"I feel like the grand marshal of a parade in my hometown," laughs Houston photographer Syd Moen, who finds herself in the Featured Artist seat at this weekend's Bayou City Art Festival Downtown around City Hall and inside Sam Houston Park.
Moen's instantly-recognizable Little Planets series — in which panoramic photos of area landmarks are warped into tiny floating spheres — have captured the imaginations of casual art fans and collectors alike, making the Houston native a bit of an unlikely local celebrity.
Her path to becoming a dedicated artist has taken decades and some rather unusual on-the-job training, she tells CultureMap.
Though armed with a graduate degree in architecture, Moen ended up gravitating away from building design to launch a company in the 1990s that specialized in 360-degree imaging known as VR photography — a then-new technology most of us now see on a regular basis thanks to Google Street View.
It's this uniquely small sense of place that keep viewers glued to each Little Planet.
In 2010, Moen expanded her technical expertise into the realm of fine art photography. "I was really intrigued by this notion of a particular location becoming its own world," she says. "And, given my background, I felt I knew a way to achieve that."
She describes her perspective on Houston as intimate and personal, in spite of the city's immense and sprawling size. It's this uniquely small sense of place that keep viewers glued to each Little Planet.
And while anyone with a cellphone can produce similar photo effects with apps like Tiny Planet and 360 Panorama, Moen feels newer technologies aren't able to capture a location's presence as well as the VR process she's lovingly developed through the years.
"It's such an honor to be able to share the making of art with so many people at the Bayou City Art Festival," she says. "I grew up in the Montrose area when the festival was on Westheimer. I'd walk there with my buddies and remember thinking how cool it all was . . . And here we here."
Featuring work by more than 300 artists, the 2013 Bayou City Art Festival Downtown takes place Saturday and Sunday at Sam Houston Park and around City Hall. Tickets are $15 for adults and $3 for kids aged 4 to 12. Children 3 and under are free.