After six years of living in Cambridge, Massachusetts as a graduate student’s wife, an Austrian immigrant finding her way in a new society and, finally, a mother of two young boys, I needed something for my soul. Maybe taking art classes would do the trick?
I learned silversmithing, weaving, enameling. I liked it all, but nothing stuck. Until I hit upon photography. After I learned how to expose and develop film, I went to Austria and took photographs of all I loved there.
Upon returning to the U.S., we moved to Marquette. I immediately set up a darkroom in our tiny bathroom, and taught myself to print. By serendipity, the person who taught photography at NMU was our neighbor. When he saw my work, he suggested I take classes. I did, and I was hooked.
That was in the early seventies. It was an intense time.
I met other women photographers, and we founded Interplay: A Women’s Photographic Collective. I took workshops in Minneapolis and New York with master photographers. I entered shows and got in. I helped organize exhibits, juried, taught workshops, gave presentations.
Initially, I took black and white photographs. I loved the darkroom work and shooting specific topics. During our travels, I enjoyed photographing people. Windows and doors became favorite subjects. I documented the Austrian mountain farming culture in which I’d grown up.
Finally, I expanded into mixed media with an emphasis on alternative photo processes, and embarked on a 20-year project, “Family Album” (Using family photographs, documents, and artifacts, I created 3-D objects that told the story of my family, and the “Family of Man.”
Now I am eighty, and production is not my thing anymore, although I still exhibit and sell occasionally. But I still love to shoot photos, and share my vision. When a friend pushed me to get on Facebook, I resisted. But by now I have found FB to be my preferred medium as a photographer. I can shoot every day, and share my work without expense, without printing, framing, and accumulating photos. I can post work and get feedback. I can work in a series, such as “Circles” or “Window Ice.” I don’t post just any pictures. I work on my posts, and have developed a following.
So, what inspires me when I photograph?
Sometimes it is the light. Sometimes it is color. Sometimes it is pattern (shadows, or tree branches, or architecture). Sometimes it is subject matter (Lake Superior, the ice, flowers, faces). The possibilities are endless! It is always a journey of discovery.
On the same walk from my house to my studio, I can see a myriad of different subjects to photograph. Things look different, depending on the weather, the time of day, the time of year, my mood. The sky, the light, the trees are never the same! Sometimes I get excited because the familiar looks different, sometimes because I see something I have not seen before. Sometimes I can’t help photographing the same thing again, year after year. Leaf prints on the sidewalk, the first green growth, ice formations, sun rays in my kitchen.
What I get out of shooting is that it makes me look and see. “You have such an eye,” people will say. But I think it is just practice, the practice of looking. And when I look, I find beauty. Beauty in the most ordinary thing right in front of me, beauty to share. I don’t want to keep all this beauty for myself. I want to share it. And shooting photos with my phone, and posting the results allows me to do that!
Christine Saari grew up on an Austrian mountain farm. She studied English and German in Austria and the U.S. As a journalist, she reported for Austrian media. In the U.P., she wrote for MM and Midwestern media, and published documentary photographs with her writing.
Excerpted with permission from the Spring 2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC.