Seeds of Creativity

Alumnus Enjoys Second Career as Award-Winning Photographer

Photography by Bert GF Shankman

Photograph of a red flower Rhode Island
Stylized photograph of a vase with three tall leaves Shale
Headshot of Bert ShankmanBert GF Shankman

Bert GF Shankman (CLC '65) spent nearly 30 years as a systems analyst, translating complicated economic trends for computer programmers. Now he creates award-winning photographs of flowers in all their ochre, amber and ruby glory.

Though painting and drawing were his interests during those earlier years, Shankman was too busy working and raising a family to pursue them. But after retiring from the Federal Reserve System in Washington, D.C., in 1995, he joined a camera club, mainly for the social contact.

"I tried portraits, landscapes and whatever," said Shankman, who had majored in economics and minored in art history. "Nothing satis ed me until my wife and I were on a trip and I started photographing flowers in an arboretum, and it somehow spoke to me."

Last year, the International Garden Photographer of the Year (IGPOTY)—a competition based at Kew Gardens in London and specializing in botanical photography—awarded him third place in its Still Life competition for his work titled Sentient. The image is part of an exhibit traveling through Europe.

Photograph of a vase of sunflowers Sentient

Shankman's photographs often reflect the emotions and people in his life. "If I'm feeling a lot of happiness, the picture will tend to re ect that in its brightness," he said. "Other times, I might be feeling a lot of anger and pain, and that shows up in dark and moody pictures in the style of Rembrandt paintings."

To create his lush, expressionist photos, Shankman produces a composite of as many as 50 images he has taken of one floral subject, adjusting elements such as light and color intensity. Then he layers in textures from other images, which, for example, can make the surface of a vase shimmer like water or a petal take on a rock's uneven surface.


The IGPOTY award capped off a string of successes. Shankman had shows in Berlin, New York City and Lishui, China. The Federal Reserve acquired a collection of 46 of his images in 2013 for its Washington headquarters after Shankman did a solo show there. And The Washington Post commissioned him to create a photo spread for a story about a carnivorous plant nursery.


Although Shankman's work has taken him on a once-unimaginable international journey, his creativity starts in his backyard in Maryland. "By and large, I grow what I shoot," he said. "When the seed catalogues start coming around Thanksgiving, I look at the pictures and start forming ideas." And come spring, his garden will once again be this artist's muse.

—Lee Chilcote