Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Once it's over, it's over: Photography with Elizabeth Fleming

Elizabeth Fleming, Earth (2008) from the series, Life is a series of small moments

New Jersey based photographer and mother Elizabeth Fleming is not one of those 'I photograph my kids in black and white and put them smiling on the wall' kind of mother/photographers.
Having had work published in online magazine f-stop and this month features in New Directions 2011: Moments of Being- an exhibition curated by photographer and editor, David Bram- her photographs are not your average family snaps.

LookSeeNow spoke to her about her photography, what she looks for, or doesn't, the unintentional ingredients in her images and how her photography is changing as her children grow.

Elizabeth Fleming, Crown (2007) from the series, Life is a series of small moments

Your project, Life is a series of small moments, documents fleeting time, how do you make sure you catch these moments, do you plan time? or make sure you're never without your camera?

My process has always been about seeing what was going on around me and capturing it—I’ve never planned or set aside chunks of time to shoot specifically. That said, I also don’t carry my camera around, constantly waiting for the moments to happen in front of me. The shooting is woven into my life, I go about my daily routine and when something strikes me I’ll grab my camera, which I always keep in the same place, and start taking pictures.

Elizabeth Fleming, Far away (2009) from the series, Life is a series of small moments

Elizabeth Fleming, Hand prints (2007) from the series, Life is a series of small moments

Do you wait around for an image, spot it the day before and then go back and take it?  or once a moment is gone, it is gone forever.

I always shoot the image right in the moment it’s happening. I think that because I’ve always been drawn to the small, the strange, and the impermanent I instinctively know when to take a shot, and then once it’s over it’s over and can’t be recreated. And it’s not only about the “thing” that’s happening, it’s also about the light and the time of day which all factor into why that particular moment is striking to me; those stars can never align again, at least not for this particular body of work.

Elizabeth Fleming, Analogue (2008) from the series, Strange Happenings

Elizabeth Fleming, Bash (2008) from the series, Strange Happenings

The images look like they have been beautifully crafted over hours, do you have any specific techniques, or things you look out for, light or composition? 

First of all, thank you for the compliment!  Really the main thing that never changes is that I use natural light. I also never use a tripod because I can’t stand being pinned in one place. Because of those two constants I’m basically required in many instances to use a low f-stop. But it works out well because I love shallow depth of field—it allows me to hone in on that one thing that stands out as the “small moment".

I’m also drawn to light that is somewhat soft, in that it’s filtering through a window and creating shadows; I barely ever shoot in direct sunlight. Compositionally again it comes back to instinct—if I look at my work over time, no matter what the subject, it’s almost annoying how consistently I frame things. It’s not something I set out to do, it’s just the way I see.

Elizabeth Fleming, Inverted (2008) from the series, Life is a series of small moments

Elizabeth Fleming, Fever (2007) from the series, Life is a series of small moments

Your children must be quite used to having you take their photo.  Is there any input from you when photographing your them? or do they just do their thing?

My kids are both very creative and kind of wacky and wild—they’re always building forts and dressing up and hanging all over the furniture and I just move around them, snapping away. Obviously they know I’m there, but they pretty much ignore me—or at least they used to. Their awareness has changed over time; as they’ve gotten older they want to see the pictures as I take them, especially my youngest—after every shot these days she says “one more!” To be honest my work is starting to change because of this.

Elizabeth Fleming, Dust bunny (2008) from the series, Strange Happenings

Fleming takes in the surroundings of her home in the suburbs with a great eye for picking out a fleck of dust under the bed, catching the moment the sun hits some tape ribbon left to be tangled on the carpet or candles cast aside once the fun of blowing them out has past.

It could be thought that because her children are not smiling in the images that they are depressing or melancholy, they are not.  They are full of childlike optimism and innocence, small observations of otherwise missed moments, disappeared forever.  Exploring the garden in the distance and dirty hands from playing in the mud, light as it catches the first layer of hair on a child's head and the one spot of sunlight left to play in.

Elizabeth Fleming, Net (2009) from the series, Life is a series of small moments

Thank you to Elizabeth Fleming for taking the time to speak to LookSeeNow.

You can see the complete series' of photographs on Flemings website and she also has a blog by the name of Tethered, which is a mixture of updates on her work, photographers she likes and photography news items.  Follow her on Twitter too @elfleming.

Fleming has also recently featured on writing about Jock Sturges in the Internet Age.

All images sourced from

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