"My passion is the natural world, and I use photography, writing and teaching as my tools to express myself." – photographer Eddie Soloway
The images are striking in a highly creative sense. Wilderness shots emphasizing striking compositions and color. A lone iris bloom in a meditative setting. The orange light of the moon reflected on a still, indigo lake. Bands of color seaside during a New Zealand sunrise. Winter aspens standing in a new coat of snow. And then you get to the really fun pieces, abstract images taken in the forest with surreal focusing and camera movement. And the photographer’s impromptu shots taken on the road traveling to art shows, depicting a winter bridge through a rain-soaked windshield, blurred lights of traffic zooming past the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, an eerie, green soft focus during the prelude to a tornado, and the artist’s own hand on the steering wheel, with the darkened highway lit only by low beams in the night.
His work is titled "A Natural Eye," a phrase that reflects his personal path in photography. He explains on his website.
"After years of taking rather boring records of outdoor places and things, I accidentally dropped my camera into a saltwater estuary in the Everglades. Freed from the burden of always feeling the need to carry a camera, I spent the ensuing years simply and purely seeing. When I picked up a camera many years later my images were entirely different. It seems that in those years, without knowing it, but having spent countless months living in and close to the natural world, I had honed my natural eye. And my images showed it. Something fundamental had changed. I like to think that I let go of photographing objects and things in favor of capturing the essence of places and the magic of moments."
Eddie Soloway returns to 43rd annual Uptown Art Fair in South Minneapolis on August 4-6. The hours are noon to 7:30 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Shuttle buses will run every 20 minutes from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to Uptown Art Fair, Loring Park Art Festival, Powderhorn Art Fair and the MetroTransit Lake Street/Midtown Station on the south side of Lake Street at Hiawatha.
"I’ve been to the Uptown Art Fair several years now and I like it a lot," Soloway said in a phone interview with Edge Life, from his home in Santa Fe, N.M. "It’s improved so much. And I think (executive producer) Cindy Fitzpatrick is the star of that. She’s really trimmed it down to a high quality show, and she’s shown local and national artists. Plus, I like the Midwest, so it’s fun to go back."
The Illinois native, who attended the University of Wisconsin, spoke with Edge Life about developing a natural eye for photography, and much more.
On your website, you shared the experience of dropping your camera and spending the ensuing years "simply and purely seeing." What difference took place in your seeing and how did this change the photographs that you later took?
Eddie Soloway: A good question. At that time, I was leading workshops and coming up with ideas to build curriculum for teachers to use with K-12 students. It was a time in my life when I was living very simply in western Wisconsin. I pretty much spent my days living that lifestyle, seeing the natural world. I was out in it all the time. I had to come up with ideas of how to interpret it for children, and there was no pressure to make a picture. When I dropped the camera in the estuary, I was not a photographer. I just carried the camera with me, recording species. I was trained in ecology and natural history, and so the camera up until that point was really a way for me to document things I saw, but rather poorly. I like to think that I was taking bad portraits of flowers and birds and that sort.
What changed was having no camera with me for a while and experiencing a lifestyle where I was in the natural world all the time. I just started to develop my own way of seeing. Compared to what I had experienced before, it was more intimate. A lot of the landscape work I do right now is what I think of as being intermediate, intimate landscapes, as opposed to distant scenes. Like the iris image. It’s not a macro and it’s not a huge landscape. It requires me being in the water up close to the iris.
So what happened was the result of years with no cares about photography, but tremendous excitement about being in and seeing the natural world. It’s that child’s perspective, when you’re in there you’re sweeping around and poking around. You see it in your own way.
Where in western Wisconsin were you?
ES: I had a very close friend who had a cabin outside Alma Center, south of Eau Claire, and I was able to find a little farmhouse to live at. In my twenties, I felt connected to the experiences of John Muir, who spent his boyhood north of Madison and who spent time in a shack west of Madison. That was very vital to me and sort of pulsed through me. It was my way of doing my own Thoreau experience, I guess you might say.
You indicate that your passion is the natural world. When did you first realize that?
ES: As a kid I was fortunate to be involved in a very active, wonderful scouting group. We had a fantastic leader who had us outdoors all the time. For me, it started as a real passion of wanting to be out camping and exploring. I think I realized it when I started to become a young adult, when you have choices about what you might do with your life. I decided that I wanted to do something in the natural world. I think it started just generally, like wanting to be a ranger or something like that. Then it moved into more serious pursuits of ecological studies and from there into teaching and photography.
Do you consider photography your main pursuit right now?
ES: The natural world is my main concern and photography and teaching and writing are the ways I get at it. But photography is the main driving force right now.
What about nature do you want to share in your photographs, just the interaction that you have with it, as accurately as you can?
ES: That’s another interesting question, because there’s different things going on in me right now. On one hand I just want to share the beauty of what I see.
But, I’m also splitting off into a couple directions. I’ve been studying art and art history in more recent years. I’ve been very fascinated with how I might be able to interpret the natural world, in some different way. If you go to the website, you’ll see the forest abstract series. That’s all driven with the same principles of natural light with no filters or manipulations. I’m just using camera motion and focus changes during the exposure to abstract different aspects of a forest like a painter might. On one hand, I’ve been stepping from traditional photography into curiosity about how I might show the natural world in different ways. That series in particular is breaking it down into shape and color and light.
In my own personal life, there are two paths that are important. One is what I like to think of as joy and wonder about life. The other is about affecting some change. Right now, things are at a very desperate point, and I don’t think my photography solves that or does much for it. It was an eye-opening moment for me several years ago when I realized the beauty was important, but it wasn’t enough. I don’t think that a lot of people embrace a beautiful photograph and then make change.
I’m struggling right now with whether or not I bring my photography around to affecting change, or if that’s more of just my own personal life choices, how I set up my lifestyle, how I vote, how I make my daily decisions. It’s a very difficult time right now. It’s time to make positive change and do good things. I think there are a lot of people who are starting to mobilize that way. It’s just difficult.
What photographers inspire you?
ES: That’s a good question, because a lot of writers inspire me. I get a lot of ideas and a lot of visual inspiration from reading Annie Dillard, Barbara Kingsolver or Barry Lopez. I think I’m driven tremendously by writers. In terms of photographers, in my early days when I was studying ecology, I think some of the classic photographers, like Ansel Adams, inspired my appreciation for wilderness. But in terms of inspiring my creative photographic pursuits now, I look in different genres. I’m very curious about Keith Carter’s selective focus work that revolves around dreams and magic, images taken outside of where he lives in Beaumont, Texas.
I’m driven by the magic of some photojournalists who can just capture these unfolding moments and events in pure ways, without any manipulation. I look at photography outside my genre of landscape photography, but it’s really the writers and poets who inspire me visually right now.
What camera do you use?
ES: Many. Everything from 35mm to medium to large format. I also have a new body of work that I’ll be showing a small amount of at Uptown. Photogravure is a very old printing process that’s made with a very inexpensive, inferior plastic camera. But for the most part, it’s almost all film. I enjoy film a lot.
What is your reflection on the digital age of photography?
ES: I think it’s a tool, and I think we’re right now lost in the technology. I teach a lot. I see students and adults from 18 to 70 in the workshops that I teach, and they’re obsessed with the tools right now. I hope we can pull away from that and get back to the seeing. I joke that when someone buys a digital camera, there’s about four or five corporations that all do high-five’s. After you buy the camera, you have to buy the laptop or the computer and the imaging software and memory cards and readers, and then they’re taught that they have to become printers, too. Six or seven years ago, you’d take your images to the drugstore and have them printed, but now they’re talked into buying their inkjets.
It’s a tool at best, and unfortunately what’s happening right now is people are sinking in it. It’s complicated to do it well and people are overwhelmed. In the end, you’re not going to see a difference between a good digital camera and a good film camera. It still takes good eyes behind them to make a beautiful image.
What suggestions do you have for aspiring photographers?
ES: Probably the biggest thing is to see and to have something to express yourself about. I had a conversation recently with a young person who wanted to go to photographic school. Her concern was too much on the stuff, the cameras and all that. And I thought, it’s almost like a poet or a writer who has to have some life experience behind him or her to speak from. I think as a photographer you need to go out and gather up life’s experiences so you have something to say, so you have eyes that are honed and developed. I joke sometimes about having a workshop where we’d sit on the side of the creek with no cameras for a week and we’d come away with pretty good eyes. I think that’s what is most important – and that’s the advice I would give, because you can always pick up the technical side.
For more information on the photography of Eddie Soloway, visit www.eddiesoloway.com. For more on Uptown Art Fair, visit www.uptownminneapolis.com.