speech. She remembers her “exposure” to the discipline as a child and that “something clicked” when she first picked up a camera. She casually mentions the “focus” of her current work and how she has “developed” as an artist.

Kylee Isom self portrait

“Sunday Best” self portrait by Kylee Isom

Isom is one of two Mizzou photography seniors named to the “26 to Watch” list from Lenscratch, an online platform celebrating photographic art. The honor highlights the work of 26 international students who submitted photos for Lenscratch’s Student Prize Awards and who think deeply about profound subjects.

“I have always been interested in the concept of prescribed femininity, gender and stereotypes, and how these roles have carved a path in me and others like me,” says Isom, a native of West Plains, Missouri. “It’s a path that I didn’t necessarily ask for.”

Isom arrived at Mizzou thinking she’d ultimately become an art teacher. But when she tried her hand at painting, she found it to be, well — like watching paint dry.

“I didn’t like the slow process because I’m a fast-paced person,” says Isom, whose mother is a professional photographer. “The fact that you have to wait was so annoying to me.”

Mother and daughter lay on grass

“My Mother’s Daughter” by Kylee Isom

Isom is grateful to her School of Visual Studies mentors — photography professors Joe Johnson and Travis Shaffer, and painting and drawing professors Fidencio Martinez Perez and Anna Wehrwein — for guiding her along her artistic journey. Isom’s work, which was featured at the MU Visual Art and Design Showcase (VADS), includes exploratory self-portraits, as well as portraits of her sisters, grandmother and other women in her family.

“I think a lot about viewer experience, and I like people to be uncomfortable,” Isom says. “Mizzou helped me find out what I wanted to be as a photography artist.”

Tristan Sheldon’s path to photography has also been winding. The son of MU psychology professors, he has started, stopped and started again at Mizzou, intermittently traveling the country and discovering his “eye.”

A pair of muddy hands on a tabletop

“Working Clay” by Tristan Sheldon

“I took the 4×5 class with Joe Johnson, and it was a life-changing experience,” says Sheldon, who is also a VADS participant. “It was the most fun I’d had in higher education and the first class I took that motivated me in that way.”

Johnson has enjoyed watching both student-artists change while cultivating a unique style.

“Within the same program, Tristan and Kylee have nurtured remarkably distinct art practices,” Johnson says. “In landscape or self-portraiture, both create coherent photographic inquiries that tap our collective anxieties for the future.”

Tented building inblaack and white

“Airlock” by Tristan Sheldon

Sheldon says the VADS experience taught him to be more thoughtful about curating and displaying his work, while being named to the Lenscratch list is an enormous confidence boost.

“VADS showed me that I need to present more than just pictures I like,” Sheldon says. “Lenscratch confirmed for me that I have potential, and that I can make it somewhere in the field. It’s a good feeling.”