This is the first of an intermittent series of interviews with the artists who illustrate the wonderful stories we publish.
By Gay Degani
You’ve taken several photographs to accompany stories published at Smokelong. Tell us a little about your interest in photography. When did all this picture-taking start for you? Did you go to school to study photography? How long have you been a photographer?
Throughout middle school and high school, I always wanted to learn photography, but never thought I could. I kept making excuses: I didn’t have the right equipment, and even if I did, who would I photograph? In college I pursued a journalism minor and creative writing major, thinking I wanted to be a copy editor and reporter, and I happened to get into photography by accident.
Here’s how it happened: I was working as a copy editor/reporter at The Central Florida Future, the University of Central Florida’s newspaper, and the photo editor and I were supposed to cover the “chamber pop” band Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s together. Hours before the show, the photo editor called me and said her roof was leaking, happened to leak onto her camera, and now it wouldn’t work. So I had to photograph the show. I was nervous at first because all I had was a point-and-shoot, but I had more fun than I ever thought I would, more fun than I had copy editing and reporting. So I took one photojournalism class, and then another one, and soon became part of a wonderful network of Central Florida photographers.
Since Smokelong assignments come to you with stories to illustrate, how do you approach the task of finding just the right shot?
The art of translating flash fiction into photograph, for me, relies on instinct and spontaneity, which is why I find it so much fun. Each story has a mood to it, which is intangible. It’s my job to make that mood tangible, translate it into a photograph, something concrete. Sometimes I’ll free-write after I give the story a few read-throughs, and in my free-write, an image comes to me that fits the mood. But during each story’s photo session, I always give myself room to change the image, too. I put a lot of trust in the moment of each photoshoot.
Can you talk a little about your photographic point-of-view?
Life experiences are my vitamins, and I love to travel. I think a healthy balance of delving into individual landscape and experiencing a variety of landscapes has greatly influenced my point of view, the way I envision each story’s photograph.
What would your perfect (or next) gallery show consist of in terms of style and content?
A Prayer For Your Safe Return Home, a portrait series, is a project I’ve had in my head for a while. I want this series to feature those who have lost someone they love to anorexia. Particularly those who have had anorexia themselves. I also want the project to feature those who’ve had anorexia for a good portion of their lives and survived. This disease is an extremely private one, and I don’t want to rush the project. At first, I wanted it to happen right away, but now I’m okay with a longer timeline.
I first became aware of you as a photographer at Smokelong, but you are a writer also. Tell us about which came first? And tell us something about your writing? What kinds of things do you write? What are your writing goals?
Writing came first. I remember relying on writing for the first time when I was twelve, mostly because I had some big spiritual questions and had no one to talk to about them. My notebook became my safe space and has been ever since. As I got older, I learned how to use my therapeutic writing as a foundation to shape “story” and “poem” and everything in between. For me, one can not exist without the other. Reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones helped me understand this process even further.
When I got my MFA, my focus was fiction, but I write poetry, too. And creative nonfiction. Exploring sexuality, body image, and the “alternative family” is important to me, and shows up in the majority of my writing.
Is there any cross-pollination that happens between your photography and your writing?
Without traveling and photography, I don’t think my writing would be the same at all. I wouldn’t have the same passion as I do now for the desert and the West, or even my home, Florida, and I probably wouldn’t have made these places such important characters in my stories.
Any other artistic endeavors you might be willing to share with us?
I’d like to believe I’m writing even when I’m not writing. Getting lost in San Francisco, that’s writing. Swimming in the American River, that’s writing, too. Meditating on the rocks in Malibu: writing. Driving down the coast of California—it’s all writing. Right now, I’m focusing on the experience of living on the road, and soon these experiences will compost, and hopefully, they’ll lead me where I need to go next in terms of making art.
If readers would like to see more of your art or read some of your writing, can you give us a couple of links?
Here’s one of my most recent stories, “Deconstruction,” written for Burrow Press’ 15 Views of Orlando project.
Two photographs I took for make/shift magazine this year.
My web site, where you can find a list of publications and links.