Marisa White is an artist who uses digital collages to bring her stories to life.
Her piece Birth of the Search, above, is best in show in the December All-Media Exhibit. Juror Marta Staudinger gave it the 60th Anniversary Award, calling it unique among the submissions this month.
The artist told us about the story in this image, as well as the story of creating it, in this month’s best-in-show Q&A!
What was your goal with Birth of the Search?
Marisa White: The original intent behind this piece was to create an image that captured the magic of what I was experiencing at that very moment. I’m originally from Texas where we only have two seasons, summer and almost summer. This past year, living in Connecticut, was my first real introduction to snow. And by that, I mean living in a place where the snow stays on the ground for more than several hours. In this case, it was months! The whole scene felt like I had walked through the wardrobe into the land of Narnia. So, with that in mind, I was able to use the tree to act as a portal into another world.
What was this photo shoot like?
It was cold! I pulled on my long underwear, a blue skirt that I made out of tulle and safety pins, grabbed my rabbit coat that I bought as a prop at a thrift store, put on my snow boots and hit to the trail. The snow fell hard for several hours that day and didn’t show any signs of letting up. But the light was beautiful. It was bright, not dreary like it often is with massive amounts of precipitation. I trekked up the hill to this particular tree that had long since fallen over and continued to grow in that fashion, set up my camera on a tripod and staked out where I wanted to position myself within the image. The next 20 minutes consisted of setting the timer on my camera, throwing the coat down and running over to the right spot in time to catch the shutter. I usually set the camera to take anywhere from 5 to 9 images in a row and then review them before shooting another set. The more solid the idea in my head, the fewer shots I take.
I was outside for less than an hour, but experienced my first frostbite scare as I lost the feeling in one of my fingers for several days. The small sacrifices for art!
There was actually minimal compositing to this piece. Most people ask if that tree is real. The answer is yes. The real question is did the tree exist like that in nature? That answer is no. The one image shows exactly how the tree existed before I digitally manipulated it by duplicating and layering. The second question people ask is — is the ram real? That answer is also yes. But the ram lived in Montana and I photographed him one fine evening at the Bison Range not far from Missoula back in 2012.
Is this part of a series?
Yes and No. Birth of the Search is one of my earlier pieces. As my emotions tend to dictate what I work on at any given time, I did not create Birth of the Search with the intent of continuing a series. However, the self-discovery from this piece has spawned several images that hold the same magical, fairytale-like feel. So yes, indirectly, I have begun creating a series of similarly themed images.
With your conceptual photographs in particular, what’s your creative process like — where does an idea start and what are the steps to a finished piece?
My creative process is three-fold. It starts with the idea. Many things inspire me but most often it’s music, movies and literature. I keep a journal as well as the note app on my phone when a random idea strikes. More often than not I will head out to a scene, be it indoors or outdoors, with a particular idea in mind to execute. Other times I will let the space inspire specific concepts and I try to be open to that spontaneity.
I have a BFA in Drawing and Painting, but it wasn’t until I picked up the camera that I truly felt like I could create the ideas in my head.
The second phase of this process usually takes the least amount of time, approximately 15-20 minutes. I will photograph the subject, either myself or a model, and then expand on the frame, to take in the full setting. The more solid the concept, the less time I spend photographing because I know exactly what I want the final image to look like and all the frames needed to reach that goal.
Finally, I use a combination of Lightroom and Photoshop to arrive at the finished piece. I will merge images to create the overall background, making sure everything fits seamlessly, add in the subject and whatever else the concept calls for. I do enjoy bringing animals into my images quite often. To me they represent so many different characters. They can be magical. Silent observers. Primal predators. Companions. Protectors. Or even a representation of what we feel inside, much like a spirit animal. I have a growing collection of photographs of various animals throughout my years traveling that I often turn to when a piece calls for it.
All of my images tell a story. Some are autobiographical, some are not, but I have found that I have to be mentally in the middle of the concept in order to properly finish the piece. I will photograph an idea and then sit on it for months until it’s time to give the concept my full attention. It’s as if I have to be wrapped in that particular emotion to properly convey it’s meaning.
Why are you a photographer?
This is a good question. I have a BFA in Drawing and Painting, but it wasn’t until I picked up the camera that I truly felt like I could create the ideas in my head. I enjoy the realism that a camera brings to the table so I started creating mixed media collages utilizing photographs in my work. The art that I create now is not all that different from my collages, except that I use the computer to layer instead of glue and paper. So yes, I use photographs in my work, but does that make me solely a photographer or does that just make me an artist?
What are you working on now?
I am currently working on a series that I’ve named the Paradox of Time. It speaks to the intangibility of time, our chosen unit of measurement. How we cannot experience it directly with any of the five senses, yet we are slaves to the passing of hours, days, seasons. How we, as humans, get so caught up on our own minds worrying about the future and regretting the past that we forget to experience the here and now.