When I step out the door to photograph, whether in my backyard or an unfamiliar landscape, my intentions are at first ambiguous. Like wandering through a dreamscape, meaning is not plainly present. As if my subconscious is speaking to me, visual themes begin to surface and a narrative becomes increasingly clear.
A broader perspective is intangible without the photographs’ creation and examination. With nature as my guide, I can see myself from the outside! This project is about being oneself completely, authentically, truly. How can it be done? Or, can it be done? By peering through to the surrounding landscape and those I hold dear, I have found several pieces to a greater puzzle. Surprisingly, their jagged edges fit together. It has become apparent that I am in hiding, but from what? Or rather, from whom do I shield my gaze?
I am making peace by accepting that I am not perfect. Maybe I will never be, but a broken tree can still be beautiful. These discoveries are enough to free me: To be myself completely, for now.
It will become something
As we move away from the purity of our births, we become complex and gnarled like trunks of trees. Underneath all the layers, the core remains the same.
“At one point, Anna was running back and forth, and I asked her to teach me how to run. She looked at me intently and replied, “Just try!”
I have taken up the endeavor of excavating the self.
I thought we had become strangers, my child-self and I. I felt as though she had gone missing. As I search through the layers I catch a glimpse of her. She’s been there, patiently waiting.
“When she climbed up on the ladder at one point, I suggested it was unsafe. Anna’s answer? “I’m eight, and I can handle it.” Well, that got me thinking. If Anna, at eight, can handle this world, I should be able to do the same.”
I was born an observer. In the years since, I have gathered my feelings and surroundings to excess. I now attempt to sort my gatherings so that maybe I can understand.
Together, it will become something. Together, we will find ourself. She has inspired me.
"I dive into the canyon and begin to fly. Never have I soared like this before, not since my last flying dream. An infinite expanse of sun-blasted buttes and deep shadow gorges swells around me.
At the bottom of the well, the cliff’s stark beauty fills me with awe and anxiety. I am surrounded and alone."
We enter the American Southwest by way of canyons and mountains, rocks, dirt, and silty rivers. I have found comfort in the lush, green weather patterns of Northeastern summers all my life, but have yearned for this unknown. Dry, bare, and seemingly unforgiving, this monolithic landscape is beyond my comprehension. Remarkable, yet I’m unsure what to say.
Down we climb into the canyon, and up and up into the mountain. Visions blur by but never sink in past sad eyes. It is within this harsh and hostile land that I witness my inner demons awaken, slowly but surely, sulking through the senses. My parents are by my side, but I am most certainly alone, tormented by thoughts inconsolable. Where there is bright light there is deep shadow, and something evil lurks therein.
We climb to the top of the mountain, only to come back down. After dark, images of the grotesque, grandiose structures remain. My mind is filled with disquiet yet the red rocks are silent, their roughness still grazing my skin.
I photograph, first and foremost, to document. While I keep a written journal for the conscious mind, photography is how I record my inner-works, a sketch of the unconscious. Like wandering through a dreamscape, meaning is not plainly present. My obsessions overflow into my physical surroundings as if I have run out of space in mind to tend to them. Visual themes begin to surface and a narrative becomes increasingly clear. Through the resulting images, I piece my thoughts together from outside myself in order to reach a fuller perspective. The question is posed, but my findings expose inquiries more complex than the first.
Anna Leigh Clem is a fine-art photographer working with still and moving imagery to portray her unconscious ruminations. A recipient of the Robert Elder Scholarship in 2008 and an Honorable Mention in the 2015 FotoVisura Grant, Anna's work has been recognized, published and exhibited on numerous occasions.
As a child, Anna's imagination was inspired by the small magical garden behind her home within the urban enclave of Hoboken, New Jersey. Some years later, Anna attended high school in New Paltz, New York where she discovered photography and the greater natural world. In 2012, she graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology with a degree in photography. Since then, Anna has returned to the Hudson Valley as a working artist.
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