Today we welcome Lee Anne White, a photographer and author, as a Creative Spirit on Artist Strong! Thank you Lee Anne for taking the time to share your creativity with us today 🙂
Carrie: How did you discover your interest in the arts?
I have always been fascinated by the world around me and don’t recall a time when I didn’t see beauty in the ordinary. By age 8, I was a budding photographer. My grandfather, father and a family friend put cameras in my young hands and encouraged me to explore my world through the lens. I was one of those kids who never went anywhere without a camera. My mother, who has a great eye when it comes to decorating and painting, no doubt influenced my way of seeing.
My interest in writing came about very differently. I spent nine summers at a girl’s camp and made some of the dearest friends of my life there. From fall through spring, I would write a letter to someone almost every day, and would peer patiently through the sheer curtains in the dining room, waiting to rush out to greet the mail carrier. To this day, I believe letters are still my favorite form of writing.
Carrie: Can you describe to readers the kind of art you create?
I tend to have a rather minimalist way of seeing. I want to capture the essence or nature of a subject, or perhaps the way it makes me feel. Whether shooting black and white or color, I strive for simplicity and clarity.
I’m best known for my photographs of gardens, flowers and landscape architecture, which I’ve been shooting for publication since the early 1990s. In more recent years, however, I have turned my eye to the sea and natural landscape. I am also drawn to historic architecture and am fascinated by empty buildings. Right now, I’m wrapping up a series of black and white photographs of an old Civil War Fortress on Amelia Island.
I edit photographs much as I do words. I’m sure some of this comes from my work as a magazine and book editor, but it’s also because I’m really focused on clarity. The challenge with both writing and photography is what to leave in and what to leave out. I tend to take the approach that less is more. I try to focus on what compels me. If an element doesn’t contribute to conveying that, then it probably needs to be left out.
Carrie: All of the above being said, how do you know when an artwork is finished?
I guess the best way for me to think about that is in terms of projects rather than single images. Sometimes it is when I feel the subject has been exhausted and realize I’m reshooting the same images. If it is for exhibition or a book, then I know I need a minimum of 30 or 60 strong images, respectively, that hold together well as a group. More is better, as it allows for better pacing and flow in the presentation. And then there are times when the subject or circumstances dictate the depth to which I am able to explore a subject—for instance, if I am traveling or have limited access to a site. I guess at least to some degree, it is as long as it keeps my attention. Because I’m always exploring new ideas, I tend not to get bogged down in a project for too long. I like to wrap things up and move along.
It depends. I love nothing more than to simply go out and explore a new place with my camera—to be open to discovery, to follow my intuition and sense of curiosity, to play around and see what happens. That’s often how new projects come about. Once I’m deeply engaged in a project, however, I am more likely to head out with specific ideas in mind—images I’d like to capture, techniques I’d like to try, specific sites I’d like to explore in greater depth, certain types of weather I’d like to shoot in. Like all good photographers and gardeners, I can obsess over the weather.
Carrie: Not only are you a photographer, but you are a writer as well. Do you feel your writing and art fuel each other? How?
I’ve spent more than 15 years in publishing—first as the editor of Fine Gardening magazine, where I also shot much of the magazine’s photography, and later as an independent editor, author and photographer for Taunton Books. My latest gardening book, Patio & Walkway Ideas That Work came out this past year. For both book and magazine work, the images I shoot and the text I write or edit work hand-in-hand to tell the story. It’s one of those cases in which the sum is greater than the parts.
In terms of more personal, artistic work, it tends to be more about image making. Yet writing about the subject—whether for publication, as an artist statement or in my journal—can bring greater clarity to the subject and my creative process. Writing is also another way to connect with the viewer.
Carrie: What strategies do you use to help yourself when you feel “stuck?”
A combination of play and looking at things another way have evolved into what I loosely refer to as “visual brainstorming.” It’s a strategy I’ll use to loosen up if I’m starting a new project or have been spending too much time at the computer. I’ll use every lens in my bag at every possible setting and look at my subject from every possible angle.
I take breaks. Sometimes it’s challenging to know when you need to push through a barrier and when you need to just walk away for a while. For me, it usually has to do with energy level, and I’ve learned to recognize when to take a break. Our minds need time to mull things over and to connect ideas and information. Sometimes it is a walk around the block or down the beach. Other times it may be overnight or even for a week. There’s great power in coming back to a stalled project with fresh ideas and energy.
I tend to have two or more projects in the works at any time. That way, I can switch between them when my energy for one wanes and still remain productive.
When I’m beginning to feel stale, in general, I like to take a workshop, focus on a different subject (like switching from landscapes to architecture) or go somewhere I’ve never been before—whether it is on the other side of town or the other side of the world.
Carrie: What is your favorite creative resource?
My journal. I have been keeping an idea journal religiously for 15 to 20 years. It started when I couldn’t sleep at night. I discovered I could either lay awake, trying to remember ideas, or I could jot them down and sleep peacefully, knowing they’d be there for further exploration in the morning. Over the years, journaling has evolved as a way to develop ideas that show potential, to document my projects as they evolve, to explore my creative process, and to reflect upon my growth as an artist.
Carrie: Who/what inspires you?
Nature is such a fascinating place; there is always a discovery to be made. I feel inspired when I am in nature or surrounded by natural objects. My home and workspace are filled with natural colors, materials, items I have gathered on walks, and plants that I have dried or pressed.
I am also inspired by women who live authentically, pursue their passions and express their true personality. I love reading about, working with and interviewing women who create. I love the work of photographers Kate Breakey, Brigitte Carnochan, Joyce Tenneson, Cig Harvey and Susan Burnstine. I’m equally inspired by potters, sculptors, mixed-media artists, graphic designers, landscape architects and home designers. I love the quality of craftsmanship, style, materials and philosophies of the Arts and Crafts Movement.
Carrie: How do you define creativity?
For me, creativity is about solving problems, expressing one’s authentic self, and transforming one’s life in unique and meaningful ways. Each of these three distinct, yet intertwining strands of creativity is linked by the concept of growth. Growth involves change, evolution, development, stretching and, in general, an experience that leads to new perspectives, new ideas, new activities, new solutions or new realizations.