Helen L. Collen’s Photographic Exhibition, ‘Gratitude’, Sunday December 2nd 2018
Helen L. Collen’s statement cannot be more moving and revealing: ‘I died twice due to complications after my beautiful son Jaxson was born. There was no white light; no angels waiting; no singing voices; and I didn’t see my grandmother with outstretched hands. There was nothing. I don’t even remember the event itself. It has been told to me in dramatic form over and over by loved ones who were devastated that life could leave so unannounced and so quickly. Before all of this, I had a great appreciation of life but would still let the little things gnaw at me. Sometimes that gnawing would stifle my creativity. As an artist, I am supposed to have this unlimited cauldron of magic atoms popping off in my brain. But, life would get in the way. Until it didn’t… Now life IS the way. It’s this beautifully simplistic complexity of reds and blues, smooths and roughs, hills and valleys. There is beauty in all of it. Dead I saw nothing. Alive, I see it all and I want to share it. Gratitude is my journey’.
Gratitude was also the name of her one-night-only exhibit in West Hollywood on Sunday night, which was featuring 50 of her original photographs. Helen has been a costume designer for 22 years (she was, among other examples, the costumer for the famous TV series The Wire) and she has been married to rock star Phil Collen (of Def Leppard/Delta Deep fame) since 2010.
She started taking photos when she was just 15 years old and has continued to shoot behind the scenes. ‘You really never stop when you begin to watch people’, she said, ‘I have always had a camera in my hand’. It was her husband Phil who suggested she should submit photos to an exhibit in a gallery in NYC, which led to this one-night-only exhibit on Sunday night. If the exhibit was almost about her work, it was also showcasing ten stunning concert photographs shot by another photographer of the family, Phil’s son Rory J. Collen – you can check his work on Instagram at @rorycphotography.
If you are the wife of a rockstar, it’s obviously very tempting to do concert photography, and there were some magnificent blown-up pics of her shirtless husband on stage, even performing with the famous band Kiss. Phil’s memoir, ‘Adrenalized: Life, Def Leppard, and Beyond’, features one of her photos.
However, when I talked with Helen, she didn’t seem to be overly interested by showing me these huge photos of Gene Simmons. Instead, when I asked her where she wanted to pose for a photo, she picked the wall with the New York iconic landmarks and one photo which was shot in Florida and showing a cleaning woman resting after her hard work in front of a wall of graffiti. ‘That’s the hardness of her life,’ Helen said.
Helen is interested in people, she is passionate at capturing a special moment, like this bride whose veil was blown away by the wind in Australia, this Japanese woman adjusting her kimono or these pink hat women marching in Washington during the historic women’s march. Traveling with Phil Collen gives her plenty of chances to explore the world and landscapes were also largely featured among Helen’s collection, with a strong desire to capture sunsets all over the world, ‘The sunsets are never too less, they are all amazing’.
From arena rock iconic characters to landscapes to common people, Helen is eager to capture every moment before it disappears. ‘I see the world, and I try to show people what I see,’ she said. From a street under snow – a view from her Brooklyn apartment – to landscapes from all over the world, ‘I love landscapes, and I am blessed to be able to travel all over the world with my husband’ she explained, Helen is before anything else a people watcher, as she insisted to tell me with a passion conveying a desire to be always looking for something different.
But at the end, she is shooting because she wants to remember stuff, ‘very often I am taking pics for myself’, she added.
The photos were all printed using the printing technique called Vibrachrome, a vibrant and very durable way to printing photographs on metal, which is either available in white or natural aluminum, making the photos pop up with a pleasant semi-glossy shine.
You can check Helen’s work on her website: HelenCollenPhotography.com.