LeeAnne Emrick: Celebrating Nature’s Glory

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LeeAnne Emrick is a nature photographer from Seattle. While growing up in West Virginia, she enjoyed shooting the waterfalls, wildlife, forests and other natural beauty in her state. She first began taking pictures as a hobby but then it eventually turned into a full-on passion. Now based in the Pacific Northwest, LeeAnne follows that same passion by capturing the abundant natural beauty in Seattle and the surrounding area. LeeAnne speaks to atlas this week about why she loves shooting waterfalls and nature and how she thinks more women can break into photography. (Editor’s Note: In this profound week in our nation’s history, we wanted to hone in on our nation’s natural beauty which LeeAnne Emrick captures so wonderfully. Enjoy!)

How did you first get started in photography?

LeeAnne Emrick: I began taking photos with a compact digital camera that I bought in anticipation of my son’s birth. Like any new mom, I took tons of photographs of my baby. I then became creative with lighting, posing, and clothing. That was eight years ago. It was not a glamorous beginning.

What do you look for in terms of composition when you are capturing an image?

Connection. I could give you a long list of technical aspects and rules that probably also go into my composition, but ultimately it is about connection. I need to feel connected to my subject. This is true of people, waterfalls, mountains, wildlife, the forest or the city. I need to see and feel something flowing from what’s in front of me into the lens, connecting us. There’s legitimately a little flutter in my chest when I know it has happened.

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Your work covers more than one genre. Which genre do you enjoy shooting the most and why?

Having grown up in West Virginia, I was fortunate to be surrounded by some of the most beautiful forests and oldest mountains in the country. Those mountains also happened to be full of waterfalls, which I began exploring shortly after the birth of my son. Initially, going to the waterfalls served as a metamorphical cleansing when I needed to clear my head and just breathe. Over time, though, I have explored many genres from portraits to landscapes; however, the waterfalls remain my constant, my go-to destination for photography. I love the solitude, not being able to hear anything or anyone and getting lost in the moment.

Are there any photographers who inspire you? If so, who?

My boyfriend, Addam, inspires me the most. We have learned so much together over the years, frequently taking turns being each other’s teachers and inspiration. It has been a tremendous symbiotic relationship in terms of creativity, especially during those times when one of us has been in a slump. Watching my boyfriend’s progression fueled my own progression — not out of competition, but out of inspiration.

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While there are growing numbers of women now, photography has been a historically male-dominated field. Do you have any thoughts about why that is so? What can be done to encourage more female photographers to break into the field, if anything?

In the past eight years, I have only had two female shooting partners in contrast to the many men with whom I have shot. I have come up with my own theories as to why photography is so male-dominated.  I always felt somehow slighted by this, having had this conversation with a couple of different photographers and feeling jealous of the relative ease with which they gained on-line and real life recognition. I do not know if it is because men are more naturally competitive and just make a more concerted effort to be seen or if there is some other reason for it but there is no denying its existence.

I think the most important thing women can do to break into the field and be a permanent fixture is to be true to themselves. Do not follow the trends and do what everyone else is doing. There are already enough people tripping all over one another trying to get one up on the last person to get that shot. One of the first things I do when I get to a shooting location is just sit and take it all in.  Let what is in front of you guide you and then you will feel what you are supposed to do. In addition, I think it is important to step back from photography social media sites. It is easy to get caught up in the rat race and lose sight of why we are doing this in the first place.  Be inspired by it. However, the moment it ceases to be inspiring and becomes anything else, that is when it is time to take a break, pick up your camera, and shoot.

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Are you self-taught or did you take formal photography classes?

I am self-taught. I read books, blogs, magazines and my camera’s user manual. I also had some great teachers. I looked at other people’s work and learned a tremendous amount about what worked and what did not work. I talked to my father a lot who dabbled in film photography while I was a teenager. Once I got the hang of the technical aspect of what the camera and the lenses could do, I let myself go and focused on what I could feel in terms of the images I was trying to create.

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How do you see your work evolving over the next few years? Are you working on any new projects?

I am a full-time high school teacher and a mom to a rambunctious eight-year-old boy. Unfortunately, I do not have the luxury of planning projects when it comes to photography. My best work has usually happened without any prior planning on my part. I just get lucky with the small slivers of time on the weekends or in the summer. “Sage Sunset” (the first image at top) was a spur-of-the-moment opportunity I was able to seize.

For more information about LeeAnne, visit her website. All images © LeeAnne Emrick.

William LeGoullon: Rediscovering the Desert

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William LeGoullon is a talented Phoenix-based artist. A graduate of Arizona State University, William is a recipient of numerous high profile awards and grants, including The Phoenix Art Musuem’s Contemporary Forum Emerging Artist Grant and The City of Phoenix Office of Art and Culture’s Public Art Commission for the Seventh Avenue Streetscape Project. Aside from nearly a dozen solo exhibitions, William’s work has been exhibited across the U.S. and around the world and has been published in many print and on-line magazines.  He teaches and gives lectures on art and photography throughout Arizona.  William speaks to atlas this week about his gorgeous “Nearing Dissonance” photography project and his unique perspective on how photography enriches our lives. (Editor’s Note: We spent some time in the California desert recently and wanted to revisit one of our favorite features to remind us of the splendor and the beauty of the desert. William’s stunning work fills the bill. Enjoy!)

How did you first get started in photography?

I first picked up a camera the summer before high school started. It was a Canon AE-1. The second I stepped into a darkroom a few weeks later, my life transformed. That was 1999. I have been shooting ever since.

What approach do you take with your photography?

I see photography as a method of communication. As a photographer, I do not just make photographs, I look at photographs probably in even greater amount. To think about my “approach” as a photographer and artist, I first have to consider how images inform my life. We live in a society so reliant on digital technologies where we, humankind, are going to be making a trillion photographs next year. People are becoming more and more attuned to communicating and experiencing life through photographs. Being a photographer provides a means in which I actively explore photography’s unique ability to help us understand the world around us and the ways photographs enrich our lives. For my work specifically, I often reference the continued dialogue shared between the landscape and the photographer.

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Your “Nearing Dissonance” series consists of some very spectacular desert images. The composition and style are amazing. Where were these images taken? How did this series come about? What motivated you to shoot these images?  What did you take away, if anything, after shooting this series?

Thank you for the kind words. The majority of the images I make are produced in the southwestern United States mainly between southeastern California and western New Mexico. The series has been an on-going body of work driven by my various interests related to our understanding of “landscape” as a transformative space and our place within it. As I mentioned before, there is a continual narrative that I am a part of shared between the land and photographers with a desire to understand it. The desert is an environment where the passing of time is remarkably visible. It is also a place of rebirth and therefore allows for rediscovery. Because of this, “Nearing Dissonance” is a series that I plan to continue developing for years to come.

Aside from shooting, you also teach courses and give lectures in photography in the Phoenix area. Why do you devote so much time to photography? Why are you so passionate about it?

Art in general is a passion of mine not just photography. It is part of what I live and breathe every day. Supporting the arts community you are a part of is important for any artist especially here in Phoenix where we have lots of room to grow. That said, I find a certain amount of enjoyment and inspiration from the students I teach. I am also continually seeking out curatorial opportunities. I feel curation is a wonderful alternative method for me to communicate more about some of my ideas and concepts that my own photographs either do not cover or only hint at.

I definitely think that there will always be opportunity for us to explore new ways of critically discussing, sharing, and promoting photography and art. There are plenty of people out there who want to support and engage with the arts even if they do not actually make art. These are people who make the art world grow stronger when they find ways to support artists.

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How has the photography industry changed from the time you first started to the present? 

Well that depends on which “photography industry” you are talking about. In general, both the artistic and commercial industries have been changed drastically by the technological evolution of the medium over the past decade or so. Photography is unique from many other art forms because it is based so much on technology. In our digital age, our definition of what a photograph is and is not has become challenged. Going back to what I said earlier, we use photographs in our society today much differently than we ever have. This is exciting, but in some ways perhaps detrimental to the medium. Regardless, it is reality and I find it quite interesting.

Are there any photographers whose work you admire? If so, who?

I studied under Mark Klett for a reason. I continue to love his work both old and new. I also thoroughly enjoy the photographs by of some of the more popular guys like Misrach, Burtynsky, and Gursky. Nadav Kander and Alec Soth are a couple of the first photographers I introduce my students to and for good reason. And then there are closer friends who continue to make work that I simply drool over. Both Claire A. Warden and her soon to be husband, David Emitt Adams, are both making stunning imagery. Bryon Darby who just did a project through The Center For Land Use Interpretation and Andrew Phelps who recently released a book called “Cubic Feet / Sec.,” are also some of my personal favorites. Of course there are so many I am forgetting but to round out this list: Michael Lundgren, Christopher Colville, Edgar Cardenas, and Jesse Rieser. These are all of whom I have had the pleasure of working with via my curatorial projects.

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How do you see your work evolving in the next few years? Are you working on any new projects?

Nearing Dissonance” will continue to change and grow. Besides that, I am currently focusing most of my attention towards a more distinct narrative. I’m calling the series “(Un)Intended Targets” and I will be exhibiting the series for the first time in its entirety come January 2016. For almost three years, I have been concentrating on the abusive and often unregulated relationship between recreational shooters, or “plinkers” as they are often called and the geographic locations they frequently visit. The firearm is an important thread within the fabric of American culture. Traditionally, they have orchestrated dominance over opposing human forces but I feel they also do so towards geographic ones as well. This pursuit of dominance continues today as a perplexing scenario yielding a disregard for land while simultaneously providing opportunity for amusement, fun, enjoyment, and even arguably, a reason to affiliate with nature, for better or for worse. These ideas are really exciting me right now.

What’s noticeably different about this series is its aesthetic and approach. For quite some time now, I have explored the ways tangible items can portray and embody a landscape both literally and metaphorically. I started doing this while I was still a student at Arizona State University. It has become a major part of my work ever since. The objects I am finding in field and photographing in the studio have been thoughtlessly left behind often on National Forest Land after being used for legal and illegal target practice. The puzzling characteristics these items acquire due to forces both human and natural help to reinterpret them as representations of both pleasure and violence. Once again referencing symmetries between nature and the human experience.

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If you had one piece of advice for a novice photographer, what would it be?

I just completed writing a critical review for one of my students before sitting down for this interview. It is fresh on my mind so I will share it here as well: make photographs that mean something to you.

For more information about William, visit his website.  All images © William LeGoullon.

Andrew Gold: Chasing Waves

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Andrew Gold is a San Francisco based photographer with experience in digital and traditional methods of photography. He is a master at capturing spectacular and magnificent images of the ocean, which inspires him to wake at sunrise to witness. Andrew’s works have been exhibited at Rayko Photo Center in San Francisco and may also be found in residential high-rises around town. He teaches darkroom photography and printing at Rayko and also serves as mentor at First Exposures, a local, nationally-recognized youth mentoring program that makes a difference in the lives of underserved Bay Area youth.  This week Andrew speaks to atlas about how he got his start in photography, his deep passion for the ocean, and how photography changed his perspective on what is important in life.

The majority of your photography involves the ocean. What about the ocean appeals to you?

Andrew Gold: On a more superficial level, the ocean is beautiful. It morphs into formidable shapes and textures and reflects light in ways that respond amazingly to photography. That is the answer I tell people I don’t know that well or are satisfied with a light but tangible answer.

The truth is that at my core, I am a scared, nervous, and anxious person. But when I’m in or around large bodies of water (this doesn’t work in a sink or tub), I feel a range of emotions that immediately snap me out of my fearful state. I feel free. I feel spacious. I feel connected to something greater than me. And being in San Francisco where the swell can get to be 20-25 ft, I am constantly in awe and humbled by its power. It is something so amazing to me that I would cancel any and all plans to wake up at sunrise and go witness time and time again.

The ocean can often be unpredictable and challenging to photograph. What is your approach to shooting the ocean?

It is definitely true — the ocean can be very unpredictable. I first found it to be quite challenging.  But, over time, I started to realize its consistent inconsistency.  Instead of projecting what I wanted to happen on any given day I began to leave all expectations at the door and simply be open to what ways I can make compelling image.  I think a lot of the images I make that fall flat are ones I made on days where I had plan for how a certain day of shooting was supposed to go.

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Some of your ocean photography was recently exhibited at Rayko Photo Center in San Francisco. What did you want your viewers would take away from your work?

Ultimately, through the images I show, I hope to recreate the sense of awe and wonder I experienced as I originally made the image.  Some of the moments I have witnessed as I have been photographing have been truly extraordinary. To be able to capture them and bring to the attention of people who may not have experienced something like that is truly an honor.

Additionally, all of my work is analog.  I use a manual film camera and make my prints in a color darkroom.  So, even though there is an intensity and power to some my images, making them required an incredible amount of patience, timing, and stillness. I hope that viewers of my work find that same sense of quiet that I needed to evoke during my process.

Tell us a bit more about these gorgeous ocean images here. 

The top image is great example of the unpredictability of the photographing the ocean. The majority of film I have from that day is not particularly visually stimulating.  But, two consecutive frames on one roll of film, capture this five minute period where the tide was just right, the wind was blowing steadily offshore, and the light was hitting the water just beautifully. This particular image does not really show the scale, but this was not a small wave by any means. It always amazes me gentle and soft something with so much power and ferocity can have.

About the second image above, as I mentioned before, there are many images of mine that have a certain intensity to them, through the power of the wave, the vibrancy of color, etc. But, I have also been experimenting with creating images that still have enough umph on their own, but evoke a greater sense of quiet in the viewer.  I find these images have their own power through subtlety. The second image above is inspired by a painter Claudio Bravo. He paints objects like tissue paper or wrapping paper that appear almost three dimensional. I like the play of navigating between 2-D and 3-D in a 2-D image.

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This image above and the one directly below are similar to one another in that they both highlight this really unique, fleeting moment that happens as waves break during sunset (or sunrise depending on the coast).  For only a second or two water will reflect the rays of the sun with this bright, vividly golden color.  It happens so quickly that it is only through a still image that we can see and appreciate the beauty of the moment.  It’s just too fast to register in our system.  Personally, I love the idea of taking a moment that holds little importance in reality and giving it a new level of significance as an image.

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Finally, the last image at the end is probably the most significant in terms of the origin of this project. Prior to that day, I had been photographing the ocean with some frequency but in a different way. It was really the first day I started to separate from a more traditional landscape to just focus on the texture, movement and light reflecting on the ocean.  As I peered into the viewfinder I felt as if I was onto something, but it did not sink in until I received the film back. This particular roll was shot on slide film.  Seeing the entire roll of film illuminate on the light table was a truly magical experience.  After seeing the results of shooting that day (two years ago now), I felt a fire in me to experiment with capturing the ocean in as many ways and at as many places I could.

How did you get started in photography?

For me, there really was not anything initially cathartic about picking up a camera. Since as young as I can remember, I loved messing around with point and shoots and disposable cameras. I liked documenting places I’d go to, liked having photos of friends, girlfriends, pets etc. I would take way more pictures than other people I knew, but never really thought much of it.

My apathy had little to do with photography, though. Until a few years ago, I was pretty much completely consumed by my image, status, materialism and ways to get ahead in life. Basically, I thought more money equaled more happiness and was always focused on the next thing I needed to do achieve that. It is ironic the one thing I’d naturally do without thinking or analyzing was capture a moment to savor an experience. It is like my upbringing, surroundings, conditioning were all telling me to act a certain way but my subconscious kept alive how I really wanted to exist.

If you could go on a photo shoot with any photographer (living or deceased), who would it be?

Growing up, Andreas Gursky was one of the first photographers whose work I really resonated with.  As I look at his pieces now at SFMOMA, I am still inspired by them.  It would be great to see him at work.

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You are actively involved with an organization called First Exposures in San Francisco. Can you tell us about First Exposures and how you got involved?

First Exposures is great. It is a one-on-one photo mentoring program that teaches at risk youth both analog and digital photography.  It is a great opportunity to give back and also get more connected into the photo scene in San Francisco.  I originally got involved through my neighbor who is also a photographer.

Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Andrew!

For more information about Andrew, visit his website.  All images © Andrew Gold.