We all shoot where we are. Sometimes it's where we travel, but mostly it's probably where we live.
The person I've focused on this time out has a lot to choose from when it comes to subject matter. Annie Bailey of artinmind hails from Bozeman, Montana, and while some might think the Big Sky has a whole lot of empty, the discerning eye knows that "empty" is chock full of subject matter to fill a viewfinder with.
Annie's work first caught my eye early in my Etsy career; in fact, her "Big Sky Highway" is one of the first items on my Favorites list. I recently had an opportunity to have an extended conversation with her and I’d like to share that with you now.
Steve: I see a lot of photographs that I find interesting, and when I do I wonder about the person behind the camera; who are they, where do they come from, what is it in life that has made them who they are and put them on the path to what they do. So Annie, my first question to you is this: who are you, where do you come from and what's your family like?
Annie: I was born in Montana and grew up on my family's ranch in the Smith River Valley. I like to think that it was the ranching environment that gave me the eye for photography; Montana has so much to offer. Even when it's miserably hot or below zero, there's beauty to be found.
Big Sky Highway
I grew up riding four-wheelers, feeding orphaned calves from a bottle, riding horses, and shoveling poop out of the barn. Growing up, I always had my own camera. When I got older and got my driver's license, I decided that there was just too much beauty in Big Sky country to ignore. I saved my money and got a new Nikon digital camera with all the bells and whistles. I got lenses for my birthday and Christmas and the rest is history.
My dad is a big kid. We like to joke that he's never progressed past the age of 3, even though he'll be 60 next year. I think he really is the one responsible for my love of the open fields and sky. He abhors being enclosed in tight spaces, and I think I've got a lot of that in me.
My mom is an excellent photographer, although she'll never admit it. They're support has always been unfailing. They’re always asking if I've been taking pictures, like they're making sure I do my homework! My best friend, who I consider my sister, is an amazing artist. We like to push each other to keep thinking and trying to maintain a quality in our work, to never do anything half way. I think I've been working towards photography, very slowly, all my life. Now it's something I can't live without, and there's always that need to document what I see.
S: What a wonderful way to grow up! Are you still living and working close to the land on the family ranch, or are you making your living in town? And what do you do for a living, by the way?
The Great White
A: Yes, I'm still close to it. I live in Bozeman, which is just over an hour drive back to the ranch. I lived there over the summer, helping out a bit. I'm actually going to school at MSU for architecture at the moment. I make a living my selling my photographs, and I also paint. I sell my paintings here in town and sometimes other towns here in MT. I have a photography show at the college in December and I'm very excited about it, as they're all new photos taken over the past year.
S: Congratulations on your upcoming show; I hope it goes well!
Photography AND painting...impressive, and how fortunate that you've been able earn a living at both. Was it the painting that led to the photography, or the other way around? And what about training? Are you self taught or have received instruction?
A: I would say that the painting came first. I was more serious about painting before I was serious about photography. I took pictures of grain elevators and landscapes to paint, but then I started getting really hooked on photography because of that. Now I think it's the opposite. I spend more time on photography than painting; it fits me better, but I love all kinds of art.
I haven't taken any classes on photography. I believe that people have the ability to see things without teaching them how. Maybe it keeps you from worrying about being "proper". As far as how a camera works, I had to read books and then read the entire manual, learning how to use my Nikon. I'd never used an SLR before, just a point and shoot in high school; man, that changed everything!
S: What are your favorite things to photograph?
A: My favorite thing to photograph is large beautiful white clouds over an open field. The sky is definitely an element that I most often incorporate in to my photographs.
I also like to capture one strong object in the frame, say a funny looking tree or an old barn. To me, the best photographs are when you can use both a strong "object" and the sky as a wonderful backdrop that adds such depth and, in secretive little ways, tells more about the subject than it would be able to tell on its own.
Giving a spatial context to the subject is also fun. Here in Montana, there's usually so much space around the subjects I photograph that it's fun to show just how alone they are in the landscape.
S: Looking at your work and considering where you're from, that totally tracks!
Black and white seems to be your favorite medium; is that the case, and if so, what is it about black and white that attracts you?
A: B&W is my favorite medium. In photography, it's easy to rely on color to do the work for you; I try not to be "lazy" that way and simply take a brightly colored photograph.
It's weird because sometimes I feel almost ashamed taking a color photograph. Nobody told me one was better than the other, but I picked b&w somewhere along the way as the better method. What might have been an influence was that my family has tons of old black and white photographs of ancestors, relatives, etc. I love to look at them because the emotion in their faces is beautiful, and more easily noticed when there is no color distraction. I love history; maybe it's a way of paying homage to it in some form. I can't pass up photographing old buildings, trains, and the like.
S: I totally agree; B&W is my favorite medium as well. Sometimes color is required to make the statement, but all things being equal, I prefer B&W.
I know you said you had a Nikon with all the trimmings, but let's get a bit more specific; what's in your bag, and if price was not an issue, what one thing would you like to add to it?
A: I have two lenses that I use regularly. The first is the Nikkor zoom lens 18mm-200mm and the other is the Micro-Nikkor macro lens. My brother was kind enough to get me a Lensbaby, which I love. I haven't gotten around to using it much, but believe me, I will! It's so simple, and yet it really brings some cool things to a photograph.
What would I add? I'd love a good telephoto lens. In Montana, much of the land is privately owned, so you can't just go trouncing across a field, because it could be somebody's backyard. I know how annoyed my family gets when people trespass, so I try not to. I'd love a lens that allows me to get pretty much anywhere from a legal spot.
I also need a better tripod. I always have a tripod and a remote control for long exposures. I'd also like a couple of larger memory cards. You know how it is, there's always a long list of thing you want!
S: Sounds like a nice setup, and you're right; no matter what you've got, there always seems to be at least one more item that would be nice to have!
What do you suppose has been the most important factor in the development of your style and your art?
A: I would say the biggest factor that has led to way I like to take photographs is my design background. I like to work with compositions. I always hear these rules that can't be broken, and then I like to try it just because someone says not to. Like the law of thirds, which does have merit but the horizon chopping off the photo right through the middle can be powerful too. I think too many rules creates situations in which everyone's work looks like everyone else's.
Cut, Bound, and Dried
I really only have an interest in certain things. I'm not very into pictures of flowers. I think that some are definitely very beautiful and pleasing, but I wouldn't want to take pictures of them as a main object. I look at photographs like they're going to be movies about the subject. I start with what I'd want the opening shot to be, and then take a still of it. I would like to make movies. Sometimes I think film is just the only way to show what you're thinking.
S: I'm pretty much of the same mind. The "rules" are there because they work, and those just starting out would be well advised to pay attention to them while learning their craft. However, once you've got a handle on things and you know what the rules are and how and why they work, it is possible to take those rules and not so much flaunt them, as turn them inside out, reverse them, bend them to your own design. It's a fine line, but one that can pay dividends.
As a photographer, I'm sure you have an appreciation for the work of others. Who are your favorite photographers and what influence would you say they've had on your work?
A: Geez, there's a lot of photography I love. I'm a big Minor White fan. Diane Arbus is great too. Portraiture is something I could really get into, and she set the bar, in my opinion.
As far as Etsy goes, there are several I love as well. SoZeSoZe is one of the shops on Etsy I loved as soon as I signed up and started looking around. He's got these great moody ocean side photos that really evoke some emotion.
I always enjoy Irene Suchocki's stuff, and of course there's always the Godfather, Ansel. I heard somebody bought some of his tin negatives at a garage sale. Man, why couldn't that have been me?
S: What does the future hold for you and photography? Where is it taking you? Where are you taking it?
A: I would like to try some different things. Portraiture is something I would like to try. Not like a portrait studio, but some candid photos of people in their lives. I know so many interesting people (in my opinion) just from growing up where I did. They are a tough people who can make it through pretty much anything just because they know they have to. They are incredibly strong, more so mentally in my opinion. It does leave scars though, and you can see it on people's faces; hard lives of physical labor and worrying.
Mother Nature can be hard to work with, but it’s part of life in Montana. I would like to approach it as a "documentation" of the last cowboy generation; I would really love the chance to do that. It's in the works. I actually photographed a guy I've known all my life; his face is full of character.
S: You know Annie, that's a project I would really like to see. Thank you so much for taking this time with me; I've really enjoyed it.
A: Thanks Steve, I enjoyed your questions.