Sarah and I connected through my blog and then on Instagram. When she first started following me on Instagram, I was a little confused by the tone of some of her comments. Did I know this @Mrsmountainslayer? Turns out I more than knew her; she's my cousin. Not that we grew up together. I was nine when Sarah was born and she lived on the opposite side of the country from me. But it seems we're kindred spirits and the Internet makes it easy to connect with kindred spirits from all over the world.
Get yourself something good to drink, settle into a comfy chair and let's chat with Sarah about photography, creativity, nature and life.
Sarah, on your website’s about page you describe a nearly life-long love affair with photography. Was it simply the gift of the camera at age 10 that sparked your passion or was there something else that inspired a desire to take pictures? What is it about the art form that kept you clicking away with your cameras over the years?
I remember two distinct periods in my life - before receiving a camera at age 10 - that sparked my love for photography.
One was the fact that my father passed away when I was 4 1/2 years old. It became incredibly important that I had pictures of him... and increasingly so the older I got. Those frozen moments from his past, usually unprofessional shots of him having fun at a party, or camping in the woods, were the only way I could know who he was as a man.
It was these, slightly underexposed photos, focused on capturing the period in time- and not the perfect abilities of the camera- that also sparked my interest in candid moments. I feel you learn so much more about a person when they are natural and not posed. Just like these images captured of my father, candid photos tell more of a tale, help you piece together and dissect a person in a way that allows you discover their story. I felt like a visual archaeologist of sorts, looking at these old photos, putting together clues about the man behind the smile that I share.
The second was the death of a neighbor. Well not the actual passing, but the fact that an estate sale was soon to follow. Like any curious kid, I walked through the house examining things to be purchased. It was a box of old National Geographics that showed me that photography could be a medium on which you could reach the world. It could be a career! I remember purchasing the few magazines that were still in good condition for ten cents, and taking them home to study. I'm sure my mother has them somewhere, as all good mothers do.
Both of these things warmed me. At least that is the best way I can describe it. An internal hot spring in the soul. They connected with me on a deeper level. By the time I got my camera I was more off and running, than I was trying to decide if I even liked photography. I was bound to capture a moment and share it.
That is what has kept me clicking away all these years. That one second when you actually capture a moment. It is what I strive for as a photographer- even over a great exposed photo, or perfect framing, or incredible sharpness. For me it is freezing that one second where someone is being themselves... that still gets me every time. You know it when you get the shot, and even more so when you see a photo that has that second in time. This is what I try and capture for my clients.
In your professional photography you specialize in portraiture, but I also know that you take stunning photos of nature. What’s your absolute favorite subject to photograph?
I grew up doing portraits and travel photos, though I wouldn't say that travel landscape was my specialty. The older I got, the more landscape became my secret pleasure. It was my dessert after dinner. As my career developed I've tried to incorporate both. I've specifically shied away from owning a studio in the hopes that I can get clients who love the outdoors as much as I do and who will take their photo session outside.
What is my favorite? That is a tough call. There are times when one is calling to me over another. I'm a huge hiker, and I love discovering hard to travel to places. Spots such as those usually yield incredible opportunities for landscape photos. My house mostly holds pictures of landscapes I've taken. However, when I travel to a new town, candid pictures of strangers also tickle my senses. It really depends on where I'm at and what I'm doing.
My personal instagram: @Mrsmountainslayer really shows this constant battle of liking landscape and then wanting to incorporate people back into the mix.
What about a single photograph? Is there one you’ve taken that you consider to be your favorite? If so, what is it and why is it so special to you? If not, was there a single day, trip or photo-shoot that stands out in your mind as especially magical?
My favorite photo is always the next one.... okay maybe not really. To be honest it is so hard to pick a favorite. I'm always evolving as an artist and I love that evolution. I tend to look back and find myself proud of my work, but it is always a step behind where I'm at now. I think this is an important part of the journey, it means I'm learning, I'm trying new things. It doesn't always mean that that learning process is perfect - but I'm trying.
It is usually the photos that I don't take that stick with me longest, and I don't mean that in a bad - oh I wish I had taken that photo - kind of way.
I find as an artist it is important to sit back and enjoy sometimes, instead of creating. To live in the moment as it happens. This frequently comes up when I'm hiking. Last summer my husband and I were cresting over the top of a mountain peak. The sun was setting in the valley below and behind us the full moon was rising through the pink streaked sunset sky. It was probably the most beautiful thing I've seen my whole life... and I never reached for my camera.
For me, if I truly enjoy a moment, I like to live it without the distraction of being an artist. I can then tuck it away as something you truly had to be there to see, something private to that moment alone. I think that allowing yourself to truly experience something is one of the best ways to broaden your creativity.
Other than photography, what creative outlets do you enjoy?
When I'm not behind my camera I'm captivated by the written word. Reading and writing both call to me. So much so that my lenses and my writing paper often get in fights about who will win an hour of my time. I also love to hike, rock climb, and camp. Being in nature in anyway I can always calms me. I'm currently obsessed with knowing the names- and edible or poisonous properties- of all Colorado wildflowers. Right now I can name about 200 on sight. I pretend to garden, though most of my family proves how behind the game I am in that department.
What would you say is the most important ingredient necessary for creativity?
Do it, always, and often. Immerse yourself in it.
If you want to be a photographer, take pictures. If you want to be a writer, write. There is no better way to harness creativity than to be creative. Start big, start small, but start somewhere. Make sure people in your life are supportive, and if they aren't then find people that are. There are meet up groups for almost every type of creative person out there. Envelope yourself with it, and the creative juices will start flowing.
Also never never never give up.
Nature is usually an important aspect of your photographs, even when you’re doing portraiture, and it’s an important part of your day-to-day life. You and your husband chose to move to the mountains and you love to hike, camp and mountain climb (after all, you call yourself mrsmountainslayer on Instagram). Can you share a bit about your connection to the natural world and why it’s so important in your life?
My initial love for nature seemed to come from my parents. My father was a hiker, camper, all around mountain guy. My mother is a gardener. I didn't grow up with a lawn, my mother tore it out to build a garden. So nature was simply a part of my life since the fetal state. My first camping trip I was 4 months old.
However, as an adult I realized that though my parents helped influence this love, they didn't completely create it. I think we are all innately connected to nature in a way we can only understand if we get out there and be a part of it.
When I was in my early 20's I moved to Denver. My husband and I later bought our first condo there. When you asked me what I loved about the city in those days, it was the fact that I could easily walk to a park, or that the Botanic Gardens were less than a block away. I would spend most of my nights after work eating dinner amongst the flowers at those gardens. The truth was, I was looking for nature anywhere I could in the concrete world around me.
On weekends my husband and I lived in the mountains, in a tent, or on a trail. We got out of the city every chance we could. It finally became apparent, we don't love the city.... we love the nature in the city. Moving up to the mountains would then seem like an easy decision, but it was weighted with a lot of concern...what if we can't get to anything (in a city you are walking distance from thousands of things at all times). In the higher elevations, grocery stores and book stores were in the single digits.
Actually moving into the hills was even more horrendous. The movers were 5 hours late, putting us arriving at our new home at 10pm at night. In the city there is light everywhere. We showed up to our mountain abode without a stitch of illumination. We came to the realization we would have to move in in the dark. I remember the day being long, and the frustration mounting. I exited my car, trying to rack my brain for ways to create light, to fake that city glow, and I did something that changed my life.... I looked up.... and I could see the stars. Not one, or two, but thousands.
It was just like all those nights I loved under the screen of my tent. I never again cursed my move to the mountains, and I've never looked back. There is something about the smell of pine riding the summer wind through my window, deer eating grass in my backyard, and the unobstructed view of total lunar eclipses that makes me feel at home.
You have a very positive outlook and seem to always look for beauty and joy in the day-to-day, but I know that your journey has not always been an easy one; you’ve had some pretty big bumps in the road. How do you maintain your joy, hold onto your sunshine when the days are dark?
First off, thank you! Coming from someone who I consider to be one of the most positive people I know, it is truly a complement. I'm lucky enough to be a dreamer. It allows me to see that any kind of water in a glass is an opportunity, even those times in life when your "glass half full" is completely tipped over.
However, I do find the following recipe helps push away any dark looming life clouds: Always have a friend that will truly listen, and will then tell you that they love you and you are pretty. It sounds silly, but it works. Always keep a box of chocolate cake mix in the house (and replace it when you use it). Laugh at yourself. Make your lover your best friend. Find your favorite author and buy all of their books. I've spent hard months enthralled in stories of authors I love. It always reminds me of what great creativity is out there. Keep a blog site that inspires you as one of your Internet favorites. Learn to turn off technology from time to time. I'm serious... all the way off. Do something you loved as a child, maybe it is coloring, or singing... do it often. And when all else fails remember this quote:
“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn't understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”
Thank you, Sarah, for sharing your thoughts and your photos with us today!
My lovely blog readers, please drop by Sarah's website to see more of her photography, to learn how to hire her for a photo shoot and to read her blog.
Be sure not to miss the other posts in my Artists Series; they can be viewed here.
*All photography in this post is © Sarah Venema. Used with permission.