Joshua White doesn't see himself as a nature photographer — but maybe he should.
An assistant art professor at Appalachian State University with a master's degree in photography, White is no career naturalist. But in a way, his photography achieves the same goal, connecting viewers with nature the way a child connects with leaves, bugs and flowers in the backyard — up close, as if nothing else in the world exists.
"I'm not just interested in presenting nature as I find it," White explains. "Removing subjects from their habitats and isolating them ... allows the viewer to really examine them, and think about them as beautiful formal studies as well as organisms."
That childhood experience was exactly what inspired White to create two series of photography: a colorful lumen print series, and the extensive catalog of detailed and desaturated photos he calls "A Photographic Survey of the American Yard." White shared his thoughts with MNN to explain his inspiration and the process behind his photos.
MNN: What inspired these two series?
Joshua White: "A Photographic Survey of the American Yard" was the result of seeing a friend's image of tree helicopters (whirligigs, people have all different names for them) on Facebook and thinking the forms were very beautiful. The next day, I saw a pair of them on our trash can and photographed them, and the series began. It has grown to over 500 images in the past two years and is an ongoing project. I am continually inspired by the incredible variation in forms I find all around me.
The lumen print series is much looser, and is comprised mostly of studies and experiments in camera-less photography. A lumen print is made by placing objects on photo paper and exposing them to UV light. Time, the amount of UV, moisture in the object, acidity, and many other factors combine to create amazing colors and details. The resultant images are artifacts of a specific place and time, and I am interested in using local objects, as well as the local light, to create unique images.
Your photos differ from those of the "typical" nature photographer. Please briefly explain your process for creating the photos in these series. Why do you think it is important to take these extra steps?
The images in "A Photographic Survey of the American Yard" are all created on, and edited in, my iPhone. I collect plants, animals, and insects from around my home and community, and photograph them on my back porch, in the shade, in front of a sheet of white foam core. The process allows for a very repeatable environment in which the specimens can be photographed with no extraneous details, allowing viewers to study their intricate forms.
The lumen prints, as described above, are the product of a much looser process. The images are a more lyrical, mysterious view of nature that mirrors botanical studies of some of photography's earliest practitioners. These images, however, could not be created without the aid of digital technology. While the images are not manipulated, they would fade over time or as the result of photographic chemistry; in order to retain the colors in these images, they must be scanned immediately after they are created, or kept in the dark until scanning is possible. They are transient representations of transient subjects.
How do you feel your photography allows you to connect with nature, and vice versa?
My greatest interests in continuing with "A Photographic Survey of the American Yard" are the memories I have of being a child and being interested in my environment, and now as an adult how I fit into that environment. The photographer Jeff Whetstone, during a gallery talk with one of my classes, discussed how humans invented nature. It was not a separate thing until we said, "That stuff, over there that isn't us, that's nature." We have somehow separated ourselves from our environment, and I think these images are a way that I can reconnect.
Browse through a mix of our favorites from both series below:
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