F-Stop Magazine: How did you first become involved in photography and what led to you working in this medium as an artist?
Terry Ratzlaff: I became interested in photography during my senior year of high school when my brother gave me a book of the work of Andre Kertesz. I had never seen images like that before and it inspired me to the point where I began making photos in my spare time. 6 months later I decided to go to school and study photography. My first semester of school was terrible, I struggled in most classes and nothing made sense. During my second semester, things started coming together and I found that I really enjoyed photographing. 12 years later I don’t know what I would be doing without photography and story telling.
F-Stop: The current issue of F-Stop Magazine includes images from your project “The Tide Goes North,” can you tell us about this project? How did this project come about?
TR: A culture has thrived for thousands of years, but now, the proposal of North America’s largest open pit mine, Pebble, is threatening its existence. Drawing inspiration from writer and anthropologist, James W. VanStone, who spent time on Nushagak Point in the early 1900’s. The Tide Goes North is concerned with the complexities of human interaction between the Pacific Salmon and the immediate environment of the Bristol Bay watershed. Having spent 13 weeks over the last two years on Nushagak Point, this work addresses the concept of sustainability between man and nature in a time of uncertainty of future destruction. If this mine is built, the salmon ecosystem will cease to exist. Preserving the people and landscape is the main reason for my work in this area.
F-Stop: Can you discuss your process for making these images or your creative process more generally? What were you looking to capture?
TR: I took a fairly simple and natural approach to making these images and decided not to interfere with what the people were doing and set out to capture mostly natural moments. I didn’t want my presence to shape a photograph in any way, this is something I struggled with on the daily and I don’t think I was successful in that sense, mostly due to the fact that I was working in large and medium formats.
F-Stop: Do you think that it is possible for a photographer to not shape or affect a photograph they take?
TR: Yes, I think it’s possible, but in my situation, I was making large format portraits of people I’d never met, and in this case I think people are generally interested in the camera which creates a conversation of its own. At that point I feel direction is needed to achieve the desired feeling, so interfering with the moment is inevitable.
F-Stop: What do you hope people see or feel or perhaps learn when they look at your photographs?
TR: The conversation in these images is one that questions sustainability between man and nature in a time of uncertainty. When people look at these images I hope they think about the way they interact with nature and the affect that we have on it, whether the affect is positive or negative, I’m interested in questioning both sides.
F-Stop: Do you have a favorite image in this series? If so, which one and why is it the image that speaks to you most?
TR: I don’t think I do have a favorite image from this project, instead I feel that this is my favorite body of work I have created. It was a big transition for me from how I used to photograph and I feel it has opened a door into my mind of how to see the world. If I can approach other projects similar to the way I’ve approached this one then I think I will be on the right path.
F-Stop: Are you working on any other projects currently?
TR: I’ve been working on a project revolving around found objects and the places they were found with hopes of creating a narrative about the person who left the objects behind. I’m currently in the process of making into a book and I’m excited to see where it goes.
F-Stop: What photographers or other artists inspire you?
TR: I’m inspired by other artists and photographers working to make a difference in this world. There is a bigger picture that we all need to talk about. There is so much in this world that is unknown, those who are interested in what we do not know are the ones that inspire me.
For more of Terry Ratzlaff’s work: www.terryaratzlaff.com