Publishers Note: It was just about a year ago when I had the chance to call Michele Sons and tell her she had won a fully paid trip to Antarctica. Of course at first she had thought it was a prank. Soon though she realized her dream had come true. Luminous-Landscape randomly awarded a person who had purchased a subscription to the LuLa Videos a trip to Antarctica. During the time leading up to the trip Michele was very active promoting her upcoming trip and a project she wanted to use the trip for. She explained her idea of the Feminine Landscape and it sounded very cool. First and foremost I love photographers who have projects. A project takes thought, time, effort and especially focus and it was obvious Michele had a plan to make her project come to life. I recently caught up with Michele and would like to share our conversation and the results of her project The Feminine Landscape. – Kevin Raber
Can you tell us about your project The Feminine Landscape?
Wild, uninhabited places have always enthralled me. Many have left their mark on me; memories of first light dramatically falling on massive, remote dunes; the eerie groaning and popping of an Antarctic glacier; the gentle drip, drip, drip of a cold mist collecting and falling from trees. I seek out lands that inspire me and speak to some part of who I am, that have something to show me or teach me. I am drawn to muted color, Zen-like scenes, and I adore the softness and mystery that fog can impart on a place.
But my images and stories aren’t limited to the landscape alone. An ongoing element of my work explores the connection between women and nature. By including figures, I can tell a story or explore a feeling and allow people to more easily relate to these lands I love. The Feminine Landscape is a visual exploration of my personal experience of place.
The series of mostly self-portraits tells of my place in the landscapes I travel to; of the wonder, the scale, and the experience of the environment. Because the figure usually looks away from the camera and engages with the land there is an inherent universality. The figure could be any woman. I like to compose a scene that would be successful as a straight landscape, and then add the figure. Typically, the figure wears a dress, both as a contrasting element in the scene and as one of many expressions of femininity. I look for themes of solitude and isolation, shelter and sanctuary, peace, connection, freedom, exhilaration and wonder, as well as less common expressions of femininity such as adventurousness, daring, curiosity, and boldness.
Eight images from this series along with twelve landscapes will be featured in my upcoming solo exhibition The Feminine Landscape at The Montgomery Museum in Christiansburg, Virginia. The exhibition opens November 5th, and runs through December 30th 2015.
Why and how did you choose the theme?
Before I discovered landscape photography, I loved portraiture, specifically artistic portraiture, and that was my initial focus as I learned how to take control of my camera and as I began to train my eye. Then I took a trip out west to try my hand at landscape photography, and I knew I had discovered something that resonated deeply for me. My focus shifted dramatically, from people to place. I began thinking about how special it would be to shoot portraits in some of these locations, and how interesting it would be to insert a figure into my landscape scene.
I’ve always been fascinated with the idea that we can leave impressions of ourselves on places; that the dialogue between people and place isn’t just about how places leave impressions upon us. That place can hold memories of us as individuals is an idea alluded to by the author Isaak Dinesen, and one that I have been inspired by since reading Out of Africa 30 years ago.
How long have you been working on the project?
The very first image was shot in May 2012, and it was that image that inspired the project. Today, I travel regularly and I will almost always try to add to the project at every location. Some of the images don’t make the cut, but each shoot is an important step in the process.
How many images in the series?
There are currently about 25 images. The project is ongoing, though. There is certainly more to come, and I am also beginning to plan for a related project that further explores the connection between women and place.
Why you and not a model? Or if you used a model, why?
Typically, when I’m out shooting landscapes, I’m alone. That doesn’t leave me with a lot of choice when it comes to my model! Recently, I have been shooting more with other landscape photographers, but they are mostly men and I’m not shooting for The Masculine Landscape… yet 😉 For images shot in the Appalachians, I have a great hiking friend, Maggie, and when she comes along I use her as my model. It’s so much easier for me, as I can really concentrate on just being the photographer. When I’m the model on top of being the photographer, it really complicates everything and makes a successful image much more challenging.
What message do you want The Feminine Landscape to convey?
I hope this series conveys my love of nature and wild places, a powerful but nuanced sense of connection to place (a conversation, if you will), and also evokes a sense of adventurousness. Just getting out there and hiking and climbing and being alone in nature is something I treasure. This project, my photography in general, and my love of nature’s wonders have enriched my life immeasurably. I hope this shows through in my images.
Enjoy some additional images from Michele