VIROQUA — Hanna Agar is a conceptual photographer who not only does her own fine art photography but also commercial photography with a fine art flair.
Art lovers will have an opportunity to see and purchase Agar’s work when they visit her Viroqua studio during the second annual Winding Roads Art Tour next weekend. The self-guided art tour will take people to nine studios in Viroqua and 12 more within a 20-mile radius of the city — and a total of 37 artists.
When it’s time for her to create images for a client, Agar’s first step is to go into a quiet room with a blank piece of paper. If Agar is going to photograph a musician, for example, she’ll listen to the music and jot down ideas and sketches for the photo shoot.
“When I sit down and do it, it is a meditation on my client,” she said. “I think about their idea and what comes to mind. I really enjoy that part.
“With my personal work, the fine art photography, sometimes an image will pop in my mind,” Agar said. “Sometimes if I see a random prop it sparks interest.”
Agar said that during photo shoots for clients she plans as much as possible.
“Spontaneity may happen, and often are my favorite images. Planning helps you get 75 percent there, and then I let them play. People feel more comfortable, and you get a true moment for them. That’s fun and exciting.”
Her professional images have not only been for musicians, but also for variety entertainers like jugglers.
“It’s all about them,” Agar said. “I’ll theatricalize them and bring in humor and narrative. It’s not just a head shot, there’s a theatricality to it. I like to bring out the character within each person, so it’s like a picture from a storybook.”
Her professional photography also includes images for advertising.
In addition to her commercial and personal fine art work, Agar retouches images by other photographers.
Agar also retouches her own images. “The image I take is a background sketch and I add layers of integrity to it. I bring in more color and add (images).”
“I try to keep it simple while still going over the top, and then I subtract. It’s building, building and then I step back a bit. It’s a fine point and at the end, then that’s it — that’s done — and that’s exciting,” Agar said.
As she layers the images and colors in her own work, she creates images that are surreal and others that have a fun, silly quality to them.
A 2003 Westby High School graduate and a 2009 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Agar moved back to Vernon County with her husband, Brendan Karlstad, a year ago. She spent five years in Brooklyn, N.Y., working and learning from photographers.
Since she has returned to the area, she has started working with more local businesses and artists.
“In New York City, there’s such a concentration of everybody,” she said. “There was lots of work and there were interesting people. There’s a perceived prestige.”
Agar said she is happy to be back in the Midwest and hopes to bring more attention to people who choose to live in small cities.
“There are musicians and other people who do interesting things and value that environment (of a small city),” she said. “I appreciate all of the interesting work around here.”
Agar said an art tour is important for both artists and the public because of the exposure it provides.
“Even though I’m part of the arts community, I’m still surprised by how many artists and studios there are in the area,” she said. “Not everyone realizes the concentration and variety of artists in the area. It’s valuable to see an artist’s space and see the creating in progress and see the effort and love going into each piece.”
Another benefit of the tour, she said, is seeing the Vernon County landscape while visiting artists’ studios in the country.
Amy Arnold and her husband, Kelsey Sauber Olds, work collaboratively on carved wood sculptures in their rural Viroqua studio. Their studio was open during last year’s tour. “It was really great,” she said. This year, Arnold’s friend Leah Evans will be in their studio with her map-inspired textiles.
Like Agar, Arnold likes how a tour exposes people to area artists.
“You can see what the process is and who made it,” Arnold said. “Artists can share that and it’s rewarding. It’s a great thing for the community and the artist.”