Taos County, New Mexico
Time / Date:
18:59 / June 14, 2011
Camera Body: Canon Rebel XTi
Lens: Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8-4.5
Support: The world’s worst tripod
Shutter Speed: 1/320
Focal Length: 18mm
At the time this image was taken, I was taking a photography course out in Taos, New Mexico. I had a full month to develop a series, execute it, and print it. I knew I wanted to create a body of work that was very personal, both a reflection on who I was at the time, but also a manipulation – showcasing someone I wasn’t, telling someone else’s story through me.
During the harsh daylight I would go out to scout locations. Taos is famous for its sunsets, but during this particular summer it was extremely dry. Wildfires were destroying forests all around us, and there were very little clouds (as you can see in the image). This meant shorter time to shoot at the “golden hour,” and a harsher sun.
I had taken a few self portraits out in Taos before this one – just for practice, around my backyard, me in regular clothes, playing with a stick, boring stuff.
I had never really been into “landscape photography” before, but this particular shot completely changed my view. This image made me fall in love with the wide angle.
I had spotted the truck out in the middle of nowhere earlier in the day while scouting. It immediately brought questions into my mind. Why was it there? What was in it? Who had used it?
The truck created a visually abrupt and jarring shift in the landscape, and I loved that. I also knew the sunset would hit this spot perfectly – so I planned to come back during the last hour of summer light.
This image was taken with a Canon Rebel XTi, and probably the shittiest tripod ever owned by a photographer. I bought it at the Walmart earlier in the week once I had decided to take self portraits. You can’t do self portraits with your camera on the ground (trust me, I tried). I have since happily upgraded my camera to a Canon 5D Mark II, but alas, I still own the Walmart tripod.
Making the Shot:
I dragged my mother out there with me. She refused to press the shutter, claiming it wouldn’t be a true self portrait. So I’d trigger the self timer, then run. I think I took about 100 images out there. Setting up the frame, running in front of the camera and randomly placing myself, probably looking like a crazy person.
This was my first time taking a self portrait like this. I danced, I played with brambles, I climbed on the truck, I threw dirt up into the air. Although I had been out there for over an hour, I knew I had to get the right shot during that 10 minute time span when the light is truly gold. I’d check my camera, looking at the shots and figuring out what worked and what didn’t. I didn’t realize it at the time, but what ended up being the shot happened to be taken at the exact right moment.
Looking through the images back at home on the computer, I found that this particular image had all the components working together perfectly. The clouds draw your eye from left to right, right into the truck.
I’m still figuring it out – what this image might be telling me. Something’s just happened – between this girl and the truck and the landscape – but it’s up to the viewer to decide what that is.
Editing & Processing:
I do pretty minimal editing. I could create that “golden hour” look within Lightroom, but I don’t want to. I want to get in the camera. Within Photoshop I brightened up the reds in the truck, the orange strap on my shoulder, defined the darkness of the lashes, created more of a shine on the eyelid, as well as brought out the highlights within the hair.
I wish so much that I had had my nice 5D for this shot. Detail gets a bit lost within the bushes. I’d probably try a wider angle lens too. There’s some mountains to the right of the truck that you can see just a bit – and it would have been nice to include them.
When developing a series, you’re going to have some shots/scenarios that just don’t work or fit within the series like you thought they might. Don’t be afraid to throw those out. I took a lot of shots at locations I initially thought would be perfect, but when looking at the series as a whole, I realized that some shots just didn’t quite fit.
The second I rolled into town for my course, on the cover of Santa Fe’s The magazine was an image by Francesca Woodman. I was immediately drawn to it and began researching her work and life. I became obsessive. Especially with the work she’d done while living in Boulder Colorado, where many of her self portraits involve the nature around her. There’s no telling what my images out in Taos might have looked like had I not discovered Francesca’s work at that time.
About the Photographer
Living and working in New York City, Sarah Jacobs is a 25 year old marketing associate at PhotoShelter, photo editor of The Landing magazine, and freelance photographer. She loves shooting quiet moments, portraits, and selfies.
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