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Interview: Beth Moon


photo-eye Gallery Interview: Beth Moon on Capturing the Emotional Wilderness We are thrilled to announce that photo-eye Gallery is now representing Beth Moon. In order to get to know the artist a little better, we are pleased to share Gallery Director Anne Kelly's recent conversation with Moon, in which they discuss ancient trees, black birds, the artist's inspiration, and her monographs.

Fornax, Archival Pigment Print, 20x30" Image, Edition of 15, $2500 – © Beth Moon

We are thrilled to announce that photo-eye Gallery is now representing Beth Moon. In order to get to know the artist a little better, we are pleased to share Gallery Director Anne Kelly's recent conversation with Moon, in which they discuss ancient trees, black birds, the artist's inspiration, and her monographs.

Next month, a selection of images from Beth Moon's series Night Diamonds will make their photo-eye Gallery debut in a group exhibition of astrophotography. This exhibition will correspond with the First InterPlanetary Festival running the weekend of June 7th and 8th in the Railyard Arts District.

Lyra, Archival Pigment Print, 20x30" Image, Edition of 15, $3000 – © Beth Moon

Anne Kelly:     You studied art at the University of Wisconsin, and as I understand it, explored a variety of mediums, but photography came a bit later for you — and has clearly become your passion. 

Beth Moon:     Yes, I was a fine art major. Classes in painting, life drawing, sculpture, and design gave me an understanding and foundation of basic principles and would set the groundwork for my work in photography which was to come years later.

My artistic journey took a meandering path as I initially worked in fashion, designing clothing, but over time creative limitations became constricting and I wanted to move into a discipline with more expression and freedom.

I became interested in photography and I realized the vast artistic range it offered; so many decisions to make along the way! I thought it would be the best medium to use to record tree portraits.

Odin's Cove 1, Platinum/Palladium Print, 16x20" Image, Edition of 9, $3400 – © Beth Moon

AK:     Who are your influences?

BM:     I am inspired by great literature, certainly music, and many other forms of art, especially painting. I like to visit museums when I need inspiration, one of my favorites being the Metropolitan. I see current exhibitions, but always find new and interesting things in the permanent collection, no matter how often I visit.

AK:     You have previously stated, “Our relationship to the wild has always played an important role in my work” — can you please expand on this?

BM:     Yes, this is a relationship I think of often, whether it is ravens in the wild, how we treat our farm animals, carnivorous plants, etc., this relationship ends up filtering into my work. I have a great appreciation for the natural world, so perhaps it is this emotion that I am trying to capture and share. I am not interested in simply documenting, but instead, I try to record the passion that I feel towards the subject when I take the photograph.

When I began to take tree portraits I consciously tried to show a pristine side of nature without any signs of man. But a year or so into the project, I realized I wasn’t telling the whole story and began to include trees that had doors that were built into the trunk or wooden props that held up ancient branches.

Odin's Cove 36, Platinum/Palladium Print, 11x14" Image, Edition of 9, $2400 – © Beth Moon

AK:     Memory and time also seem to be reoccurring themes in your work.

BM:     Loosely speaking, time and memory are central motifs that run through my images. For me, they all intersect at different points becoming one in the same.

What I find interesting is the effect that time has on nature, be it the age of old trees, or how evolution turned a simple leaf into a container that could catch and digest insects, creating carnivorous plants.
The aging process of trees is especially interesting to me. For example, trees often hollow out in old age, but then they send an aerial root down the center and the tree begins to grow from the inside out! A brilliant survival tactic.

AK:     You have photographed some of the oldest and largest trees in the world. Have you always been attracted to trees — and is there a particular experience that may have inspired the images of trees that you are making today? 

BM:     As a child, I was outdoors from dawn until bedtime and playing in trees was a big part of my day. There were many trees in my neighborhood that were just right for climbing. They made excellent hiding places when playing hide and seek and sitting up on one of the branches was an ideal way to view what was going on below. The world can look different from that vantage point!

So trees were a natural subject choice for me, but I wanted to find the oldest ones because I was interested in their age and their strategies for survival.

Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees, Photographs by Beth Moon. Contributions by Clark Strand and Jana Grcevich.
Abbeville Press, Jackson, USA, 2016. In English. 116 pp., 11x11x¼"


AK:     Your images have been captured on film as well as in digital format. What inspired the transition?  

BM:     Up until two years ago, I was dedicated to shooting film (medium format) until I started photographing under starlight (Diamond Nights project), which required long exposures. Knowing it was not possible to shoot these images on film, I made a transition to digital, which I resisted at first but now I am comfortable with this medium and can appreciate certain benefits. I certainly don’t miss fighting at the airport to get my film hand checked!

AK:     Please share a story about something unexpected that you discovered in the process of making your work.

BM:     I started photographing ravens in 2010, which I titled Odin’s Cove. I first noticed the pair at the seaside in northern California upon a ledge, watching me. Fascinated by their behavior, I found myself watching their movements the entire afternoon.

A few weeks later, I returned to the sea and to my surprise I found the birds in the same place. I returned many times over the next three years to visit the birds, and I believed they recognized me, often flying down to greet me upon my arrival. I think the birds just got used to me being there and I was careful not to intrude on their space.

I began to take pictures of the birds without any clear purpose. It just became part of my experience. It was when I happen to recall a mythological play I had once seen about the Norse god Odin that the title hit me. Odin had two ravens that flew across the land daily to keep him informed of events around the world.

The title seemed to be the structure needed and appeared to speak not only about the birds, but the place itself, and rounded all the elements together in my mind for a photographic series. Many aspects of this experience were unexpected, but none so much as the bond that I developed with these birds over time.

Between Earth and Sky, Photographs by Beth Moon.
Charta, 2013. 96 pp., illustrated throughout, 9½x10".

AK:     You have published four books and are currently working on your fifth. In having the opportunity to speak with many photographers in various phases of publishing it seems that the process of making each book is different. Please tell us about your adventures in book publishing.

BM:     I don’t believe there is any better way to really flush out a body of work than the process of making a book. For me personally, I find it a very arduous and challenging task, but that is what ultimately makes it so gratifying. I tend to work slowly, contemplating the many decisions. I think the shortest time that I have taken on a book was just short of four years (Ancient Skies), with the longest book project taking fifteen years, (Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time). I started work (Augurs and Soothsayers) for my current book in 2010. Within these eight years, I feel the project gained a depth it wouldn’t have had earlier.

I am lucky to have worked with Abbeville Press on the last three books and have learned a lot about the publishing industry, which is an education in itself.

AK:     What is next for you?

BM:     I have a couple of projects simmering but hate to talk about new work until it is completely finished! I hope to carve more time out this year, away from the admin part of the job to be able to devote to new work only.

Beth Moon on Location
Click to Enlarge

For more information about Beth Moon, and to purchase prints from her portfolios, please contact photo-eye Gallery Staff:
505-988-5152 x202 or gallery@photoeye.com

» View Work by Beth Moon

» Purchase Books by Beth Moon

Prices listed were current at the time this post was published on 4/25/2018.

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