Horned Lizard Close Up
Have you seen images of spiders, grasshoppers, horned lizards and other creepy-crawlies on Esty? If you have, and they’d be hard to miss, then you’ve seen the stunning work of Racquel Morris, the artist behind SiriusImagery. That's not to say that's all she shoots, but those type of critters seem to be her forte. I recently had the pleasure of a conversation with Raquel. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Steve: When I come across a photographer whose work intrigues me, I'm curious about the source of their inspiration. So, Raquel, what can you tell us about yourself, your family, where you come from, that sort of thing?
Racquel: I mainly grew up in Winter Haven, Florida and I was a lot like Elly May Clampitt. I had my own Noah's Ark with 2 dogs, 2 rabbits, 2 hamsters, 2 mice, 2 cats, 2 birds, 2 fish, 1 guinea pig and 1 turtle. I ran my own animal rescue from the age of 7, rescuing anything that needed my help; lizards and birds were probably my best patients.
We had a pool, and every morning I would go out and rescue all the creatures that had fallen into the pool overnight, usually baby frogs, toads and lizards. I loved all wildlife; not bugs though, they scared me, especially spiders!
Now I am nearly 40, married, living in New Mexico and have two very special boys, who are the inspiration for my work. It is because of them I was able to overcome my fears, learn about the small creatures and get involved in macro photography. I still routinely rescue animals, and if my husband would let me I would have a mini zoo! Right now we only have 6 dogs and 5 turtles.
S: All manner of critters, two by two, a cement pond...sure, I get the "Elly May Clampitt" thing. And quite frankly, your connection with, and caring respect for other creatures is one of the things I respect about you. One other thing in your response that I’m sure a good many folks would find interesting; your boys. How is it that two young lads can affect their mom in such a way as to overcome her fear of "creepy-crawlies"?
R: My boys are very special and have changed my life in ways I can’t describe. At 16 months, my oldest had yet to speak a word. No ma-ma, no da-da, just a world of grunts and rituals. Shortly after talking to his pediatrician we got into an early intervention program where it was confirmed he was Autistic. We were told he would never speak, never potty train, etc. He is now 8 and not only speaks, but his vocabulary and reading are above grade level.
Around age 3 his younger brother was diagnosed with Aspergers, a high functioning form of Autism. In the beginning I thought of the Autism Spectrum Disorder as a disability but my outlook has changed. Yes there are stresses and limitations that come with being different, but different is all my boys really are. They have abilities other children do not have.
We have always been a huge reading family. From the time my oldest saw his first book he wouldn't allow me to turn the page until he studied everything on the page. Pointing to things I never noticed before. Attention to detail is life for both boys and they constantly make me pause, slow down and enjoy all life around me.
I was so afraid of spiders that when I saw one I would scream for my husband to kill it, I was really that scared! My oldest son once asked me why I was so scared. “Because they can hurt you”, I said.
“All of them?” he asked.
“Then why are you scared of all of them?”
I didn’t know.
At that time I was making jewelry, and I purchased my first camera to photograph my work. The camera allowed me to see many of the details in life I was missing.
One day we were eating at a friends BBQ stand and crawling around was this beauty: http://bugguide.net/node/view/203159. I did not have a true macro lens; just a 20mm macro capable lens, and I didn't want to get that close to it anyway. When the boys and I got home we started searching all over the web for this beetle. A friend told me about Bugguide.net and that was when the obsession for knowledge started.
The boys wanted to go bug hunting every day, but I was not yet over my "gross factor". I started looking at macro photography and was shocked by the images. I thought if my boys could overcome all they had then I could overcome my issues too!
I bought a used Canon lens, and we started going on nature walks; bugs we couldn’t ID we submitted to bugguide.net. My fears lessened and soon I photographed my first spider, an orb weaver; the next one was a crab spider. It took almost a year to work up the nerve to shoot the one that had terrorized me since childhood: the tarantula. I talked to some experts and learned the tarantula defends itself not by biting or leaping, but by flicking hairs that itch like crazy. That didn’t sound so bad, I could handle that!
Big Hairy Monster Of The Southwest
A few days later my husband found another one in our front yard and I decided to use the same technique I do with my grasshoppers; I lay down directly in the spider’s path and talked to him, assuring him I was not going to hurt him and asking him not to hurt me. You can find that picture in my Etsy shop; it’s probably the one I am most proud of.
S: So, you got your start in photography in order to photograph the jewelry you were making. Can you tell me a bit about that? Also, what was your first camera?
R: Yes the camera was purchased so I could get better quality pictures. I also wanted something nicer to get pictures of the boys. At the time I had Sony Mavica FD-200. My specialty was handmade soldered chainmail, either plain or embellished with artisan made lampwork glass.
I felt that my pictures needed to be as good as my work. The camera I wanted was the Canon XTi; when I got it I was hooked.
Dragons Do Exist
S: You've come a long way from that little Mavica; tell me about your training. How did you get from "there" to "here"?
R: Mostly through a lot of reading and practicing. I have a ton of books on photography but my favorite author/instructor is Bryan Peterson. I have learned a lot from photography forums as well. While I haven’t attended classes, there have been too many people involved in my education for me to consider myself to be “self-taught”. Brian, Toby, Kurt, Bryce, Scott and Alistar are just a few of the macro shooters that have helped me grow in my art.
S: However you want to label it, clearly the desire was there and you made it happen.
Looking at your work, it appears that you have more than one style. What can you tell me about your creative process? Or is it "processes"?
Don't Worry Be Happy
R: The comment I get most about my style is "personality", that and my focus being the eyes. I always focus on the eyes; they tell the story. The animals and insects are aware of you; they are watching and even studying you. They have their own personalities; some are skittish, some are curious and some are even friendly.
I think the perceived style difference is not really a difference in style, but in the subject I am photographing. I go with their emotion and mood. Like I said, I talk to my subjects, even the smallest ones. I also try to photograph from my boys perspective. That is why many of my shots are taken with me laying on the ground; trying to see the world through my children’s eyes.
S: When you shoot, do you go out with a plan and a specific subject in mind, or do you just take it as it comes? What sort of preparation do you go through?
S: Yeah, I can relate. I may go out the door with an image in my head of what I want to capture, but nothing is ever as I anticipated. You mentioned earlier starting out with a Sony Mavica and moving up to the Canon XTi. What's in you bag now? And, if wishing could make it so, what one thing would you like to add to your bag?
R: My philosophy is if you don't anticipate, you won't be disappointed. Instead you encounter unexpected surprises.
Currently I have a Canon 40D, MP-E 65mm (which is what gets those super detailed shots), Canon 100L IS (also macro), Canon 28-135 IS, Canon Nifty Fifty (best little starter lens anyone can buy) and Canon 430EX.
I am realistic in my wishes so if I had one wish it would be for the Sigma 50-500mm which just came out but then I would need a new bag ;o).
Plains Lubber Grasshopper
S: 40D? Hey, that's my brand! And my policy is, if you're gonna wish, wish big; it doesn't cost any more!
You mentioned some names earlier when we were talking about your training; putting that aside for a moment, is there a photographer, or photographers that you admire or may have inspired you? What influence(s), if any, has he/she/they had on your work?
R: Ha! You’re right! I’ve often thought about upgrading my 40D but I would rather get more glass instead. Perhaps I should have wished for the Canon 800L? It is on my "in your dreams" wish list.
I admire all those photographers. In my opinion they’re the best macro photographers out there. After buying the MP-E, I had a new appreciation for their work. This has to be the hardest lens to use and master, yet these guys make it look so easy! Most of them stack focus without aid of a tripod, and that alone is enough for "hero" worship status. Their work inspires me, and they have constantly encouraged me not to give up. Without these guys, and many others, I would not be where I am today with my art.
Diesel Fried Chicken
S: We must be in a groove here, because you've given me a perfect segue to my next question: where would you like this photography thing to take you? Or, where would you like to take it?
R: I have been pondering that same question for the last year. I am thinking about taking some entomology courses come this fall. Something I never thought I would be interested in!
I want to show people that not only are bugs beautiful and can be artful, but that all things have a place in our life. We don't have to fear what we don't understand, just take time to learn and respect all living things around you. I am hoping my new line of wearable bug art (launching soon) will encourage this learning process.
Fire Takes You Up
My philosophy with my path is much like my daily shooting. I don't expect anything and don't rule anything out. When pursuing their dreams, people often forget to enjoy the journey. I don't want that to happen to me.
S: Well, there's nothing I can add to that Racquel, except to thank you for your time. I really enjoy your images, I've enjoyed our conversation and I wish you nothing but success!
R: Thanks so much Steve! It’s been a pleasure talking with you too; the most fun in an interview I think I have ever had!