Growing up in a small Illinois town of 500 people, Mary Hartenbower spent most of her time exploring her artistic abilities. She was greatly influenced by her grandmother who often looked after her and her four older brothers. Mary’s grandmother was an artist, and she taught Mary how to draw and encouraged her to play with watercolors. When Mary turned 16 she and her grandmother took a 10-day trip to Costa Rica where they spent time making photographs and learning the basics of photography. On this trip Mary decided to become a photographer. She continued taking art and photography classes during her high school years in Peru, Illinois. In college, she specialized in photography, earning a Bachelor of Fine Art degree from American Academy of Art in Chicago, Illinois.

Mary has gravitated towards using elements of nature in much of her work. She has made surrealistic images using Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Parks as backgrounds with a model in the foreground. Having previous experience of using acrylic and oil paint as a medium, she painted animal attributes on top of the printed photograph to play with the juxtaposition between nature and man. Mary has also traveled to Badlands National Park in South Dakota and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Montana. In these locations she made HDR photographs to show the detailed beauty of these natural wonders.

Recently, Mary has experimented with the alternative process known as cyanotype printing. In this work she makes photographs either digitally or with a large format film camera. The negatives are scanned into the computer and are printed out as 8” X 10” negatives onto transparency film. She sensitizes 8” X 10” paper and makes a contact print by using natural light anywhere between 5 to 25 minutes, depending on the density of the negative and intensity of the sun.

Mary’s recent body of work, titled “Church,” reveals her experiences and personal reflections of growing up in the Catholic Church. This body of work is a self-portrait series that explores the influence that the Church has made on her. It is neither a positive nor a negative statement, but rather her personal truth.