Roughly a hundred years ago, when I was in graduate school, MFA candidates were required to take what I thought of as the “what is art?” class. I don’t remember much about the class, because honestly, I don’t remember much about grad school. Now, that may sound like a joke, a drunken joke most likely, given that I attended the University of New Orleans, but actually, my lack of memory stems from the fact that my life was hectic, very hectic.
I started grad school shortly after divorcing my husband and moving with my two sons, aged four and five, into an expensive apartment. To keep the expensive apartment, I also worked full time in a busy French Quarter restaurant, and just to keep things interesting, I didn’t own a car.
Despite the rather manic pace of life at that time, I do remember delivering the final project, which required each of us to give a short speech explaining our beliefs about what is and isn’t art. On the very last day of class, I stood up and began my speech with this sentence: I can’t say exactly what art is, but I know that the worst reason for making art is that you feel you have something to say. And then the screen in my mind goes blank, and I have no idea what else I said.
But if I have nothing to say, why have I spent most of my life endeavoring to create art? The practice of photography, and every art or craft, forces us to consider all possible perspectives, to review and revise our work repeatedly, and drives us to become our very best selves. Specifically, macro photography pushes me to look beyond the top layers and delve deeper into the many aspects of nature, to explore new and different elements that I hadn’t seen before.
Each layer, every version of a given moment captured by a camera, allows me to discover more about the world than I was previously aware of. Nature’s abundance, exuberance, grace, and absolute perfection keep me captivated. In fact, on occasion, I find I must take short breaks just to allow the absolute joy of the earth to sink in because I am almost overwhelmed by the infinite beauty, spontaneity, and tenacity that I am witness to.
One of the few statements that I made when I was in school that I still agree with, is the statement about not creating art because we have something to say. My purpose is to let Nature speak for herself, but I also agree with the playwright Samuel Beckett, who said that perspective is all. Offering the world a new or different perspective seems to me a rather noble pursuit.
When I was writing in what felt like a serious manner, Beckett’s statement had enormous impact upon the choices I made, but even now, as a photographer, the idea that perspective is all, continues to drive me. I want to be up close and personal with my subjects, I want to view them from as many angles as possible, I want to spotlight them, I want to shine the brightest light on them, I want to elevate them as much as possible, and, more than anything else, I want to see as much of the world from their perspectives.
But back to the original question: why photography? I chose photography because it quite literally offers me a new way of looking at the world. Every day I venture out into some patch of nature and try to see the world anew.