For years, Beverly Copen’s deep passion has been to use her camera instead of a pen to write stories through photography.
Of particular interest is to capture the stories of people living within their culture. She and her husband, Mel Copen, have traveled extensively, even living in Costa Rica and Japan for several years.
“I’ve always carried a camera. I found I was fascinated by the culture — how people live, how people work, how people play — around the world,” Beverly Copen said. “Living in Japan gave me an opportunity to take extraordinary pictures tourists would never be able to take.”
Copen started getting more serious about her photography about 25 years ago when she was invited to different countries to speak on various subjects. She has taught advanced sales training, and conducted many seminars and workshops.
“My observations behind the camera seem to gravitate toward the three topics I mentioned — people doing something or sitting there thinking. I have a lot of portraits,” Copen said.
Portraits became easier to capture as years passed and Copen upgraded her camera and equipment, including a zoom lens, which allowed her to get close. Copen also became adept at being able to ask people if she could take their picture without knowing the language.
“I love taking pictures of people, especially in their own environment,” she said.
A moment in time during the past 10 years turned a corner for Copen and her photography. She had so many photos, and once in a while would make a print for a friend or relative who liked one of her images, but did not know what to do with them.
While living in Cumming, Ga. [Copen is a native of Atlanta], she saw the area was changing demographically. Copen saw an announcement about an understanding diversity meeting and went. Toward the end, she stood up and said she had some great photographs from around the world, and that she could put together an exhibit, if it would help.
“A middle school teacher told me when I got my first exhibit ready it would be shown at her school. About one year later I put it together and had a three-week exhibit in the library,” Copen said.
Not only did Copen display the photographs, she set up a contest with prizes to have the students pick out their favorite photograph and explain why.
“About 300 wrote comments. They wrote extraordinary things about how the photograph touched them,” Copen said. “It was the first time I realized that I could have an impact on kids’ education on the world outside of their own door with photographs.”
That same impact from her photography has produced an invitation to show some of her photographs at the Herberger Theater Center’s Sacred Places art exhibit in Phoenix for two, three-month long exhibits. Two of Copen’s photographs, “Archways to the Past” and “Against All Odds,” will show from Saturday, Jan. 8, through Sunday, March 27. The other two chosen, “Sunset of the Century” and “At the End of the Day,” will be on display during the Sacred Messages art exhibit from Friday, April 1, through Wednesday, June 29. Copen will be one of 22 featured artists exhibited.
Copen saw the call for artists on the Internet and sent in 10 pieces, along with explanations as to why they are sacred places to her. Then she waited.
“Then I got a letter of congratulations saying, ‘Two of your pieces have been selected.’ I was thrilled,” Copen said. “The next day, I got another letter, ‘Congratulations, two more of your pieces have been selected.’ So, I’ll have my work shown in Phoenix for six months.”
“Archways to the Past” is a photograph of a ruin doorway in Pompeii, Italy, and “Against All Odds” is a lone tree growing among snow-covered hills in Yellowstone National Park.
“It was shot in color but looks black and white because it was a cloudy day with snow all around,” Copen said.
Seeing a scene for Copen is about seeing the person and what they are doing within the scenery.
“Other people tend to see the scenery. Like in ‘At the End of the Day,’ I saw an old man in Croatia with a cigar fishing under a brilliant sunset. The sunset was a bonus,” Copen said. “Photography provides a way to capture precious moments in everyday life. Through my viewfinder I see the spirit of how people live, work and play. It provides for me a visual means to tell stories and hopefully make a difference along the way.”
Copen’s pieces are in private homes of collectors in Arizona and around the United States, including a five-star resort in Montana. She has received several awards for her photography.
“I see things through the lens other people tell me they don’t see,” Copen said. “I love developing nations where you know you’re not in Kansas — places you wouldn’t see everywhere.”
On a small table next to the window in the living room is a table-top magazine rack with several of Copen’s photography books on doors, landscapes and people. She is in the process of producing a book based on the photograph exhibit she presented in Georgia. It is a visual book with more than 100 photographs and a teacher workbook for adolescent students. It is meant to help young people examine their own career and life choices. It will be printed in English and Spanish, Copen said.
“Exposing young people to cross-cultural diversity broadens their views of the world and makes my life more meaningful. I’m still looking for a publisher. I’m not in it for money; I want to make a difference,” Copen said.
The Herberger Theater Center is at 222 E. Monroe St. in Phoenix. It is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends from noon to 5 p.m.