Interview with photographer Natalie Fay Green
Cary Benbow (CB): What compels you to make the images you create?
Natalie Fay Green (NFG): I see the world differently when I’m using my camera. It slows me down, and I really observe my surroundings. I’m a mother of three small kids (ages 7, 5, and 2), and sometimes life flies by without me actually processing what’s happening. I feel like I miss days on end doing nothing but getting everyone fed and dressed and delivered to where they need to be. But when I have my camera, I don’t miss the big events or even the little details—in fact, they become tremendously important. I feel more in tune with life and my world. And when I don’t shoot—when I get caught up in the lather, rinse, repeat of daily life—I tend to become very frustrated.
When I first started learning photography, I took pictures of everything, literally everything. Over time, though, I’ve become much more selective. I love images that tell a story, and those are the ones that compel me to pick up my camera and shoot. At this point in my life, with these little children everywhere, the majority of my work tends to revolve around my family. In that work, however, I’m not looking to be sentimental; instead, I’m looking to capture some facet of childhood that I find compelling or that speaks to my own memories of being young. Ideally, I like to impart some of my own experiences into the image. I don’t limit my work to my family, though—I make efforts to shoot other subjects, and those images are very satisfying for me.
CB: Why did you become a photographer? What was your start into photography?
NFG: I used to be a writer—well actually, I used to be a practicing tax attorney. Then I became a stay at home mom, and I started writing to keep my sanity. I realized one day that, while I had these rich memoir-style stories of my children, I had no pictures, no actual images of what they looked like. I had described the crazy hair and the smile on the swings, but I didn’t have a physical record. It felt like I was missing something hugely important, so I picked up a old camera and started learning to use it. I became obsessed, almost immediately. I got a new camera and threw myself into learning as much as I could. After a while, I got to the point where I was proud of some of my images, and I started exhibiting my work.
CB: Please explain the idea behind your portfolio images in the Love exhibition.
NFG: Each of the images that I submitted focuses on the strength of emotional connections, whether between the individuals in the photographs or between an individual in the photograph and me. These connections sometimes span several lifetimes: two of the images involve my daughters with their great grandmother. I think many of us can remember the feeling of an older family member or friend touching our face or brushing our hair, a perceived-giant sharing a meal or a gentle touch. Through the years, I’ve focused on the power of connections—emotions, shared experiences, memories—and tried to showcase the meaning of those in my work.
CB: What do you feel makes a successful photograph?
NFG: I think a good photograph catches the viewer and draws her into the story. It invites the viewer to bring her own experiences to bear on the image or evokes the memory of senses—smell, touch, sound. It may be gritty and complicated. I like images that challenge expectations or present something authentic yet unexpected.
CB: Where does your inspiration come from?
NFG: I get most of my ideas from observing the activity around me or my own memories of my past experiences. I think we all have certain recollections from our lives—the feeling of being pushed on a tricycle, of getting our hands dirty while fishing, of laying on the bricks and watching the clouds. These memories are things we share in our collective consciousness, and I love to explore them. I don’t like “perfect” images; I like ones that show life as it is. A lot of my images have messed up hair, clutter in the background, and kids acting like kids. I don’t want to sugarcoat life—fact is always more compelling than fiction to me. I love to use framing, contrast, movement, perspective, and other design elements to help tell my story and encourage the viewer to bring her own experiences to the image. That being said, I have no aversion to cleaning up an image to assist the viewer in reading an image or using techniques to help guide a viewer’s eye through the frame.
CB: Is this influenced by any of your personal photography inspirations?
NFG: I’m primarily a black and white photographer, and I love the great straight photographers who explored moment and stories: people like Dorothea Lange, Robert Doisneau, Elliott Erwitt, Imogen Cunningham. I’m also inspired by some of the documentary and editorial work I see in major publications and Instagram these days. I love Instagram—it’s fun to have a library of amazing work to discover any time of day or night. I’m always looking for photographers who see the world in unique ways or tell stories that are particularly compelling. I also love movies with dramatic lighting. I’ll watch a movie and be distracted by the quality and color of the light and way the scene is framed.
CB: How would you describe your work to someone viewing it for the first time?
NFG: I think I would say layered. I love to incorporate elements from the past and the present and the future. I like to use juxtaposition to tell a complex story in a stand-alone photograph. And I want to freeze that story in a single timeless frame that will endure and that resonates with the viewer’s own experiences.
CB: What work are you currently working on? Any new projects?
NFG: Obviously my family work is ongoing and will be for quite some time. But I’ve also been focusing more on broader social commentary—images that speak to certain facets of modern American life. It’s something that I’ve been dabbling in for several years, but I’m feeling really drawn to it now. I hope to continue to grow that aspect of my work. Living in Washington, DC, I have a lot of opportunities to explore this kind of work.
Natalie Fay Green is a fine art and documentary photographer based in Washington, DC. To see more sample of her work, please visit her website at www.nataliefaygreen.com or Instagram @nataliefaygreen