I started taking pictures of clouds a few years ago. It’s hard to say exactly what drew me to them, but it mostly has to do with the quality of light. In New Mexico, our skies and clouds are so often breathtaking that it’s easy to take them for granted. But there is definitely something unique about our quality of light that really shines through in our clouds. I wasn’t thinking metaphorically when taking these pictures. I was mostly thinking technically - appreciating these clouds through the lens (pardon my pun) of a photographer: the light, the form, the tonality.
Clouds are simple, yet visceral. They are constantly changing, and sometimes I find myself racing around town trying to find the best vantage point to capture them before the light and shape change. Recently I started using a filter to give my cloud photos a sepia tone. I found that it showed the tonality better- the details of the white clouds against a dark sky. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I came across Alfred Stieglitz’s “Equivalents” photos.
Looking at his photos was like looking at my own, except they were taken with film 80 years ago. I had never seen these Stieglitz photos before, but apparently they are considered to be some of the first abstract photographic works of art. Stieglitz’s intention was to create photographs of clouds that were “equivalent of my most most profound life experiences, my basic philosophy of life.” Is it possible to be retroactively inspired by artwork? Because I feel like I was channeling Stieglitz without even realizing it. And even though my initial intention was not to portray my innermost feelings and thoughts, I realize how much they do reflect my current state of mind and heart.
You see, I had a baby earlier this year. And as cliche as it sounds, it has completely changed my life. And not always in the blissful, “everything is perfect” way. For all of the joy, amazement, and awe there is also boredom, isolation, and melancholy. A whole mixed bag of emotions. I’ve been referring to this new phase of my life as “the extraordinary mundane”: everyday is equally amazing and banal.
My son is learning and changing constantly: discovering new sounds his voice can make, learning how to pass an object between his hands, staring in awe at the ceiling fan. And it’s incredible to watch him grow and develop. It can also be incredibly boring. I want to be present and engaged with him, but I also need breaks. I need my own time to connect with myself and others.
Often this is through social media. There are plenty of downsides to this. While he plays with toys, chews on books, squawks and babbles, I sometimes fall into deep, dark rabbit holes of envy: wishing I was out galavanting across mountains, waking up next to beautiful, clear lakes, soaking in remote hot springs and tagging my photos with #lets go, #neverstopexploring, #liveauthentic, and #alwaysgo. It’s easy to feel like everyone else in the world is having the most magical, incredible adventures every moment of their waking lives. I sometimes have to remind myself that I am also experiencing adventure and magic, albeit with more spit-up and hair-pulling.
So how do I cope with these mixed emotions motherhood has imposed on me? Getting out of the house is nice- going on drives or walks with my baby and my camera helps me stay sane. Even if I can’t go on mile-long treks in far-off distant lands (and who am I kidding, it’s not like I did that when I was baby-free), I can at the very least look up at the sky. I can pay attention to the small, natural beauties that exist all around me. I can use the tools I have at my disposal to capture these beauties and release them back to the world.
Sometimes I go about pitying myself, and all the while I am being carried across the sky by beautiful clouds.
Image gallery for prolonged cloud-gazing HERE.
Katy Gross is a photographer, educator, and multimedia producer. From an early age, Katy has been obsessed with documenting things. At Brown University she wrote a thesis called Documocracy: How Documentary Film and Photography Promote Democracy in Latin America. She honed her photography/storytelling skills at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, ME, where she met ghost hunters, an Elvis impersonating cop, and alpaca farmers; and at the former College of Santa Fe’s Documentary Studies program. Although she has lived in and traveled to quite a few places, New Mexico is her home. This is mostly because her favorite food is a green chile cheeseburger. She also loves the expansive, dramatic skies. For the last 4 years, she has been working at a small nonprofit teaching digital storytelling and media production to youth. She and her partner are currently busy raising their 7 month-old baby boy, Archie.