We had the good fortune of connecting with Renee Cornue and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Renee, do you have some perspective or insight you can share with us on the question of when someone should give up versus when they should keep going?
Great question, especially poignant right now as things start to slow down for the season. My upbringing led me to believe, for the longest time, that art was a career for “other lucky people” but not me. It’s been a long journey of deprogramming, and in some ways I still have a hard time believing in myself and seeing myself as one of those “other people” who can, in fact, do it.
My own sheer doggedness is the primary thing keeping me going. I love what I do. I love learning about all things photography. I love studying the work of others, history of processes, and honing in on my voice and style. I deeply admire passionate people that go blindly towards their passions and have recently, within the last two years, realized that I, too, can be like the people I admire. My upbringing keeps me grounded; I have to be smart and responsible whilst being creative and spontaneous.
I take a lot of inspiration from other creatives, in all fields. Actors, musicians, and other artists who took the risk and made it happen for themselves. I’m inspired by the likes of Annie Liebovitz and Alec Soth, but also local heroes like the Stillhouse Junkies and the many makers I’m lucky to know.
There are a lot of days I want to give up. A lot of imposter syndrome, a lot of headaches and tears. I spend an obscene amount of my free time learning bookkeeping, tax laws, and admin. But I keep myself going by knowing that if I put in the legwork now, I’m setting myself up for a future I am already proud of.
On a tangible level, in moments of doubt, I set attainable but big goals for myself; keystone moments of pride I can refer to. I worked my butt off to afford traveling and building my portfolio in my early twenties. I opened my own beautiful, cozy studio amidst a global pandemic. Within the first year of opening my business, I self-published a photobook of which I am very proud. I’ve gotta be my own inspiration, too.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m absolutely in love with street photography and that’s how I primarily describe myself- a “street photographer”. Those unfamiliar often have difficulty understanding what this phrase refers to, understandably. To me, street photography is all about interpreting happenings around you and playing with shapes, colors, and light to tell a story, even if only a brief one. These might be every-day scenarios witnessed by dozens of people, but my desire, as a street photographer, is to interpret what is happening into a visual narrative. I love the challenge of discovering the “decisive moment”, a phrase coined by Henri Cartier-Bresson, referring to the moment that all elements within a frame happen to align perfectly.
I’ll give an example. The cover image of my new book, “Fever Dream”, is, simply put, a photo of my aunt and uncle’s framed wedding portrait. However, when I took the image, the sun was setting behind me, low enough to cast a shadow along the wall in which this portrait is hung. The shadow dramatically cuts my aunt and uncle in half, illuminating the hold my uncle has on my aunt’s arm. The harsh evening light also casts my shadowy reflection nearly atop my aunt’s face. I often take photos like this, and consider them “self-portraits”, seeing (literally and figuratively) reflections of myself in various images. This image, however, struck home a bit more than others. I go into this more in-depth in my book, but the history of my mother’s family is central to a lot of my identity. My aunt’s wedding portrait has likely hung on the same wall for years, however, in this instant, I was able to tell a drastically different story than the obvious one of my aunt’s wedding. In this story, I play a role as an observer, interpreter, and a wallflower attempting to grasp at the legacy of my mother and her family.
I studied photography in college. At first, it was a “gift” I gave myself, as I took photography electives to lessen the blow of my science-heavy course load as an environmental science major. But after spending a semester in Northern Ireland, I realized I felt the most alive, giddy even, when walking the streets with my camera-in-hand. So, I double-majored, taking on another year and a half of study. I taught various environmental topics for a while, but my mind would always wander back to what made me most excited, photography. So I ran with it.
I’m happy, and I’m most proud that I can even say that. Transparency is important, and I have to admit there are days I feel foolish or doubtful, but I just have to accept that doubt is a part of the process. I’m proud of the experiences I’ve had to travel and the connections I’ve made through these travels. I go more into detail about this in my book, as well. But I will say that little-me never could have imagined I’d be where I am today.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
As a person who has been lucky enough to be hosted by some of the kindest and most accommodating hosts (Marco, Corinna, Teresa, the Janssens, Philippe, and the Van Loons, looking at you!) I LIVE for the opportunity to pay it forward.
Bar D Chuckwagon and the Durango train are a must, if you can afford it. They’re touristy and popular, but for a good reason. If you’re taking the train, ride it only one-way by taking the bus shuttle back (otherwise it’s a long day). Sit in the outside cabin on the right-hand side (facing the front of the train) for the best views.
Hike to the top of Castle Rock for an amazing view of Durango. There’s randomly cell service at the top, so call the Olde Schoolhouse Cafe (across the highway from the trailhead) and order a pizza. They make it fresh, so it’ll be done by the time you make it back down the hike.
James Ranch is a lovely spot to have a farm-fresh, outdoor dinner. Taste Coffee is the best coffee in Durango, maybe even the universe and the owners are friendly and knowledgeable. Dryside Supply Co. has the coolest southwest-inspired goods, designed locally. Get pampered at Deloro Salon.
And don’t forget to visit Renee Cornue Studio and pick up some prints and a copy of my book for your friends back home!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Durango’s local heroes, the Stillhouse Junkies deserve a lot of credit here. Not only have they opened a lot of doors for me, but their absolute dedication to their craft is incredibly humbling. I could go into a long tangent about how they spent the pandemic bringing music to hundreds of people in the area, but I’ll let them tell that story.
My parents, as one would hope, are my biggest fans. Though they may not always understand my trajectory, I appreciate them supporting it.