Artist finds self in painterly photography

Growing up, Linda McAdams had always been surrounded and intrigued by the arts, taking an early liking to music. Later, she expanded her curiosity into the visual arts, which complemented her artistic expression. Over the past 15 years, she has cultivated her talents through what is referred to as “painterly photography,” modifying Polaroid photos as they develop. Next week, she will join more than 100 artists and crafters in the 32nd Annual Bethany Beach Boardwalk Arts Festival.

Coastal Point • Submitted: Lisa McAdams uses Polaroid photography to take a picture, then uses various techniques to turn the photograph into art. Sometimes she even uses paint directly on the photograph.
Lisa McAdams uses Polaroid photography to take a picture, then uses various techniques to turn the photograph into art. Sometimes she even uses paint directly on the photograph.

“I was introduced to Polaroid photography by a friend,” McAdams recalled. “I learned that there are different ways to manipulate the film, and I would try everything.”

Her work today consists of Polaroid photos that are heated during the developing stage to soften the chemical emulsion inside. Lines and colors blend together, giving the result a surreal appearance, comparable to a painting. Sometimes, McAdams applies color directly to the picture, using oil pastels or photographic oils.

“During developing, the chemicals are very malleable when heated,” she added. “I can use a variety of tools that help give me a good amount of control of the outcome.”

In today’s photography world, professionals are constantly adjusting to advancements in technology and other components, like a variety of lenses. For McAdams’ art, the simplicity of the Polaroid image helps to give a signature quality to her work.

“I have to use a very antiquated camera,” she explained. “It doesn’t support all of those different kinds of lenses, and it requires you to really get on top of your subject and really take in your work. It’s a very simple art. Once you get to know the camera and how it works, you can figure out how to approach shooting your shots.”

Because the developing process takes only a matter of minutes, the time that McAdams has to get her images just right is limited. Her location at that time quickly becomes her studio.

“It’s very liberating when you’re out there getting a picture and altering it in just the right way,” she said. Heated ceramic tiles help to slightly distort the original image, while clay varnishers and paints carry the clean-cut picture away from its original appearance.

“It’s all very organic,” she added. “I enjoy it because you’re not encumbered with equipment and lenses or caught up in all the technology. It brings its own challenges, and that helps me try new things and experiment more.”

Born in Philadelphia and now a resident of southern New Jersey, McAdams has seen the Mid-Atlantic coast all her life, but her work pulls from her travels across the globe.

“I travel at least once a year to Europe,” she said, “and I use a lot of that inspiration for my work.”

Images of Spain and Italy are among some of her most popular, while Pennsylvania landmarks are also recognizable in her work. Images of beach life have become particularly favored, as well.

“My heart is along the coastline,” she said. “I love the color of the beach scenes – the umbrellas and chairs. The coast is the coast, everywhere you go, but each area has something a little different about it. I also love shooting architectural stuff, too. When you soften the straight lines, you can really see and appreciate the technique.”

Throughout the summer months, she will participate in art shows and festivals spanning from Virginia to Cape Cod, and as the cooler months set in, she heads south.

“I participate in a number of shows,” she said, “but I never do ones with people who do what I do. I’ve seen people [alter] Polaroid shots in other ways, but once you find something, it becomes individual, it becomes yours. People know your work by your style.”

The surrealism in McAdams’ work has allowed thousands to associate with not only a familiar place, but the emotions it represents.

“My pictures evoke a feeling,” she said. “It reminds people of how they felt. That’s what I strive for. It doesn’t have to be a direct representation or copy, but the feeling you get when you see it is what matters. That’s what people connect with.”

For more on Linda McAdams’ work, visit She will be featured next Saturday, Sept. 11, at the 32nd Annual Bethany Beach Boardwalk Arts Festival, in downtown Bethany Beach. For more information about the festival, including other crafters and vendors, check out