By Lisa Shrewsberry
Photographer Courtney McCoy gets so lost in the lens of her camera, she feels transported to another world, even in the face of danger.
“I find myself zoning out,” she explains, recalling an incident where getting just the right shot nearly put her in the pathway of an oncoming train. “If it’s something that excites me, something of sentimental or historical value, I get lost in the moment.”
Courtney has also used her art to capture personal moments, those pleasant and not. Her deep love and respect for her boyfriend’s grandparents’ dairy farm in Monroe County shines through in the images she’s captured there, of tractors, of cows and of the family.
“I had to pick something to do my photojournalism assignment on and I chose (their farm). I’ve been a part of that family for 12 years now and they take so much pride in their work.”
Courtney recognized the signature to her style when other classmates chose farm themes for their projects, but her images told a completely different story than anyone else’s.
“Sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to come up with, and that’s one of my favorite things about photography — surprising myself by making me see something in a new way or capturing something unexpected.”
That bucolic photographs have become her trademark, in off-center focus, with pungent reds or blues amid the greens and browns, is as surprising to her as it is to anyone who knows her.
“Old, rustic Americana (as a focal point) is very strange because I’m a more modern type of person.”
As a senior casino host for The Greenbrier, Courtney was required in 2010 to begin working night shift. The transition caused her to experience a serious case of insomnia that affected her physically.
“My body was shutting down.” Studying the Depression Era art of Dorothea Lange, Courtney was charged to document how she felt in pictures. “You could tell I was in pain. I was paranoid, miserable.”
She’s made the honest images part of her vast portfolio, which she estimates in its entirety at about 30,000 images.
The artist lives now in Williamsburg, but being born into a military family has earned her a history of addresses from all over, including Germany. “I was there when the Berlin wall came down,” she remembers.
She also recalls having a camera of some kind in her hand since the age of 12 and the feeling of something strange taking over, of an enchanting compulsion to capture an object in a way it has never been seen before, has remained a constant. Like the visual context of her detailed macro shots of butterflies, her images must be contemplated like a painting, with meaning far beneath the surface subject.
“The butterflies look like they have a personality. I’m not really a butterfly person, but after spending hours in their natural environment, I realized how life for them is so short, and I thought, how can I make this look different?”
With life imitating art imitating life, Courtney lives for each fragile instant, considering most doors as openings rather than closures. “I want to capture the moment, whatever that moment is going to be.”