Reaching for Her Stars!

07 Sep 2021

Talented, local photographer Kelly Starbuck showcases traditional wall prints and textile pieces in her latest exhibition


Like so many artists before her, local photographer Kelly Starbuck arrived at the crossroads where she had to decide whether to continue on her secure but crushing career path, or take the leap and follow her true calling. It’s never easy to make that shift when the road is less traveled, and there’s no obvious map to follow, but it’s never easy living with regret either. Well, certainly not for this courageous photographer. Starbuck seized the moment and has since navigated her way to a more deeply fulfilling creative life as a full time working photographer. September sees Wilmington Magazine’s very own freelance photographer of eight years, hosting an exhibit of her personal work at Art in Bloom, and we’re excited to celebrate her accomplishments.

Having moved from Wilmington, NC at 26 to take her own bite of the Big Apple, Starbuck began producing major corporate events and was thriving on the adrenaline of the fast pace and glamorous veneer. “I loved it for a while, and then one morning after another 18 hour work day, I realized I had surrounded myself with people who were actually doing what I wanted to be doing, while I managed budgets and logistics,” remembers Starbuck. Listening to her ‘inner voice’ and drawing on her innate resourcefulness, her aim was to become a full time photographer, crafting professional shoots and exploring her own fine art projects, without going into a ton of debt.

Consequently in 2003, Starbuck began her transition into the photographic industry. Her singular focus led her to being a photo assistant and studio manager to the iconic Fernando Bengoechea and simultaneously working as a teaching assistant at the International Center of Photography in NYC. “I threw myself into the fire in all the areas I was interested in and learnt that way. I was helping teachers and gaining knowledge at the same time,” smiles Starbuck, surrounded by her eclectic body of photographic work. Abstract prints exploring light and dark sit next to assignment based headshots and editorial shoots.

Deeply inspired by memories, documentation and the feeling of a specific moment, Starbuck’s personal work seeks to capture a sense of time and space by playing with light and shadow. Growing up in Wrightsville Beach, then experiencing the intensity of New York City, her latest collection honors her relationship with both nature and city life. “New York is where I became a photographer. This exhibit is all about utilizing the energy of the city, the bright lights and connecting it to where I am now, back at my roots, back at the beach,” explains Starbuck.

In an age of endless filters and infinite editing possibilities, what does Starbuck’s creative process involve? “I started photography with film, so it’s ingrained in me to get the picture right with the camera. I don’t do a whole lot of manipulation in post-production. I don’t want to sit at a desk editing for endless hours, I want to work with what’s there in terms of location and light and create something unique,” says Starbuck.

Revisiting her childhood and finding ways to express the memories with soft focus and blurred edges, Starbuck refers to her first creative outlet, which was music. Unable to have music lessons, Starbuck always loved to sing and was in multiple choirs, ensembles and even had a few solo parts during high school. “This is why I have been building a portrait series of musicians that I connect with and who inspired me for the last ten years,” says Starbuck about a vast body of work dedicated to visually recording the spirit of music and the musicians who make it.

In addition to her own creative process, Starbuck has a vibrant assignment based aspect to her work, shooting for commercial and private clients and specializing in headshots, particularly for women. “I love helping my clients feel comfortable. I don’t stop until we get the image that they love,” smiles Starbuck who can roll between the immediacy of the moment and the precision of a more controlled photographic experience with ease.

Ever prolific, Starbuck’s photography has been displayed in countless magazines, galleries and even on Larry King Live, The Sundance Channel and in The New York Times. Starbuck had her own gallery between 2013-2015, SALT Studio Photography featured both national and local photographers during countless Fourth Friday Gallery nights and partnered with The Brooklyn Arts Center to produce and curate Wilmington’s first large-scale photography show featuring over 35 artists. She is thrilled to be exhibiting a collection of abstract pieces for the first time in her upcoming exhibit at Art in Bloom Gallery, which opens on September 24th. Delving into various themes of nostalgia, memory, beauty and dreams, through land and seascapes, Starbuck’s creativity is fueled from a deep place within herself. Blending different photography techniques and formats, the exhibit will showcase traditional wall prints and a limited edition of textile pieces. Wilmington is just as excited to receive this new work as Starbuck is to present it.

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