A while ago I got “fan mail” from someone regarding my portfolio of “stick pictures,” a body of work that I make in dense, brushy environments. She wanted some insight into my process, and I thought it would be illustrative to share the exchange here.
“Often I find that pictures of this nature look cluttered and pinched, but yours I find to be exceptionally emotive and contemplative. I was wondering about your mental and emotional approach to shooting these images. Do you focus more on the mental, with respect to composition, or is it something that you feel more so than see?”
“Thanks for the note. The “stick pictures” is where I do my deep work as a photographer. It is internal, it is visceral, and the question of why that sort of landscape is so compelling to me is not the interesting one. I’m grateful that there is such a rich vein for me to mine and that it has stayed so compelling for so many years.
“Though I’m sure it would be hugely valuable, I don’t meditate, I don’t do yoga, and I don’t have a regular practice to center myself or otherwise quiet the inner voice in my head so that I can pay attention to the moment. I’m actually an anxious fidgeter much of the time, and I’m forgetful and absent minded. Working with the camera, in the landscape, is the closest I get to a meditation practice of any kind, and it probably occupies that role in my life. I do know that, in those complex brushy environments, I am able to let go of the conscious attention to composition and framing and the sense that “now I’m taking a picture.” The pictures find themselves, and I follow. That part of the brain that is a lot smarter than the part that consciously knows what is going on is taking the lead.
“I have, though, been working this way for a couple of decades. The technical part is fluid and unconscious. I also take a lot of bad pictures when I’m out there. A lot of the work is attending to the results of a given shoot, and ferreting out the one shot that exemplifies the coherence of the moment. My method is to post proof prints in a place where I will see them in my peripheral vision for awhile, like my kitchen. Over time I take down the ones that bore me, and I see what survives. It is the spawning salmon method of photography. Most of the roe get eaten. Only a select few grow to adulthood and see the world.”
The link to the portfolio is here. I’ve fixed the code that seemed to keep non-IE users from viewing the page.