She’s Got Miksang: Interview with Photographer Susan EtoleBlog / Produced by The High Calling
Editor’s note: As part of our ongoing introduction series of contributing artists here at TheHighCalling.org, Maureen Doallas interviews photographer Susan Etole.
There’s a Tibetan word that describes photographer Susan Etole: miksang. It means “good eye” and represents a form of contemplative imagery.
A contributing photographer to TheHighCalling.org and Of The Least of These, Susan daily shows her “good eye” at her blog Just . . . a moment, where she posts beautifully framed shots of the wildlife and landscapes outside her Minnesota home.
For five months of the year, the clime there is unforgiving enough that what Susan sees she experiences only through her windows and the lens of her Kodak point-and-shoot.
Anyone who happens upon Susan’s photographs might be amazed to learn that she has been using a camera only since January 2008, and has never formally studied photography. When she purchased her first digital camera, Susan told me during our interview, she was “hooked” immediately. In September 2009, she set up her blog, which has become each morning’s first stop for more than 100 followers. There she shares “the little details we often miss in our busyness.”
"I have become very aware of light and shadows since picking up that first camera. So much is dependent upon the lighting. It is such a strong analogy of life for me...how walking in light affects our perspective."
MD: Your images reflect, unequivocally, what is known as “having a good eye.” What contributes to helping you “see,” and what do you look for when you’re trying to compose a picture?
SE: I look for the little details that our eye often misses. The minute bug, a leaf’s intricate vein, the way the light falls, the eyelashes on the deer. The “happy accidents” that are not of my making but that I feel are an answer to prayer. It feels like I’ve received an intimate gift from the Lord when I download an image and there’s an awe about it for me.
MD: What are your requirements for a high-quality image?
SE: I like my photographs to be sharp in focus and to be fairly free of a lot of detail or busyness. Simplicity is key.
MD: You seem to have an intuitive sense of how to pair words with your images. Do the words or the images come first?
SE: The majority of the time, the images come first. The posture of the birds suggests various things, or the way the deer hold their heads and cock their ears as they listen; then the raised tail as a signal. Nature can be quite amusing in its different stances. Even the flowers seem to have a language of their own.
MD: The words you attach to your images frequently are Bible quotes. How does your faith inform your photography or influence what you shoot?
SE: I suspect I filter everything in my life through my faith. My relationship with the Lord is a number one priority, and I “see” evidence of His hand in whatever I am shooting. There is no end to the detail that He has worked into the simplest of even weeds or a dewdrop on a web. I find myself frustrated at times by an inability to capture and share that.
MD: Your THC profile describes you, simply, as “enjoying the extraordinary in the ordinary in Northern Minnesota.” What do you regard as “the extraordinary,” and how do you go about capturing it with your camera?
SE: The myriad colors of shadows on the snow, the “eyes” on trunks of Popples, the quivering of leaves in autumn, eagles’ whooshing sounds, the pungent odor of worked soil as I lower the window to take a photo of an antiquated combine: much of what I savor is not possible to capture with a camera. But the memories serve me well through the winter months, when the weather doesn’t permit me to be outside.
MD: Your blog garners many comments, with words like “breathtaking” and “moving.” Your blog profile says “In the midst of quietness...” and nothing more. What has it meant for you to bring your work before the public’s eye?
SE: This has been a very humbling experience. I treasure each and every viewer who comes, and the comments left are like a gift. There are times when I experience great hesitancy before I click the post button, as so much of who I am seems to be revealed in what I see. Since I am introverted by nature, blogging has forced me to go beyond myself, to give where, ordinarily, I might hold back. Being a contributor to THC is an honor and an inspiration to continue to progress, as there is a standard of excellence.
MD: What would your six-word memoir about your life in photography say about you?
SE: She saw His handiwork...discreetly and lovingly. (Oops. That’s seven!)
All photos by Susan Etole, used with permission via Flickr. Interview by Maureen Doallas. Read more of Maureen's conversation with Susan here.