Art Director: Priyanka Shah
Editor in Chief: Greg Foster
Photographer: Pankaj Anand
Heidi: What does mango season represent to you?
Pankaj: The mango season represents a lot of childhood memories for me as we had summer vacations from school in the season and would absolutely devour anything with mangos. Climbing trees to pluck the ripe mangos, hogging on a mango only meal etc.
It’s been a difficult year for India, was this a moment to find joy and celebration in color and creativity?
Indeed it was. Not just for me, the entire team. Everyone from Greg Foster the editor in chief of AD who remotely monitored everything, the lighting crew, production helpers in the studio were thrilled to see the outcome on screen during the shoot. The 2 days of the shoot made us forget the challenges outside the studio for the duration. To be honest it hasn’t been easy to conduct shoots as often as before for obvious reasons and the mango shoot really filled in the vacuum for doing something satisfying creatively after a long gap.
What has this past year taught you as a creative?
The past year has definitely taught me to be more patient and flexible for approaching any kind of project. More importantly it made me realize that over a period of time only good work can sustain. The surge in the online consumption of creativity has given us more than enough options to find inspirations. So only something remarkable can be remembered. How did this idea come about for AD, and what are the dates of mango season?
Priyanka Shah the art director and stylist of the shoot came up with this idea of romanticising the love for Mangos in the way that she knows best. She came up with some sketches and got us all hooked on the idea. From early March to late June is the approximate season for Mangos. There’s usually a bling of yellow every shopping place you go to thanks to mango-mania that is basically unanimous all over India.
How much time elapsed between the sketches and the sets?
It took a little over 2 weeks after the sketches were finalised to bring everything to life. From finalizing numerous products to organising a large enough studio space for the sets to accommodating the extensive inventory. The actual set making was about 3 days as the flooring and the walls had to be constructed and finished with a special texture and tone to give a sliced mango effect. The final touches happened right until we got our first test shot since the details needed a final approval from the camera view finder and lighting set up.
Did you have natural light in the spaces, or was that lit?
This was an artificially lit set to achieve the right amount of the shadow play and to light up the areas and products in the shot properly.
An elaborate plan for lighting was discussed as the space we shot in was not a conventional studio, it was an experience center area which we were generously allowed to completely transform for the shoot by Ishan Thacker of MAY Projects India.
What type of mood were you going for with the light and images?
The mood of the images was to bring the feel of open courtyards of traditional India homes that enjoy well lit spaces in the house throughout the day. The lighting was to bring in a sense of a summer afternoon and early evening. The attempt was to keep the look and feel realistic and natural, and to bring out the feel of mango in the photos. Conde Nast International has gone through global change, how has that affected your work, if at all?
Indeed it is a big change and I think it will affect my work. Hopefully in a good way. I have been contributing to all four Condé Nast India titles (and international as well) for over a decade now. It took me a long time to find a sync with the various teams and deliver consistently. A lot of times I was entrusted with a shoot not just because of my talent but my temperment with the team and understanding of the particular editorial imagery. With an increasing trend of remote operations and teams merging nationally and internationally it will be a new ball game to find a sync with editors and creative directors from afar that you have never met before. Besides that, it’s a good time to explore the horizons of meeting creatives from everywhere.
What are you looking forward to this year in publishing?
Of whatever is left in the year and next I am looking forward to see how the print editions will perform. Theres has been big shift in the content creation already I feel. Lots of online creators have taken over and it will be interesting to see the contrast between quality and quantity.
When I was the Creative Director at Vogue India, we worked together photographing Chef Rene of Noma for a story by food editor Sonal Ved, tell us about this portrait.
It was win-win opportunity for me. To do a portrait of someone like Chef Rene, see the inside of a world class restaurant like Noma and to work with you. When Sonal Ved first asked me for the shoot it was an instant Yes. I firmly believe in the thought that, just like an athlete is as good as his/her coach, a photographer is also good as his/her creative director. To prepare better for the shoot apart from my home work of research about Rene I spent considerable amount of time in the restaurant a day before to familiarise with space and figure out different options for the next day. Rene is a busy chef, so to make the most of his limited time the test shots from the previous day were very helpful. Link to the story is here
Heidi: Do you travel with a mobile dark room?
Giles: When shooting tintypes or ambrotypes, yes.
What is your set up?
Really depends on the project I’m working on. For digital work I use a Fuji GFX medium format digital back and lenses. For my 4×5 film and wet plate work I use a Sinar 4×5 F2 body and a variety of lenses including an 1849 Petzval portrait lens. For 8×10 film and wet plate work I use a Calumet C2 body and a Wollensak 16” f/3.8 petzval lens. For 16×20 I use a camera I designed and built myself fitted with a 500mm f/4.5 Goerz Dogmar lens originally designed for aerial reconnaissance in WWI. Lighting equipment varies and ranges from small battery powered monolights for film and digital work up to 20,000 watts of power from several Speedotron power packs and heads.
If you need to send materials ahead of time, how difficult is that?
I’ve worked on streamlining my wet plate set up so my entire darkroom fits in one pelican case and the rest of the gear flies with me.
Do you take both traditional and tintype images on projects?
Yes, there’s often images I see which simply aren’t best suited for the tintype process and I don’t like to be limited by one medium. I had been working with the tintype medium for 8 years prior to covid and while I really enjoyed the process, it’s also been refreshing to work with digital again and be able to create color work.
What have you been working on recently?
During covid I’ve been making a series of images of fellow artists in different cities around the country. These images have been made into sets of postcards which have sold with the proceeds going to the artists featured. It’s a small way for me to highlight artists who inspire me and also to be able to give them a bit of a financial boost during difficult times. Those images can be seen here. (below images is a selection from the Seattle shoot.) With things opening back up a bit more I’m also starting to prep for a couple of projects. Those include a cross country road trip music video with a Philadelphia artist, a shoot with a jean company out of North Carolina and a longer term project featuring art teachers from around the country.
Heidi: How did this come about?
Shahzad: I had started working on my graduate thesis project, Royalty, in the fall of 2019. The project was my way of commenting on the circuitous route of fashion where designs go in and out of style and make a resurgence at a later point in time. The primary focus was on how contemporary royals would adorn themselves while taking direct influence from traditional historic styles.
Unfortunately, by the spring of 2020 we were in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and I returned to Mumbai. As an Indian, I have rarely seen Indian artists tackle “what if” scenarios relating to Indian Art and cultural history. Keeping this in mind, I repurposed some aspects of royalty and came up with Indian Renaissance – What Could Have Been. A “what if” scenario where Indian royals were inspired by the European renaissance, specifically the high renaissance period, and how that historic change would have translated to modern day Indian fashion. I had always been curious about how the European renaissance would have influenced India and this project brings these thoughts and ideas to visualization and is presented through the perspective of a single fictional royal family, The Garhwal Gharana aka The House of Garhwal spanning generations from an alternate timeline 15th Century to the 21st century.
How did this story call on your culturally rich background?
As a Zoroastrian I understand the power of inspiration and adoption when it comes to attire and garb. My ancestors, having fled persecution many millennia ago, sought refuge in India when they landed at the port of Gujarat. This is spoken and recorded history that is passed down from generation to generation highlighting how we adopted and transformed, among other things, our attire at the time to blend in with our new home. As an artist I find myself revisiting this idea of transformation across many of my projects and it is most evident in Indian Renaissance. As for the visual approach for the project, in terms of lighting, posing and composition, I credit that to my love for cinema and my years of performing in musical theatre. I always ask my subjects to embody a character I create for them. The character has its own life, personality, desires, dreams and hopes. I ask my subjects to embody these characters and that is what I feel makes them feel larger than life.
How long have you been working on this series?
I started conceptualization for the project in March 2020 and completed the first phase in December 2020. I am currently planning out a second phase for this project that would focus on ordinary people as opposed to royals.
Who did you collaborate with for the styling, hair and makeup?
To execute the styling of the project I reached out to the amazing folks at The Costume Team (TCT) who helped bring my vision to life by creating some pieces themselves and bringing on board both new and established designers and jewelers as Gaurav Gupta, Begada, Amani and many more.
For hair I worked with my frequent collaborator Sanam Jeswani and for makeup I had celebrity makeup artist Fatema Maqbool come on board.
How many models did you cast?
All the models were cast after going through a list of around 40 models.
Has this body of work been published?
It has been selected for Communication Arts Photography Annual 2021 as well as the AI-AP American Photography 37.
Heidi: Why did you title this series Against Monolith?
These portraits are part of a series exploring the individuality and historical representation of people of color. Using the history of film photography and also Kodak films and guide literature, I explore the struggle of maintaining individuality in a much larger social structure. Historically, individual people of color were often viewed as monolith, a singular mass distinctly lacking individual identity. “They all look the same;” the sentiment is unmistakable in American history.
In your mind, where did this sentiment begin?
This sentiment is echoed by the history of Kodak films. For decades Kodak film was unable to correctly capture the skin tones of people of color because their film emulsions were formulated to render a correct Caucasian skin tone. In addition to this, Kodak would send test negatives to color processing labs along with a color correct photographic print made from the negative. Using this, photo labs were able to calibrate their machines and the chemistry used to process the film in order to obtain color correct prints from any negatives they processed.
When were you able to frame this in your own life?
I first noticed the shifting of skin tones growing up when looking through family photos but didn’t read about the technical details behind it until many years later. My first time reading about the technical issues and Shirley Cards was in maybe 2011 or 2012 when I was working at Bart’s Books. I was very interested in visual media theory at the time and a book on that subject came in which included the paper by Lorna Roth titled “Looking at Shirley, the Ultimate Norm: Color Balance, Image Technologies, and Cognitive Equity” which outlined the history of Kodak film formulations and the Shirley Card. This was a couple of years before I even applied to ArtCenter but that paper stayed in my mind as I learned more and more about photography and began other projects.
What were the the scenes in the color photographic prints?
The negative that Kodak sent included a scene containing various textiles, a color chart, and a single white female model. Nicknamed “Shirley cards” after the Kodak employee who modeled for the negative, these were used all across the country to make sure that customer’s pictures were delivered with correct color.
How would you describe the images of darker skinned subjects?
Photographs featuring darker skinned subjects were often incorrectly rendered, sometimes as a smear of black in the photo completely lacking details – recognizable only by the whites of their eyes and their teeth, if they were smiling. From a distance these portraits are also textureless in appearance. Unvaried and lacking the possibility for details; a deep black on the surface of an unchanging white ground. The work of philosopher Paul Ricœur posits that the formation of individual identity is in large part shaped by ones ability to recognize another, and to be recognized by another. It was a compounding lack of recognition, however, that led to individuals disappearing from their film images. Film manufacturers being unable or unwilling to recognize the needs of a group directly led to the inability to see the individuals pictured. With the images from this series I aim to rework that failure to compel the viewer to recognize the individual pictured. As one gets closer to the artwork, details emerge, forcing you to confront the individual before you.
When did Kodak address representation in the calibration cards?
The first multiracial Kodak calibration cards didn’t actually appear until the 1990’s.
When did you begin Against Monolith?
It was after seeing the Kerry James Marshall show at the MOCA that I began to put together the Against Monolith project. I went to that show many times and couldn’t stop thinking about how he rendered and painted all the skin tones, it was so striking. I think often the conversations around this part of Kodak’s history get stuck in circuitous arguments debating whether or not Kodak films or employees were racist and I was much more interested in using this to explore the entangled web of individuation, individual agency, and its intersection with collective agency and behavior. I wanted to use the history of film photography, as well as Kodak films and guide literature, to explore the struggle of maintaining individuality in a much larger social structure. Because one form of recognition is intimately linked with individuation and another form of recognition is intimately linked with photography and visual representation it seemed to be an effective way to examine both.
Heidi: Where were both of these subjects located, did you have to go travel to them each time?
Frank: Lin was in NYC and Jon was in LA so I did the photoshoot before and after their interview on zoom. Jon was first and I created a light set up to matched the plates I shot weeks ago in NYC. While the interview was going on I worked with the videographer in NYC, setting the lights in a studio so I could repeat the same lighting with Lin.
How did the idea come about, aside from necessity?
When I was approached about the cover, I was heading to NYC for a job. Since Lin wasn’t available to shoot while I was there, I suggested that I shoot plates up and around Washington heights in a David Hockney style. The request from Jennifer and Raul was to come up with a collage idea that brought them together even though the weren’t.
What motion camera/lens were you using for the motion?
The videographers both use the Canon C200s. The higher quality the capture the better the image. Over Zoom I worked with them setting the lights, then directed both the videographers and subject.
Did you do anything special for shooting off the screen?
My digital tech, Chris Nichols and I tried many different cameras, lenses, monitors, and exposures to come up with the recipe that works. Along the way each failure created interesting outcomes and unusual abstract captures. If I just tell you you’ll miss out on the fun of the creative journey.
Was it an impossible edit?
It’s interesting when capturing images off motion because you can rewind to catch certain subtle things … if they weren’t moving too fast. It’s interesting to see that moment before they look in the camera, moments that are less guarded or over thought.
What were you looking for in each of the stills for the final select?
I wanted to feel like I’d walked up and found them in conversation.
Was this more intimate?
I have done different approaches to this and it was most intimate when I shot the Chicago 7 cover for The Hollywood Reporter. I sent each actor a light kit and diagram how to set up the lights and then worked with them setting it up and placing the camera.
What other creative solutions have you discovered during COVID?
I have been lucky enough to do several projects on location since all this started. It’s great for a few reasons. One, to see that creatives aren’t letting what’s going on stop them from trying to push on with great key art concepts. Two, the trust they have in me because they cannot be present to execute on their ideas. I believe we must be open to learn new things everyday and must embrace change and the challenge of the moments we are given. This is how we grow.
Heidi: How has your mountain guide experience informed your work?
Jason: I spent from 2005 until 2013 working for a mountain guiding service throughout the PNW, Alaska and a bit in South America. I used this opportunity to hone my knowledge of being in the mountains as safely as possible. I know I wanted to be a photographer but I also wanted to be an asset to any creative project in the mountains. Guiding taught me more about understanding empathy and supporting others emotionally and physically. When photographing, immersing myself in other cultures, viewing my experience through my lens, I try to put myself in my subject’s shoes and try to express the emotions that they are feeling. I search for an understanding of what it might be like, to be in their shoes at that moment in time. Practicing how to ask questions to aspiring climbers, I was able to work with, allowed the climbers and me to build trust with each other in the mountain environment. I met people in a space that was, most of the time, completely foreign and new to them while trying to provide an exceptional experience in the mountains. I could empathize with them when climbing North America’s highest mountain, Denali, 20,320ft. It is physically and mentally challenging. Teamwork and grit can achieve big goals. Risk/hazard assessment is an essential component of guiding. Some percentage of my work is performed in venues with hazards, avalanches, seracs, weather, etc My brain is on overdrive assessing factors of the hazards that I and along with the people I am working with exposing ourselves too. Mountains are not an inherently safe and tranquil space. I think there is this misnomer in American society that wilderness, mountains are this calming grounding space though they certainly can be, they are also savage and have the potential to cause emotional pain to us.
Guiding requires constant assessment, calculations, risk vs reward. Has your photo decision-making become more refined with this deliberate practice? Yes, completely. First, I choose to accept the risk associated with making a shot, or not. In skiing, I might have a frame idea/angle that would put me in an exposed situation, i.e. on a slope steep enough to avalanche at the same time as the skier. Climbing is a little different, I feel like I have a more significant margin of safety using ropes and other technical gear. But there are still many hazards packed into alpine climbing in the mountains. But anticipation, and an understanding of how the climber or skier will move in the terrain, helps me to compose something that meets the requirements of being safe and making a compelling creative visual. I find satisfaction in being able to anticipate when that next “moment” might happen. My creative approach is much more documentary or photojournalistic in style, and I think that is what I strive for in my work. At the same time, checking all the boxes of creativity, composition, anticipation, right moment, and safety of all involved.
Is your enjoyment of nature ever in conflict with enjoyment of making images? No. There is not a right and wrong way to experience nature so long as we respect the land. My connection with nature is with my camera – it always has been since I was a young person tromping around in Olympic National Park. I found beauty in capturing the light as it changed, intricate details on fern leaves, nasty weather, and other people’s physical and emotional experiences in that space. This connection to nature helped ground me and teach me humility as a young person because I realized the power of mountains. Like earlier, when I talked about experiencing cultures and newness that I am not familiar with, through my lens and how intensely engaged I am, it is the same when in nature for me. I am drawn in, more profoundly, by the experience of looking through my lens.
How do you process not making a summit? The self-talk usually starts with disappointment, then acceptance, then asking what I learned, identifying progress points to be implemented next time. Obviously, we all want to summit and achieve our goals, but in moments of struggle, we learn, grow, and creativity can flourish. A quote I once heard and have forgotten who said it went: “The summit is for the ego but the journey is for the soul.” I’d share this with the climbers I worked with when I was guiding and it still rings true for me. Time on the summit is probably less than 1% of any trip.
Do you feel like you still succeeded? Yes, because as long as I am with good people and present in the experience, coming out of the mountains safe, as better partners while honing my craft is a positive experience to me. At the end of the day, if a summit happened or didn’t happen that is the story, that is what I document, the moments that did happen.
How did this trip advance your growth as a photographer? In two ways.
The first was realizing how stressed I felt during the trip not having shot any climbing. The weather was just not working with us and we never had a weather window to confidently commit to starting up the wall. But I think I grew into the belief that I am there to document, as creatively as I can, the moments that were happening. Not the ones in the future that I couldn’t control. It’s tough though, right? Knowing I am there in part to make visuals of products with specific climbing intended use and not having a chance to do that was tough. I think that is disappointing from a creative standpoint similar to the climber perspective of not having a chance to summit or even try to climb! But I think this trip helped me let go and realize it’s ok and that I document the moments that do happen. That is how it is.
Secondly, I’d been feeling really restless with my growth as a photographer leading up to my time in Pakistan. I think, mostly, because I didn’t have a personal project going and hadn’t for a while. I was too focused and maxed out on hustling for enough gigs to pay the bills (reality!). My Dad had instilled in me a love for growing fresh vegetables. Maybe a year before this trip to Pakistan I started getting interested in researching, networking, and learning about holistic agriculture practices, organic regenerative agriculture, permaculture, and Indigenous agriculture beliefs, etc. I was fascinated by what I was learning. Looking back, the Pakistan trip was a marker for me to branch out and try to shoot something that would push me as a photographer. I think I needed a subject to shoot that would provide me with a different sense of purpose in using my camera.
What are you working on now? Kind of a lot. I feel like I’ve had the gas pedal pinned for a bit now. As I mentioned, my Dad instilled in me a love for healthy food and gardening. About 3ish years ago, I became curious about holistic agriculture practices, permaculture, regenerative agriculture, growing healthy soils and producing healthy foods. So I started to research these topics, and I got excited about storytelling around it. It felt like I had discovered a way that my camera could make a positive impact in society. Researching and networking and getting to know who has a story to share has been productive. This topic is so out of my scope of everyday work, but something I love about photography are the many different ideas and people my camera has exposed me to. Currently, Emily Stifler Wolfe and I have received a grant. We are actively looking for additional funding for a three-piece story in collaboration with Montana Free Press about how regenerative agriculture is transforming the economics of rural Montana communities. I am a firm believer that healthy communities have healthy food access. Storytelling in this vein excites me because of the impact my images could have on the health of the land and other human’s physical and mental health.
I also have nearly completed a 12 month UX/UI program. This is something I fell into with the arrival of Covid-19. I decided my skill set needed to diversify. I see this space of UX and holistic agriculture practices merging with storytelling of growing healthy soils, and healthy communities. Some percentage of my work needs to have a purpose and a positive impact. The UX program has been a good challenge in learning again! Learning about human behavior and how crazy we all are is really fascinating! What excites me about adding a UX design skill set is the chance to use a design thinking approach to solving problems with the human at the core. I believe storytelling and creating a narrative is an integral part between us that produces a conversation to develop solutions to problems. Literally designing applications to make people and our land healthier through storytelling is really appealing to me. We’ll see how everything shakes out but I am looking forward to seeing where UX design, storytelling, and agriculture intersect. Of course, I plan to continue shooting projects that are focused on climbing and skiing in remote regions of our home planet.
Heidi: How long have you been teaching editorial photography at Art Center? LIsa: Close to 9 years
What is the main goal of this class? I use magazines, which are a highly evolved communication format, to help students understand their own work and the content needs of their future clients – art directors, photo editors, art buyers etc. By asking them to pitch an idea and then shoot, edit, sequence and design a feature editorial layout they can see the kinds of images they need to execute a compelling story with dynamic flow from the perspective of an art director/graphic designer.
How does the headline and text get created?
I also ask them to use words in the form of headlines, sub-heads and pull quotes to give further meaning or transformation to the images they create. We also look at American magazines of the 20th century to provide historical context and contemporary international magazines to see the current explosion of creativity and changing economic basis of editorial print.
What are you observations?
The subscription/ad sales model is declining and being replaced by magazines as an extension of brand representation or passion projects by creative people drawn to the tactile expression that print magazines offer.
What have the students taught you this semester? How kind and patient they are with adapting to online learning. I love seeing how supportive they are of each other and inspired by their intelligence, talent and thoughtfulness. I miss us sharing our final projects on paper.
Heidi: How did your photo career start? The start of my photo career was driven by a personal desire to understand my history as a Cambodian refugee. I was born in a Khmer Rouge work camp in Kampong Thom Province during Pol Pot’s occupation of Cambodia. My parents and I survived mass genocide, fled the country, and were relocated to the USA through UNHCR’s refugee resettlement program. We were moved from refugee holding camps in Thailand, the Philippines, and San Francisco before being placed a final time on the East coast. I was three years old when we landed in Portland, Maine. Twenty-six years later, I decided to return to Cambodia for the first time and searched for work as a photographer.
Before then, photography was pure art for me. I shot Polaroids, 35mm and medium format. I built a darkroom so I could process film and make silver gelatin prints. I loved shooting, never cropped images and even filed out negative carriers so I could print full frame. My first digital camera was a cheap point and shoot that I used to document the music, art and night scene in Portland. For my first trip back to Cambodia, I got a digital SLR and shifted completely away from film. I met my extended family and worked with NGOs based out of Phnom Penh. Over the course of two years, I visited 15 provinces documenting eco-tourism, education, HIV/AIDS, water/sanitation and land-mine survivors’ programs. Images I made for the Australian Red Cross and AUSAID’s landmine survivors’ program became part of an exhibition that traveled around Australia to help promote landmine awareness and raise funds to support survivors of detonated UXOs.
When did you start taking family photos? As soon as I became a mom.
You’ve been involved in voyaging some time now, when did you decide to call the water your home? Our voyaging program has been to make fast long distance ocean passages together as a family (usually 4000-6000nm non-stop), allowing us to see the world together via wind power. We started in June 2011 when we left Portland, Maine and sailed non-stop across the Atlantic to Cherbourg, France with our two oldest kids (ages 2 and 9 months at the time). We have been sailing and living on the water ever since, trying to get our kids on as many different boats as possible.
You are the mother of 6 beautiful children, how have you seen them grow and shape shift to this alternative lifestyle? The life that we have made with our kids has given them the ability to not only navigate the oceans, but a real practical knowledge of how to navigate the world, different people, cultures and political situations. They are learning how to problem solve, adapt quickly to change, be resourceful when resources are limited and understanding what it takes to complete and accomplish hard projects. We try to surround them with inspiring people who are doing really cool things. They are seeing that there are no rules when it comes to life choices, only that by following your passion you can find the inner motivation to push hard. These strengths we instill in them are more and more evident as they get older and especially apparent in contrast to kids their own age who have had a different type of upbringing.
What has living on the water taught you about motherhood and your photography? Being on the water, disconnected from the normal grid has given me a unique perspective on the value of time, personal consumption, and how little you really need to raise strong, healthy confident kids. As a photographer, I’ve found that no matter where we are, every single day there is always some form of beauty to be found through the lens, whether it’s on an intimate level between your immediate family our out there in some wild amazing place.
When did you decide to travel with your children? All my children have been on the go from the moment of conception. In 2007, when my husband and I decided to start a family, he made me promise that if we got pregnant, that we wouldn’t stop traveling. I agreed, so I guess it was at that moment that we decided a settled life in one place was not in the cards for our family. During my first pregnancy I had a smorgasbord of medical records from Cambodia, New Zealand, South Africa, Trinidad, Bermuda and USA. My oldest of six was born in Jackson, Wyoming and we were on the road with her starting when she was a month old. Each successive pregnancy was similar.
The most radical adventure baby was my 3rd born who sailed in utero in the high latitudes through the Southern Ocean, Aussie Bight and Tasman Sea (Cape Town to Fremantle to Melbourne to Auckland). She was born on the floor of my midwife’s house in Auckland, New Zealand, caught & cord cut by by my oldest daughter (age 4 at the time). She moved onto the boat when she was less than 24 hours old. As a family we have been traveling internationally, in nonstop motion (with no land base), since September 2008.
How has Patagonia influenced your photo career? Just after my oldest daughter was born, I got offered a follow up field assignment with the Australian Red Cross to re-visit and photograph the beneficiaries of their landmine survivors’ program. I was really excited, as I felt I could make some compelling images the second time around, with more trust built between me and my subjects. I wanted to work but did not want to leave my family. I asked if I could bring them with me on the assignment (personally covering their travel expenses), but they felt it was too risky for me to travel with a child.
I felt very torn between work and being a parent during this period as I felt my career was just starting to grow. I am sure many first-time mothers can relate to this. That was when my husband introduced me to Jane Sievert who was the head of the Patagonia photo department at that time. I told her about our plan to cycle high quality dirt roads with our 2-month-old daughter through Chile and Argentina, starting in Chiloe and then making our way south through Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. The plan was to travel super light, with mountain bikes towing two single track trailers – one with a custom-built dodger to carry our daughter and the other with our camping gear. Jane was excited, supportive and willing to work with me and look at my images. We did our route as planned, but then we kept on going. Next we cycled a section of the Chilean surf coast from Cobquecura to Curanipe, then through the Atacama Desert, then went to Iceland to cycle around the island from hot spring to hot spring.
Over the course of 10 months, working with no laptop (as it was too much to carry with touring gear), I used a stand-alone card reader/hard drive. I sent Jane images from our trip that were quickly edited on low quality computer monitors at random internet cafes.
Through this first expedition, Jane had created an outlet for me to work on my art while raising my kids. I have felt that support from her and everyone else in the photo department for all of our adventures over the last 12 years. This relationship with Patagonia helped me realize I did not have to make a compromise between work and being a full-time mother. From that point forward, I chose to search only for projects where I could work and bring my kids along. Amazingly I found clients who let me bring my whole wild crew with me on commissioned photo shoots. I became a freelance writer and interviewed people for stories with my kids listening, learning and participating. My husband and I started a marine services business together that allowed us to work with clients using our virtual, floating office or do deliveries or refit projects where the whole family was welcome. Work choices always weighed in the quality of life that we could provide our family. Quality being measured not monetarily but instead in things like time together, opportunities for experiential education, access to good food, clean air/water/dirt, nature, sports, etc.
Heidi: How did yoga come into your life? Andy: Yoga entered my life around 2004 when I was living in Crested Butte, Colorado, where I worked as a professional ski patrolman. I began in the Iyengar tradition, which emphasizes alignment and using the body as an instrument for expanded consciousness and awareness. In it, one is so focused on the specific, subtle movements of the body, that it is hard to be anywhere but present. In a two-hour class, my teacher would walk around the room offering adjustments and share yogic philosophy while we held 4 or 5 postures for extended periods of time, letting go of tension, mental chatter and becoming aware of a more profound reality. It was transformative, and not easy. Yet I kept coming back for more. That was my beginning, an opening to a new way.
When did you decide to document your practice? After a few years of Iyengar Yoga, I started practicing Vinyasa Yoga in a heated room, primarily because I was living in a city with cold and dark winters, in Minneapolis, where I currently live and work. For me, it is essential to move my body before I can settle down and still my mind, so the vigorous physical nature of Vinyasa seemed a good choice. This led to Kundalini Yoga, which I currently practice. By 2011, I had a solid foundation in yoga and I began thinking about how to explore it through photography, as a way to go deeper.
As much of yoga happens internally, working in a medium that deals primarily with surfaces has proven challenging at times. To make photographs that convey transformation and transcendence, new visual strategies are required. I use abstractions, reflections, pictures within pictures (often to convey lineages and relationships), allegorical photographs, and being receptive to moments that convey presence. Yoga is defined as union, the capacity to merge the finite with the infinite–our individual human experience with the universal consciousness. It is a method of self-realization and a state of being. Yet, how can these vast and often esoteric concepts be pictured, understood, and known?
How long were you in India? I have been to India 6 times. It was important for me to look at the roots of yoga; it’s history and myriad traditions, which required extensive travel over 5 years, especially in India–yoga’s source. I also made a lot of the work throughout the United States, as well as in Mexico and China, when looking at contemporary forms of yoga.
To answer your question, for this series, I travelled to India 3 times for anywhere from 6 weeks to 2 months at a time. I spent many days in caves in the Himalayas with silent yogis. I lived in ashrams and with various spiritual communities. Many saints and great masters blessed me and shared their teachings with me. For weeks, I lived a tent while photographing massive Hindu fairs with millions of pilgrims and yogis. There was a lot of research and learning prior to each of these trips, yet, once I started working one thing led to another, often in very unexpected and serendipitous ways. Serpent in the Wilderness, my monograph published with Kehrer Verlag (2018), is the result.
What were some of the unexpected discoveries along the way? Yoga is more than we think it is. It has been enriching to look at it from an experiential perspective, as well as a historical, cultural, spiritual, and a visual one. Photography affords an opportunity to ask questions and see where they lead. For me, it isn’t about definitive answers to the questions as much as it is the experience and process of making the work. I am not suggesting the photographs are not important; they certainly are, yet not more so than life, and deepening my relationship to it.
In the times we’re living in, especially right now, there is so much pressure on us. This is an intense moment on every level—personal, social, political, environmental, among many others. Our attention is so precious. We need to be wise in how use it and where we place it. So we can focus and be present in our lives, at least some of the time. So we can remain whole and maintain some kind of balance. More than ever, it is essential to have techniques to control our inner state. Yoga is one such tool.
What are some of the more unique applications of yoga? The first sutra of Patanjali talks about yoga being the “cessation of the chatter of the mind”. If that is possible, many things can be understood and experienced. If we practice, that is. We are often in our heads, somewhere in the future making plans, or alternatively, in the past reliving something that is no longer here, all the while we are missing what is happening right before us. Yoga offers us an experience of the present. Perhaps this is the most significant gift it has given me. Yet, I cannot emphasize enough that it is a practice…not something you do and then all is figured out. It requires discipline, and returning to it. Yoga is more of a way of life than something one does on a mat. It is living life with intention and awareness in each moment.
Was it difficult at times to be an observer with a camera, as yoga is often a dedicated practice without observers? Access was a challenge initially. As I started working, the doors opened slowly, yet once I had photographs to show and people had a sense of my intentions and work, things started to change. About a year in, after a few requests, I received an email from B.K.S. Iyengar’s studio on a cold winter morning in Minneapolis, inviting me to come spend some time working with the late master in Pune, India. This is one of the most influential yogis of all time, mind you, and I was allowed to come photograph over a couple days and interview him. Within a month or so, I was in India photographing his daily practice at the age of 94, a little over a year before he passed away.
I often work with Leicas, which allows me to work in low light with fluency and to be unobtrusive and quiet. As a yogi, I am able to understand the situation before me from both sides and to respond intuitively and in a way that is appropriate in the moment. For me, it is essential to not take the individual, or group, that I am working with out of their experience. They are there, doing their work, going within and I have been given an opportunity. It might be silent meditation, chanting a mantra or doing a pranayam, or doing strenuous asanas (postures). Whatever it is, I want to tap into that and somehow, using this medium, communicate the more subtle aspects of their experience. It is a lot to ask from photography.
There have been many books on yoga, what makes this book unique? The work in Serpent in the Wilderness (Kehrer Verlag, 2018), my monograph exploring yoga represents my own walk through yoga. It is not intended to be all encompassing, or to represent yoga around the world in all of its forms. It’s my own exploration, my own contemplation, and where I’ve been led through the years. The photography is experiential and personal, and I am very much immersed in the subject matter.
I do not want to get too into what others are doing, but most photography related to yoga has a performative aspect to it, or is portrait-based, where a more directorial approach is taken on the part of the photographer. The subject is often represented in a superficial way, frequently with an emphasis on the physical body and postures, with commercial imperatives. The depths of yoga are rarely acknowledged or looked at, and we stay on the surface. In terms of Serpent in the Wilderness, I wanted to approach it in a very open way and to dig into the essence of what yoga is, both past and present. I employed a more documentary approach in making the work, without being tied to a traditional narrative structure. I created a variety of different types of photographs for the series, in order to point toward some of the more subtle aspects of the discipline. I am not attempting to illustrate what yoga is, but rather trying to peel back it’s many layers both as a photographer, and as a practitioner–to ask questions and understand something new.
When actually photographing, I’m tuned into what’s happening before me and trying to transmit the inner experience that the yogi in front of me is having. At least what the camera will allow for, that is. Certainly, my physical presence in the space (ashram, cave, classroom, etc.) has an affect on the individuals before me, and I think it is important to be honest about this. I am not a fly on the wall, nor is that my intention or objective. But I do work lightly, and in a very sensitive way. I was always clear about my intentions with others and fortunate to be invited into some truly incredible situations and contexts to make this work.
How did the National Geographic story come about? A day or so after Hurricane Sandy, I met Sarah Leen in Washington D.C. prior to her taking on the role as Director of Photography for National Geographic Magazine, a position she stepped down from last autumn, so she was familiar with my work. A few years later, I worked with Elizabeth Krist, a former senior photo editor, during a weekend workshop hosted by Visura in Stowe, Vermont. She brought the project to the magazine for consideration and perhaps further development, but it didn’t go anywhere at the time. As with most magazines, timing is critical, and the work has to align with the specific interests and needs of the moment.
I continued making my work, as time and resources allowed. When I was ready to publish the book, I showed exhibition prints and a book maquette to Sarah again, the project was much more resolved by then. She gave me some positive feedback on how I had developed things, yet it didn’t really lead anywhere at that time in terms of a story in the magazine. I published my monograph in 2018 with Kehrer Verlag, a German art book publisher, and in 2019 a different photo editor from National Geographic reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in working with them on a story about yoga for a forthcoming issue on Wellness. I was, so the idea of a story was born–looking at yoga through the lens of health and wellbeing.
The magazine wanted to commission some new original photography in addition to using a selection of the work that I made for the book. So we started to discuss where to go and what to do together. I had a number of ideas for locations and contexts that I wanted to photograph, and we began to do research and look into access. Specifically, I was interested in looking at the impact yoga is having in the lives of individuals who are incarcerated. I also hoped to photograph some of the various ways that yoga is helping veterans and active duty service members deal with the challenges of life in the military such as PTSD, TBI, addictions, among others. We eventually found a prison outside of San Diego that was willing to allow us in to photograph, for one class, on one Saturday morning. So, there was a bit of pressure in that hour and a half, to say the least.
As San Diego has a large military presence, when I was there to work in the prison, I also photographed in Navy hospitals, outpatient settings, clinics, and on base to look at that aspect of the story. It was a very fruitful collaboration and I think everyone that worked on the project was pleased with how it all came together. The feature, “Finding Calm”, was written by Fran Smith and published in the January 2020 issue of the magazine and online.
Heidi: How did this idea come about? Byron: This idea came about to illustrate an article about racist bullying in schools in Spain. This is a delicate yet invisible topic and is not given enough importance by teachers nor senior leadership in schools. Because of this, we had to look for an image that expressed the true severity and consequences of racism going unchecked. Straight away we thought of the white pencil as a representation of the KKK but we did not know how to execute it. Then we remembered one of the posters of the movie Blackkklansman by Spike Lee. The idea of presenting a close-up of a pencil fit perfectly. In fact, I copied the hollow of the eyes in the exact same way as the Blackkklansman poster. I usually get a lot of inspiration from films.
How many issues have you designed? Is this job your act of resistance? The newspaper I work for has already published 48 issues. I have put love into designing each and every one of them. One of my tasks (among other not so fun things) is to create designs and illustrations around social or political issues. This is my job. However, to work for a newspaper like El Salto, without bosses, self-managed and free from advertising revenues from dodgy companies, makes every day an act of resistance in a capitalist system.
When did you know art and social justice was your calling? What was some of your early work like? At first, design was a way of making a living and I did advertising work for small companies and design studios from the age of twenty. I started to use design for social issues during the 15M indignados movement. There I saw a clearer objective for my designs and I began to make posters for protests against the government and visuals for self-managed film festivals. During these years, I also began artistic projects with other artists and activist groups.
You take images and also draw, does one inform the other? Yes, without a doubt, although I am clear about the differences, I think that working with different disciplines enriches the projects and gives you more freedom when thinking and carrying out different concepts.
What role does art have in the world today, in your mind? It is necessary to clearly differentiate between the art circuit/market and artistic processes that happen outside of the mainstream. In the art circuit, art plays a deactivating role and ends up serving as another spokesperson for reproducing discourses that perpetuate oppressive systems, even if they seek otherwise. The space and the environment ends up deactivating any act of dissent, turning it into a product. Fringe art is a wonderful field to explore and many projects and artists have been hitting hard.
What would you tell your younger self? Everything will be turn out ok.
What are you working on now? These days I am working on designing anti-fascist posters. The extreme right in Spain has carries a lot of support in the news media and there they are given a voice. We must prevent fascism re-entering Madrid via these extreme right parties in the next local elections.
Heidi: How many images did it take to composite this image?
Kate: The final composite is comprised of 29 separate photos, chosen from 1,500, and stitched together to create one seamless photograph.
How long did it take to capture those 29 moments?
Those 29 photos come from an entire day of shooting. The evening before, there were whispers of potentially epic conditions: “sand shaking Waimea,” a local friend told me. There was a lot of excited energy amid the community. I wanted to witness it—from beginning to end. My day began when the sky was still dark. By sunrise, the beach began to fill in with a crowd of onlookers. Soon after, the first surfer paddled out. There was no cheering, just the chatter of private conversations keeping track of the bobbing human. I claimed a stretch of guardrail along the highway and observed, camera at the ready. And there I stayed for 9 hours. By the time I left, the final few were exiting the surf and the sun was, once again, hugging the horizon.
How long have you been living in Oahu and what brought you there?
I have lived on Oahu for 8 months now. Prior to my move here, I was living and working on Catalina Island, employed as a marine science educator and scuba instructor with a company that provides hands-on marine science field trips for schools. When the pandemic was declared, we could no longer operate. It was devastating to be so abruptly uprooted from both my career and home of four years, but I am grateful to have stumbled across a silver lining. My move here was very serendipitous. Soon after leaving Catalina, a friend on Oahu reached out. I packed up what I had with me and landed on the North Shore. I was immediately drawn to the prospect of exploring a new marine ecosystem.
You picked up a camera at 13, studied marine ecology and became an educator, when did those two passions fully realize/intersect?
That particular convergence of passions has come to fruition in the last few years. The camera has held many roles in my life, but most recently it has become a tool that allows me the opportunity to encourage others to be curious about the natural world—particularly oceans. As a student of ecology, curiosity was my driving force. I chased great landscapes with my camera and questioned the interconnectedness of nature. As an educator, I saw students acknowledge their curiosity. I watched the smiles of kids as they played with algae or observed alien-like invertebrates. I made the transition into underwater photography here. I became comfortable in the ocean and, then, dedicated to it. All in all, I know this to be true: I have witnessed the impact of curiosity and it can be a powerful thing. This is what inspires my mission as a photographer.
The Waimea wave breaks 20+ footers consistently, what made this condition ideal?
It was a combination of good things: little to no wind, a long period of swell, impressive wave height, and a decent swell direction. Lots of factors aligned to create these conditions. Some people have called it the “swell of the decade.”
How big (or small) is the female photographer surf community?
We are out there, just not nearly in the same numbers. During peak season, it was always very inspiring to see a female photographer hop into the water with a surf housing. Often times, it seemed like most of the professional camera setups were operated by men. That being said, I felt very welcome.
Tell us about the backstory of the image from Modern Huntsman.
As it so happens, this image was also taken at Waimea—four months earlier. As I approached the water that summer’s day, there seemed to be a new rock formation in the shallows. Except, it moved: a massive school of young big-eye scad, I later learned, had made a home of the bay.
For weeks they meandered around together, mouths opened wide, sucking up plankton. In the beginning, the school was dense—a fluid wall of fish several feet thick. A dive into its center mostly obscured all sunlight. Eventually, though, the predators arrived. Mackerel tuna struck from below, barracuda from above. An endangered monk seal fed on scad for weeks. Humans, with their long-poles and dedication, fished from sunup to sundown. The population of scad slowly dwindled as nature ran its course. This photograph is from the beginning, from when the immense shadows of bait eclipsed the sun.
What are you working on now?
Currently, I am prepping for a 9-day diving expedition to the Revillagigedo Archipelago. These uninhabited islands protrude from the sea nearly 300 miles away from continental land, off of Baja Sur to be exact. The ecosystem out there is something to be admired. Born from volcanic activity at the convergence of some very productive currents, the region boasts incredible marine biodiversity. I will be continuing work on a photo series that I began over two years ago on my first trip out there.
Heidi: How long has the ocean been part of your life?
Mike: The ocean has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. The first house I lived in as a kid was only a couple hundred yards from the ocean, so pretty much from birth I was at the beach. I feel extremely blessed to have grown up in and around the sea.
How has your love for the ocean informed or influenced your photography?
My relationship with the ocean has influenced the direction of my photography significantly. In the past, I viewed my commercial photography work as a separate entity from my ocean and outdoor exploits, and I was almost hesitant to mix the two. I was putting too much energy into photographing whatever subjects and scenes I thought would get me hired. Over the past year or two, I’ve really leaned into my connection with the ocean and pushed my work in that direction, both in terms of subject matter and style. I’m in this for the long haul, and shooting subjects I’m passionate about and know intimately seems to me to be the best way I can build a sustainable career. Subject matter aside, I find myself gravitating stylistically to images that feel more raw and honest and have a certain untamed energy. That’s definitely inspiration I’ve taken from the sea. The ocean is no bullshit, no frills, just unapologetically itself to anyone and everyone who comes in contact with it. My goal is to be able to say the same about my work. I’m not there yet, but it’s an ongoing process.
What projects have you been working on lately?
I just wrapped up two projects that I shot during the pandemic free time. The first was a study of surfing through double exposure film photography using iterations of old Nikonos cameras, which were some of the first complete underwater camera systems invented in the 1960s. The second project is a series of portraits of strangers I made immediately after they exited the ocean, still dripping wet. Since then, I’ve been a bit busier with commercial work again. As far as upcoming personal projects, I’ll be working on my first motion piece this spring, which will feature a story about connection to the ocean and quite a bit of spearfishing as well.
How soon after the fish was speared did you take that image?
Probably around 10 minutes, which is the time it took to fight the fish back up to the surface after it was first speared.
Was there concern with the blood in the water (will that bring predators?)
The blood can attract predators, but it isn’t a huge immediate concern. These tuna schools are often feeding on large bait balls and are found in areas of the ocean where there is already above average animal activity and life. Sharks or other predators are more than likely already prowling these same areas whether we see them or not. You’re never on top of the food chain out there, but the blood definitely isn’t helping.
What led you to spearfishing?
I got into spearfishing one winter when the waves were terrible in California. It was flat for months and we couldn’t surf, so a buddy and I went and bought used 3-prong pole spears off Craigslist. We just decided to go for it and figure it out. That was years ago, but it took off pretty fast, and quickly became my favorite ocean pastime.
How long can you hold your breath?
Breathhold really depends on the activity you’re doing. For example, it’s much easier to hold your breath freediving than it is while being held down surfing in big waves, but much harder than if you were just floating face down in a pool. If I can spend a couple minutes underwater actively photographing or hunting I’m happy.
Was this personal work?
Yes this was personal work, if you can even call it that! I wasn’t working on a specific project or anything in particular when I shot this image, I was just out on a trip for fun and had brought my camera. I only picked up my camera twice that day and just took about 50 photos, but thankfully I was in the right spot to get this frame and it was selected as a category winner for Modern Huntsman.
Heidi: Tell us more about this portrait series and why it has been important? Sofia: This image is from a photo story I shot for Stetson. This series is important to me because both myself and the model, Emilé Zynobia, wanted to create imagery that challenged the traditional notion of what a cowgirl is and who should be included in the narrative of the American West. Emile is a Jamaican-American cowgirl. She grew up riding horses and first learned to ride at Puzzle Creek Ranch in Wilson. Black cowboys are rarely included in the oral and written stories of the west. With these images, we want to rewrite that cultural script.
How has your love for the outdoors grown and how have you used your photography to change the narrative about representation in the outdoors?
I grew up partially in a small mountain town called Ketchum, Idaho (a.k.a Sun Valley) with my dad. My parents split when I was very young. When I was with my dad, he would put me in various outdoor sports camps and teams while he was working. During the winters, I spent most of my days in Ketchum on Baldy Mountain with the Sun Valley ski team. In all of the outdoor sports I did, I always felt a little bit like an outsider. The population in Ketchum is mainly wealthy caucasian folx. Besides my dad, there were very few skiers of color that I saw on the ski hill. The people I looked up to in the ski industry were mainly white women and I just didn’t see myself in them or in my peers. The experience of growing up in Ketchum as a Latina inspires the direction of my work today.
I want to make the images I wished I had seen as a kid, to hopefully inspire and encourage BIPOC youth to get into outdoor sports.
There is more attention for representation in front of and behind the camera. How has the conversation progressed for you, I know you’re aligned with Diversity Photo, Authority Collective and Women Photograph.
I am definitely seeing more representation in front of the camera, but I am not really seeing as much behind the camera. I have seen more inclusion in the photojournalism world, but definitely not in the outdoor industry. It feels like outdoor companies are pretty set on working with the same photographers they have worked with for a long time. That’s great to form lasting relationships, but if all of those relationships are with cis-gender white male photographers then there is a problem. By hiring who you are comfortable with, you are perpetuating the lack of diversity in the outdoor space and inhibiting the growth of BIPOC creatives in the outdoor space. If companies want to be inclusive in an authentic and non-tokenizing way, they need to form real relationships with BIPOC photographers and then hire them. Take a chance on BIPOC creatives. Believing is a form of supporting and uplifting. There is a reason there are not many BIPOC creatives at the same level as our counterparts and outdoor companies play a big role in that. If companies are working on a shoot with BIPOC models they should try their best to hire a BIPOC photographer. Our personal experience as BIPOC photographers allows us to bring an increased level of understanding to the models and a unique sense of comfort to a shoot with a BIPOC crew.
You started out as a photojournalist at a newspaper, what project kicked off your solo career, and how did you approach it? I worked on a project called PNW Sheepherders for about two years before transitioning to freelance and outdoor adventure photography. At the time I was working full-time at the Yakima-Herald Republic and I would spend all of my free time photographing the project. I would drive anywhere from 1-4 hours away after work or on the weekends to shoot the project.
The project documented the lives of Peruvian migrant sheepherders who produce wool in the mountains of the western United States. The men come to the United States on the H-2A visa. They work 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week taking care of their flocks of sheep for 2.5 years straight. After their visa is up, they return home to Peru for a short 3 month period to renew their visa and then come back to do the work all over again.
I was interested in this story because there is lots of sheepherding in Idaho. I grew up seeing the sheep in the hills where I mountain biked and always wondered about them. During this project, I took a lot of time to get to know the herders. I spent the first summer getting to know the seasonality and steps of the shepherding process, where they go in the spring, where they are in the summer and then when they return. By the second season, I had formed a trusting relationship with one of the herders. I ended up focusing on his story and spent the most time with him. I’d camp next to his trailer and walk for miles through the forest with him. Somedays, I didn’t even take a photo. This was the first project I worked on that made me realize I was not meant to be a staff photograph on a newspaper and that I needed to work on more projects on my own. It is what led me to love documentary photography and ultimately pushed me to pursue freelance work.
Photograph by Shannon Cors
What would you tell your younger self?
Make the work you love and trust it will take you where you are supposed to go.
The sheepherding project was the work I loved and it led me to where I am today. Once I finished it was published in The New York Times and in Outdoor magazine. I knew I had given it my all and I needed to transition to freelance and try outdoor adventure. I interned at the Jackson Hole News & Guide in 2014. While at that internship I got an assignment to photographer and climb The Grand Teton. That assignment had a lasting affect on me and I never forgot about how much I loved photographing outdoor sports. After PNW Sheepherders published, I knew it was time for me to take the leap into outdoor adventure photography. I decided to drop everything in Yakima and I moved back to Jackson Hole to work on my outdoor portfolio. That was in 2018.
I share the PNW Sheepherders project with clients to show them that my photography is more dynamic than just beautiful outdoor photos. I am here to tell stories and that is what I love to do.
What are you working on these days? I am actually working on a lot of film projects nowadays. I am working on three ski movies this season. All are non-traditional ski films and have storytelling narratives to them. I felt I needed to switch things up and try out a new medium. I am really excited about film right now, but photography will always have my heart.
What projects do you hope for in the future? For my personal growth as a photographer, I want to focus on film and portraiture in the next few years. I’d like to create some movies that challenge the notion of what outdoor film should be and a few portrait series that I am proud of. Additionally, I’d like to work on large productions in the Tetons and get hired for more commercial photography work.
In between all of that, I want to keep planting a garden every spring, throwing pottery in my free time and adventuring with my wonderful partner in the Tetons.
Heidi: Did you follow the entire migration path?
Brendan: We didn’t cover the entire migration path which starts off in and around the Great Lakes area between the Canada and US border and goes southbound till reaching the middle of Mexico. The monarch butterflies born in the north are the very butterflies that arrive in Mexico and it is their offspring return back to where their parents came from after 4-5 generations.
Was it difficult to capture both still and moving images?
It was a juggle the entire time as I was operating three cameras for the entire assignment. I had one camera for video, one for both stills and slow-motion video, and one film camera. My assistant and fixer helped carry my gear. Because we had restrictions on any additional lighting, whether it was constant or strobe, I was constantly moving around, carefully as there’s thousands of butterflies at my feet, in search of good light. Even setting up a tripod was a delicate procedure. For the entire time on location I was lost in the euphoria of being surrounded by all these butterflies and the frenzy of documenting it all in four different modes, on top of having to shoot vertical and horizontal. It was a lot!
What surprised you on this assignment?
On one day I had elevation sickness for the first in my life. The elevation of the biosphere is 10,000ft, which is the elevation of Haleakalā on my home island of Maui. In addition I was currently suffering from food poisoning, which seems like it would’ve taken away from the experience but it was mystic either way.
Elaborate on your mystical experience.
Mystic as in spiritual, I believe that some places invite one to experience them, to bear witness, and feel its mana (spiritual energy). Before I got to El Rosario I was wondering why of all places do the butterflies gather here, why fly thousands of kilometers to this one specific mountain and only rest on one specific species of tree that happens to be endemic to the region? It goes beyond the beauty of location, a circle of volcanoes and endless forest, it is a place without time and deep silence, for the nuns I encountered it was a religious experience.
Unpack the connection of place.
I made the connection because I am used to the elevation of El Rosario since Haleakalā on my home island is just as high, and I had hiked, camped, and star gazed there countless times. So suddenly to get elevation sickness for the first time I get it while experiencing this most sublime event in nature, I found humor in.
What did you learn about yourself watching the butterflies?
Because of our exclusive access we were able to go to areas closed off to the public. It was still early in the morning and the butterflies hadn’t woken up yet. Our guides motioned to us to be silent as we tiptoed around the thousands of butterflies on the ground. The little morning light we had was dimly reduced by thick foliage on the oyamel firs all around us. It wasn’t until we were absolutely surrounded that I noticed the thick foliage was actually millions of butterflies all resting and waiting for the sun to warm their wings. I immediately forgot about my sickness and went to work. The lead monarch butterfly researcher, Eduardo, picked up one of the grounded butterflies, cupped it in his hands and placed it next to his month. As he blew, the warmth of his breath activated the monarch and like a magic trick the butterfly flew away.
Can you share a little about creating those stunning videos?
In terms of framing: Once we had access to a place we move as the butterflies moved. Because we weren’t allowed to make noise, we would wave and signal to each other where the butterflies were taking flight in the masses. I would drop my bag to shoot something then ten minutes later I would be down the hill at a completely new scene with whatever I had on me. It felt like covering a war of the butterflies and I was Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now with five cameras around my neck and constantly calculating how to document something. I wanted to convey what it is like to experience this event, I wanted that magic and its detail to be carried in the images.
Did you wear special clothing? I interviewed Ami Vital and she wore a panda outfit on a project.
I wore a giant butterfly outfit, just kidding. The mornings were cold and the mid-days were hot, so I had shorts in my bag, I’d start off the day with a hoodie and raincoat, and strip off layers. I had my trusty travel backpack and a large hip bag on me for easy access. I wore sneakers to tiptoe easily.
What did you learn about yourself watching the butterflies, did they land on you?
They landed on all of us and even on my gear. At the end of the day I would close my eyes and see the pattern of thousands of butterflies flying all around me, and the sound of all their fluttering wings echoed in my mind.
How long were you in on location?
We were in Mexico for a week. We landed in Mexico City, where we met up with our Fixer, Hector, and the rep from WWF Latin American, Monica and drove out to Zitacuaro where we were stationed and each day we drove out to various places surrounding the biosphere. Neither I nor my assistant spoke Spanish, so there were a lot of good conversations we missed out on.
Heidi: Where does your love of digital collage come from?
Natasha: My passion for digital collage evolved with the growth of my ‘A Portrait a Day series’. I’ve worked in Advertising for the past decade and overtime did a lot of image compositing for local Ad campaigns and wanted to explore it outside of the corporate setting and more on the storytelling side of things.
You are in the hundreds by now, tell us about “Portrait a Day”
Yes, I am now at Day 130. It’s been a slow and steady journey. I started the Instagram series to combat my creative block at the time. The aim was to post a portrait-focused design everyday highlighting creative people who’s work inspired me. It was purely experimental, fun and consistent in the beginning. Overtime I became less consistent with posting daily, however, I’ve had the opportunity to work on some amazing pieces that highlight topics that focus on the black community globally.
What have you learned about yourself?
This series has allowed me to create artwork from the perspective of telling stories and I’ve discovered that I’m equally passionate about Visual Art (storytelling) as much as I am about Graphic Design (problem-solving).
Are you also taking portraits as well as designing?
I do take portraits with my iPhone if the need arises. However, I mostly rely on the expertise of photographers.
What was it about the Patagonia project that spoke to you?
The experience of the enslaved people through the lens of wildlife biology isn’t something that I ever thought would be interesting. It is not merely a different perspective, but an untapped investigation that adds to the understanding of the history of black people in America. It makes you think, ‘who was really the King or Queen of the Wild Frontier’?
Heidi: How does nature inform your life?
Eric: Nature plays a huge role in my life. I spend a large percentage of my time outdoors and it helps make me who I am. My love for the outdoors started at a young age on fishing trips with my dad. My love of nature helped spur my passion for photography: I wanted to memorialize the experiences. I have now traveled all over the world not just for photography and fishing, but also to hike, camp, ski and so many other activities I have learned to love over the years. I have maintained friendships through these travels, and met new people. In today’s world, I think it’s easy to lose our connection to nature. When I go for a long period without being in the field, I start to feel like something is missing.
Have you become more patient?
Growing up as an avid fisherman, patience is the key to success. So I have always considered myself patient (although my girlfriend and mom might not agree with that statement). But as my career in photography has progressed, my patience has been tested more than I ever thought possible. I have spent countless hours lying in ditches, streams, snow and mud at both frigid and scorching hot temperatures. I have spent days trying to photograph an animal without ever even seeing it. And as I’ve honed my craft, I am constantly striving for more creative and unique images, which requires more time, effort, and of course patience.
You had a significant career shift, when did you know it was the right time to change your life?
Eric: In my previous career I worked in finance for an investment management company. I enjoyed the job but also felt a constant pull toward the outdoors and wildlife photography. I happened upon an ad for a fishing guide position for a remote unnamed lodge in Alaska, and the description seemed all too familiar to me. A few months prior, I visited a lodge in Alaska with some friends. I had the time of my life fishing for salmon and photographing brown bears. I reached out to the owner’s son, who I had come to know well at the lodge during my trip. He confirmed the position, and I knew I had to pursue it. After a relatively short phone interview, he told me to, “Come on up for the season and we’ll see how it goes.” I knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. My first season up in Alaska changed my life. Guiding allowed me to share my passions for fishing and photography with others, and every day is an amazing experience.
Tell us the backstory about this image with the bear and salmon.
I work as a fly fishing and brown bear viewing guide in Lake Clark National Park, Alaska each summer. The peak time to watch the bears fishing lasts only a few weeks every August. On one rare night off, I knew I wanted to utilize that time to hopefully photograph some bears catching salmon. With a storm approaching over the Cook Inlet and daylight fading, I knew I didn’t have a lot of time. When I got to the river mouth, I found one of my favorite bears, “Sniper,” fishing. We called him Sniper because he was infamous for stealing fish from defenseless cubs. He also happened to be pretty good at catching his own fish, so I was happy to find him. The bears all have unique fishing techniques. Sniper typically sits patiently in the water waiting for a fish to splash. Once the fish gives away its location, he’s off and running through the water to catch it. It didn’t take long for a few salmon to break the water and Sniper was off. He came up empty on his first few attempts. Eventually, I saw a fish splash right in front of me. Sniper did too. He sprinted after it, the once serene river now in chaos as the salmon swam for its life. Within seconds Sniper covered nearly 40 yards and was on the salmon’s tail. He dove head first into the water. From behind the camera, I hoped this attempt was a success. All the elements of a great shot were aligned, I just needed Sniper to get the salmon. The water cleared, and Sniper emerged with a fresh salmon between his teeth. The salmon released her eggs into the river as a last ditch effort to procreate. As he turned and walked directly towards me, I held down the camera’s trigger. Sniper kept walking my direction with his eyes locked on mine. Unbothered by my presence and focused on his dinner, he plopped down about 15 feet in front of where I was lying to eat. In a matter of minutes the 5 pound salmon was devoured. As he got up and walked back to the river, I took a quick peek at the photos and knew I had gotten the shot I had always imagined.
Are you taking images alone out the great outdoors?
When I’m not guiding, I usually find myself taking images alone. I don’t have many friends who are willing to do the same hike twice just to capture the best possible light, or to lay in the snow waiting for a moose to stand up. Its fine with me though, I actually prefer to be alone when I’m out photographing. It allows me to connect more with nature and I overall feel more relaxed and creative.
Have you had any encounters that were magical and frightening?
I’ve had a few encounters that got my blood pumping. Most of those instances have involved bears running out from the woods when I’m fishing. None of them have been threatening, just a bear thinking the fish I have is an easy meal. It still is nerve wracking though to be surprised by a 500 pound bear running through the water directly at you. I was also bluff charged by a moose a few years ago when it thought I was a rival bull. It stopped after a few yards, and I happily took the hint and moved on. The most magical encounter I’ve had happened my first year guiding in Alaska. Late one evening, I was on the beach heading back to the lodge with another guide, Megan. The sun had just set and the water was perfectly calm. As we cruised along in the ATV we noticed a wolf watching us from a sandy bank above the high tide line. We immediately turned off the ATV and slowly sat down in the sand. The wolf didn’t seem threatened by our presence; he simply sat there watching us. Curiosity took over after mere minutes, and it trotted down to check us out. It slowly circled us, each time getting a little closer. My heart was beating so fast I could feel it pounding in my chest. When it was no more than 20 feet away it plopped down in the sand and continued to stare back at us. Neither of us moved a muscle. We didn’t want to frighten the wolf and end the experience. When I thought it couldn’t get any better, the wolf picked up a stick and started to play with it. It tossed it in the air just like my neighbors golden retriever would do in the backyard. After 20 minutes the wolf must have gotten bored with us and it walked away, disappearing into the tall grass.
Time is the one thing that we all share and most of us wish we had more of. I always try to make the most of my time and overall that leads me to have a pace of life that I would consider as “full”. I want to experience as much as I can and try to spend each day like it could be my last. When it comes to capturing certain photos, the normal time of everyday life essentially comes to a halt. I’ll spend countless hours waiting in the field in order to capture the photo I’ve imagined. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What spoke to you about this image?
Most of my favorite photos start off as ideas in my head and are then followed by a lot of time, effort, and a little bit of luck to capture them. I had been guiding in Alaska for three years prior to capturing this photo, so this specific image has been haunting me for a long time. I’ve captured a few that were close but there were always one or two elements that were missing, like lack of eye contact with the bear. I chose this photo for the Field Outrider contest because it finally checked all the boxes for the image I had imagined in my head. A bear with a freshly caught salmon, walking directly towards me in some great light.
Heidi: Tell us the backstory of that shoot. Jay: I had just wrapped up a string of jobs that really sapped the spirit out of me. I was rinsed and needed a change, personal work has always been a safe place to throw myself when I felt creatively stunted. I was talking with a good buddy over some beers when he started recalling some pretty gnarly trips sledding through Canada, that was the initial spark. I love jumping head first into a world I don’t know much about and dog sledding was exactly that. Christine Walsh, a fantastic photo editor I work closely with steered me toward Kristy and Anna Berington. January in Knik, Alaska is no joke. For several days we photographed the sisters in sub zero temps using only the SUV as shelter.
How has the outdoors informed your work? I received some really great advice early on in my career “make sure you’re passionate about what you choose to spend your time photographing”. At the time, that directly translated into “stop shooting those beauty tests you clearly hate”. We’re always told to find a way to monetize our hobbies but I was very hesitant to bring my camera with me on long weekends hiking or on climbing trips, I didn’t want to mix work and pleasure and possibly infect my love for outdoor recreation. I was wrong though, the outdoors became such an incredible frame to hold the stories of people living amazing lives and accomplishing wildly difficult goals. That has become the core of my work.
You have work in and out of the studio, do you find it hard to transition? Actually, I’m truly at home in the studio. Before I started photographing for myself I spent several years as a first assistant running crews, assisting and lighting for other photographers. I’d spend every day making gear lists, loading trucks, creating light, problem solving… This comfort level with the space and the equipment allows me to have a smoother transition between the spontaneous work I do on location and the more planned execution of ideas in the studio. I do hope to do more work in the studio though. After spending so many years trapped on white cycs it was necessary to put some distance between me and c-stands but I have recently started to feel the pull towards designed light again.
What are you working on these days? I didn’t do much in 2020, January through March where whirlwind months spent traveling the country and working but by mid March all of my holds had dissolved. I spent much of the year grieving the loss of my ego and realizing just how much of my self worth I had tied to jobs and photography. Mostly I felt stupid. When work finally came knocking, I made sure I spoke up when clients asked me to put myself or others in danger and I bent over backwards for the clients who treated me like family. Recently I have found a massive creative partner in FILSON and have spent the last few months working on some truly exciting projects around the country.
What the been rewarding about your work lately? That it’s evolving. I’m not the photographer I was three years ago and I’m certain I’ll continue to change in the future. The work of being a photographer isn’t making photographs, it’s having the courage to continue to push for something better. It’s a process and that’s what you’re seeing me go through. I started out in fashion and ended up photographing twin sisters prepping to feed their iditarod dogsled team in -23 degree weather.
Field Outrider: Art Illustration Finalist/Modern Huntsman Field Outrider Contest
Heidi: I know you are self taught, when did you first start painting? Morgan: I started painting five years ago. I was 23 years old and had moved to Bozeman, Montana that year. I grew up in Idaho without much access to galleries or artists, so it wasn’t until I started meeting them here in Bozeman that I realized it was an option. I quickly left my ‘real job’ at the hospital and devoted everything to learning how to paint. I did this mostly by looking at master paintings closely (via the internet and books in a rural cabin in Montana), studying the history of art, and cataloging the ones that I was drawn to. That catalog became my North Star, and narrowed my focus to the type of art I wanted to create. I’ve made many bad paintings over the last five years, but have had enough moments of ‘I might be onto something’ that I keep trying.
How does the pace of painting transcend into your life? I am a very slow painter. There are no shortcuts to the type of painting I do. It requires a lot of drying time, and many layers of paint. Because of this, my time in the studio is important to me to be able to create enough paintings to meet show demands. My lifestyle is built around protecting that, I live rurally and prioritize time alone. Technology is sparse up here, and can feel disconnecting when I spend a good amount of time working with my hands on creating an object in real life.
Why did you submit that particular painting to the contest? The painting I submitted is a family history painting, of a great uncle that ranches sheep in Idaho. They lost a herd of 50 to a lightning strike on the high desert plain. In the painting I feel a sense of stewardship, of care and responsibility over the animals. I think that question is asked often in stories told by Modern Huntsman, “What is our responsibility?”.
What are you working on these days? I am working on works for my next solo show in June at Old Main Gallery in Bozeman, as well as a grouping of new works for Sugarlift Gallery in NYC. I am trying to balance giving myself time to explore and be curious, while still meeting deadlines. I have a few large scale works that I’ve been tinkering with for many months now, which has been a very enjoyable way to work.
What inspires you? I think mostly I look to old master painters for what they were trying to convey, stories that we keep telling each other. As a figurative painter, I like to think a lot about archetypes, what each figure represents, what does this agrarian landscape represent in these changing times, what are the eternal truths here? Visually I get a lot of inspiration from a mediation process I use, visualizing the scenes I have created and wondering what might I see around the corner…etc.
When you do your figurative work, what is your process? When I compose a new painting, I will have a general idea in my head and on paper, large shapes, then go out into the field with model(s). We will spend time arranging that scene, collaborating together on new ideas, and taking lots of photos and video. In my ideal world, when weather and model cooperation permits, I also get time on site to do little painting studies of color notes specifically. Then I take all of this reference back to the studio, take parts of scenes and put them together on a usually imagined landscape. I look for specifics of posture of the figure, universality of their shape and archetype, expression, etc., and arrange things specifically to be most effective and efficient for the human eye and brain. This is one of my favorite parts of the process.