Orange Juice, ETC

The blog of Elias & Theresa Carlson

The Photography of Missy Prince

I hate to admit this, but I tend to gravitate towards the obvious things in life. I like my sunsets the color of cotton candy and I’m a sucker for a good musical hook. It’s taken the gentle influence of friends with subtler taste to foster in me an appreciation for things that are not instantly accessible. To these friends I am forever indebted, for without them I may never have learned to savor the beauty of the “lesser” things.

Enter Missy Prince. Along with Anna Shelton, there is probably no single photographer who has influenced my own work more. When I first discovered her on Flickr it was a revelation. Here was someone unafraid to photograph the odd and the outcast. Through her lens these things are shown in a new, and perhaps more truthful light. Missy has the unique ability to bring out the beauty in the nooks and crannies of the world, and for that I am extremely grateful. Without people like her, an entire cross section of the world might go unseen and unappreciated.

Missy’s influence has not only given me a deeper appreciation for the less obvious beauty in the world, but she has also given me the courage to attempt to capture it myself. At this point I should probably cut short my fanboy babbling and just let you get to know the lady behind the lens. Oh, and lest I sell her short, Missy is entirely capable of blowing your mind with her mastery of traditionally beautiful photography as well. Keep scrolling down and you’ll see what I mean.

Age: 40
Hometown: Portland, Oregon

Q1: As a photographer, what are the things you love about where you’re from (Mississippi), and where you live now (Oregon)?

A1: Both places have very strong geographical identities with a fair amount of mystique to tap into. Mississippi – specifically The Delta – is one of those places where you can imagine that the last few decades never happened. It’s an intensely still place where things just kind of exist. The past has lingered longer than it has in most places, but not in a nostalgic way. Historical markers are pale references to what you can already feel without them. I’ve only recently started exploring my home state as a photographer, and that all-but-forgotten presence is what I’m most compelled by. Channeling it is tricky business what with the temptation to play into stereotypes, but I feel I have the advantage of looking with the familiar eyes of an insider as well as the fresh eyes of an outsider.

What I probably love most about photographing in The Northwest is the drama of the landscape in winter. It took me many years to come to terms with the long wet winters. It wasn’t until I started going out with a camera that I realized what it had to offer. For one thing, the overcast days here never really look dull. The light has a luminous silver quality. The sky is a big softbox, and you can shoot all day every day without worrying about fading golden hours. Plus, as I know you know, a lush forest dripping with rain and filling with mist is something to behold, especially when you are in it alone. Most people who want to go out and experience nature seem to do it in the fairer seasons. But the rest of the year nature is still there, doing its thing, raining, threatening to rain, and raining some more. If you go out in those conditions, you pretty much get the place all to yourself.

Q2: What excites you about photography and what keeps you coming back for more?

A2: I love that there is a difference between what you see in front of you and what you get in the image. Taking a photograph is an act of uncertainty, and there is no formula for what makes it work. It’s frustrating and exhilarating. What keeps me coming back is that it really does work sometimes.

Q3: I’ve always appreciated your eye for the odd and unusual details. You have a way of revealing their beauty, which might otherwise go unseen. Have you always seen the world in this way or is it a skill you’ve developed?

A3: I think I’ve always had a radar for odd details. They might not be important enough to talk about, but we all see them. I like pointing them out.

Q4: How has photography shaped or altered your relationship with the world around you?

A4: It has made me feel more involved with my surroundings. When I see something interesting I stop and spend time with it rather than just noting it mentally and promptly forgetting. Occasionally I talk to people who I otherwise wouldn’t have any other reason to talk to. Looking has become more active than passive. Because I am driven to explore by the prospect of finding something to photograph I feel like I know more about what’s around me, and I know it in a very direct way.

Q5: You shoot primarily film. Any particular reason for this preference?

A5: Well, film is what I started on so it was already an established habit before digital came along. But I do believe there is a depth and luminosity in an analog image that you just can’t get with digital. Also, with film I think more carefully about taking a photo because there is more at stake. Risk and suspense are indispensable parts of the process for me. Having only one or two carefully considered images is much more special than having twenty versions taken from every possible angle. I speak only for myself and the way I work. There is plenty of great digital photography out there. I just have no desire to contribute to its eventual domination.

Q6: Do you ever struggle with the desire to experience something vs. photograph it or do you feel that photography always enhances the experience?

A6: For the most part, there is no struggle. When I first started carrying the XA everywhere it was a problem. I took pictures of everything, and I couldn’t stop. I probably missed out on a lot of things that were happening around me. But it was important for me to figure out what I was even doing. Now I have a less desperate relationship with photography and I can participate in life without the trigger finger ruling. I think because I spend enough time going on drives or walking around with the intention to photograph it’s easier to just put down the camera and be present. I still always have a camera with me and I am usually ready to use it, but it’s a more natural habit. That said, there are still times when I am so preoccupied by the desire to photograph that I am utterly not present beyond that capacity.

Q7: Feel free to relate this next question to photography or not as you see fit: What brings you the greatest joy as you go about your life?

A7: Being at the right place at the right time. It could involve anything – a mental state, an event, a person, or a photograph – but whatever it is it makes you feel like you occupied that point in your life with good purpose.

Q8: What does your perfect day look like?

A8: The perfect day as I imagine it right now would start with huevos rancheros and strong coffee and continue on to a long destinationless drive into God’s Country, maybe somewhere in Washington, because it’s still so mysterious to me. A hike might be included. And a dog. Yeah, it wouldn’t be perfect without a dog.

Q9: If had a plane ticket that was good for a flight to any place in the world where would you go and why?

A9: Right this minute I’d say some place remote, like Iceland. It’s isolated, rugged, and completely alien. Or maybe New Zealand, where there’s lots of variety in a relatively small area. I’m sure tomorrow I’d have a different answer.

Q10: And now for the oddball question: I’m sitting here listening to Neil Young perusing your photostream and it struck me that many of the qualities I love about Mr. Young’s music can be found in your photography. There is a gritty, lived-in feeling in much of your photography, but it all shimmers with an underlying beauty. Care to respond to this statement? Would you agree or disgree? Am I crazy?

A10: You’re not crazy. I’ve had Neil Young’s On The Beach in the tape deck of my van for two years. Sometimes I switch it up with other stuff, but that tape keeps finding its way back in. I go through phases of listening to nothing but his albums a couple times a year. There is a poetic yet merciless realism in his music that is very appealing to me, a persistent desire to get away from the world while staring at it dead on. Disappointment, failure, alienation, loss, imperfection. He can stare into the darkness and come back with a very real and human account of it. Such rugged beauty coming out of that guy. It is music that sounds lived in but possibly dreamed. I appreciate your observation. That’s a great compliment, and I would like to agree insofar as I am going for a kind of poetic realism. What would be the photographic equivalent of a Neil Young one note guitar solo?

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5 Responses

  1. I’m drooling a little bit.

  2. Yeah, every time I visit her photostream it has the same effect on me Geri.

  3. really love all of these. beautiful

  4. This is so tight. Makes me want to go out and photograph things.

  1. Eye On PDX: Missy Prince « Prison Photography

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