It’s human nature to go exploring and for Susan Tuttle exploring in the woods is somewhere she finds comfort surrounded by nature and all it’s glory. Tuttle has a series of images called Wood Land where she ventures into the woods to create melancholy and nostalgic pieces taken with her iPhone while using various processes of capturing and editing. Tuttle shares her thoughts on the Wood Land series and other accompanying pieces here on this edition of Storytellers.
Susan Tuttle – Wood Land
Every morning I walk softly and with forward glances down to the ponds and through the pinewoods. I have gone every day to the same woods, not waiting, exactly, just lingering. I have thought sometimes that something – I can’t name it – watches as I walk. Around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out, “Stay awhile.” ~Mary Oliver
When Edi asked me to be a part of Storytellers it only took me a short time to decide what I wanted to share with you from my body of mobile photography work. My mind naturally began to wander into the woods — the place I have always gone to as child, a teen, and a woman, for quiet, connection, resonance, a feeling of well-being and peace, to dream, and to be surrounded by the natural world and spiritual energies. The woods call to me. I yearn for them and go to them often, sometimes alone, and sometimes with the people I love most in this world — my husband and our children. I would like to share with you iPhoneography works from my series called Wood Land, as well as other mobile photos that I have taken in the Maine woods right outside my door.
The woman that makes appearances in my work is me, but I don’t think of her as me. Perhaps there are some aspects of me in her, for how can one totally separate from the art they create? I use my body as the model for my iPhoneography, for convenience’s sake, as other models are hard to come by in these parts. I enjoy dressing up in costume and have accumulated a large number of fancy dresses, ballerina tutus, and sheer swatches of fabric, all for using in my work.
Here is how the process of creating iPhoneography in the woods begins. I feel an “itch” to dress up and head out into the woods. I gather my iPhone, tripod, and any props I may need. I wear mud boots as I trek into the forest and once I get to my destination, which is usually unplanned and spontaneous, I either go barefoot or slip into a change of shoes for the photo shoot. I have gotten interesting, unidentifiable highly itchy insect bites when going barefoot. I’ll endure it for art’s sake:)
The figure in the Wood Land series is a spirit. I achieved her look with the app Slow Shutter Cam. I try various speed settings that mimic DSLR slow shutter speed effects, and dart between the trees, dancing with them, as time lapses.
I did not meet the coyote or the owl (in the Wood Land series) on my journeys through the forest. They are taxidermy specimens from a special collection in our town’s library. The deer bones are real. The doe was killed by two coyotes just at the edge of our yard early one April morning, just before the sun came up. I heard the deer scream and the coyotes sing — a beautiful, horrible cacophony of sound. The remains of the body decomposed in Spring, Summer, and Fall; the bones were bleached by the sun. I photographed the bones in Fall (on both my iPhone and with my DSLR) I took the skull and put it on a special shelf in my art studio.
Maine is chilly most of the year, so I don’t sit around waiting for a warm-weather photo shoot. A forest covered in winter snow can be the perfect backdrop for my work (as seen in the piece ‘as he sat and painted his sweetheart’s face on a little ivory cup’).
The photos from Wood Land have characteristics demonstrative of my mobile photography style, like blur, textures and scratches, black and white tones, and a vintage/timeworn appearance. My work is often bathed in soft light and has been described as dreamy, worn, weathered, melancholy, nostalgic, otherworldly, sensual, and sometimes dark. I’m not sure if the viewer can see it, but I always feel like my photos are either shrouded in light, or reaching toward the light. My intention is to have them flow in a positive direction.
Although I thoroughly enjoy giving titles to my work, I try not to impose on the viewer my thoughts about their meaning. I wish for the viewer to see my work in her own way, have her own experience with it, her own communication, her own resonance with the work. So, I invite my viewers to be a part of each work’s creative process. For me, a piece I create is not solely about self-expression. I don’t think a work is fully complete until a viewer draws meaning from it.
My iPhone is like a flea market — filled to the brim with photography app trinkets and treasures. I should really tidy up some, as I’ve lost track of so many. But, I do know where to find my tried and true apps, and they tend to be my go-tos 90% of the time. My favorite apps to date include 6×6, Camera+, Focal Lab, Scratch Cam, Snapseed, Photo Wizard, Mono.Vu, Vintage Scene, Cameramatic, Pixlromatic, Laminar, Blender, Filterstorm, qbro, and Skip Bleach.
My typical process/work flow: I snap photos with 6×6 or Camera! (6×6 will give you a high-resolution square photo that’s suitable for posting on Instagram. Camera! is a straightforward camera app with high-res output). I apply a filter or two to a photo in Camera+, apply multiple blurs in Focal Lab, then give it a timeworn look with various combinations of the following apps: Scratch Cam, Vintage Scene, Snapseed, Mono.Vu, Cameramatic, Pixlromatic, and Laminar. If the image feels too dark, I often bring it into Skip Bleach or qbro to lighten tones. I am a fan of the Blender app, especially when applying my own custom textures. Photo Wizard has ‘Photoshop-like’ tools for making custom tweaks, and Filterstorm has a clone tool that I use to remove/replace unwanted pixels. I make multiple versions of the same image before I decide on which one feels just right. This can take minutes (if I am super lucky!), hours, days, weeks, or even months — depending on how the creative process unfolds. I tend to have many pieces in the works at one time — this helps me from getting stuck. Each of my iPhoneography pieces was created with multiple apps, and sometimes I will run a piece through an app more than once.
I often get hooked on a particular piece of music when I create, and am known to play it over and over, until my work feels complete. Wood Land series was created while listening to Apocalyptica’s version of “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica.