Our ‘Brought to Light‘ interview section explores the mobile photographers and mobile artists behind their art. Each question has been carefully crafted and is designed to allow us to get to know them a little more intimately. To view others that we have published in this series, please go here.
Today we are featuring Meri Walker, from Oregon, United States. Walker is a very experienced mobile photographer and artist. When I first came upon Walker’s photos over 7 years ago, two things struck me about her – she was an astonishing image creator (her images singular but resembling cinematic captures with their own narratives) and here was a woman who had an expansive and creative repertoire. I have not physically met Walker, but I feel as though I have. At 67 years old, despite appearing physically petite, she has a real strength about her. Inner strength and it’s this strength that perhaps allows her to metaphorically stick two fingers at the received wisdom that the smartphone camera never lies, her camera always lies. And through her ‘deceits’ she looks for truths about identity, vulnerability and power. Walker’s work has always been a vibrant fusion of ideas.
To view more of her work, please go here.
This body of work drew us to Meri Walker…
All photos ©Meri Walker
Describe a moment that changed your life
Early in January, 2010, I took a walk in the southern Oregon countryside near my home. On the walk, I shot a bunch of photos with my new iPhone 4 (my first). It was fun using the phone and reminded me of playing with a variety of “toy cameras” I had experimented with over the first three decades of my love affair with photography. When I got home, I was cold and uncomfortable and snuggled under a comforter on my couch to warm up. While I did so, I opened the camera roll and started looking at the photos I’d made. I played with the basic settings, editing some of the images in the phone. That day, I didn’t know there were image editing apps for smartphones. I remember being intensely curious about what I might use to further develop the images – without having to go sit in front of my computer and use computer based software.
As an experienced computer user – but new to the iPhone – I fired up Safari, still huddled under the comforter. Pretty quickly, I found an online reference to Snapseed. Still there, on the couch, I travelled for the first time to the App Store and bought Snapseed for $4.99. After I downloaded it, I fell down the rabbit hole into its mobile, touch-sensitive editing interface. The next thing I knew, it was 10pm and I hadn’t even thought about eating dinner.
When I got up to eat, I realized I had crossed some crazy new threshold in the history of photography and I haven’t been the same since. What a wonder-filled ride it’s been learning to live – as a 21st century photographer/printmaker – on my iPhone. Best houseboat ever!
‘We are such stuff as dreams are made of’ ©Meri Walker
Describe a childhood photographic/art memory
I grew up in Washington, DC, in the early 1950s. From the third grade on, I attended local, public schools. Part of my routine school experience was riding by bus with my classmates to visit the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian, the Presidential monuments, the National Symphony, or amazing plays. Part of our weekly curriculum was having a field trip – a direct opportunity to witness and engage with preserved treasures of human creativity.
Sometime in the third grade, I saw an ancient Greek sculpture of the discus thrower for the first time on a trip to the National Gallery. I remember standing in front of the naked statue thinking not just about his “secret parts” being on full display, but also marveling at how anyone had chopped that sleek, smooth figure out of stone. I stood there so long that the class moved on without me and my teacher had to come back and find me. Locked there in my reverie, before she returned, I remember promising myself to try that hard when I was making something myself using mud, sticks, cloth, crayons, pencils, pens, charcoal, paint, pastels, typewriters, musical instruments, my voice. The power of that moment or marvel and commitment in the National Gallery will be with me to my grave.
Later I extended that promise to my use of cameras and computers…and now mobile devices.
‘Move with me, I’m strong enough to be real in your arms’ ©Meri Walker
Describe your mobile studio
My mobile studio is, truthfully, a little terrifying to many people (except David Leibowitz). Thank goodness David and I finally met in person and our phones fell in love with each other. No one else needs to have the number of apps I have in my phone and iPad to do good work. I am simply one of those people who needs a lot of variety in keep me awake.
The first screen of my iPhone is covered with dozens of cameras I have learned to use to make different kinds of images – outside the iPhone native camera. The third screen is covered with folders filled with mobile tools to scan, do basic editing, add texture, modify color, blend images, paint in the phone (directly or on images), draw in the phone (directly or on images), modify lighting, make black-and-white conversions, add words to images, layout multiple images, tell photo stories, manage image data, play visually with images, make things with images, and share the images I make on social media. My iPad is set up the same way.
I have the most memory I can get on my iPhone 7 and my iPad Pro and I am ALWAYS using it all up. So there’s also a folder in both devices, on screen 1, with a variety of cloud-based storage spaces.
‘Real people live in all these buildings in Manhattan’ ©Meri Walker
What do you like to think about whilst creating images?
I deliberately do not think – as I think of thinking – while I’m either shooting or creating images. While I’ve had my iPhone, I have learned to listen to my thoughts as if they were background music. My mind is filled with lyrics from hymns; popular radio; poetry; lines from my favorite novels and Bible verses I have memorized. And then there are quotes from people I’ve heard speaking recently when I’m sitting at cafe tables or driving my car in southern Oregon.
I find that when I go shooting – or sit down to edit – I enjoy putting myself into a deliberately receptive state – instead of trying to execute my “will” on the details or surface of an image I’ve captured with the phone. Engaging with images this way offers me the deeply nourishing experience of learning from my own experience. I’m astounded daily when an image completes itself using my unconscious memory, skill and life experience. And I LOVE not having to clean up a studio when I’m through.
‘Time to get onboard’ ©Meri Walker
Share one mobile photography/art tip
At all costs, please do what it takes to learn how to shut up while you’re shooting. No talking – in your head or outside with other people. Give your full attention and childlike curiosity to what’s right in front of you, visually. The iPhone affords you a simple possible experience of your full vision – foveal and peripheral. Use it to learn from your vision instead of trying to make images of your thoughts. And, please, share what you’re learning with others. You never know who needs to “see” what you took the time to inquire into today.
To support your “seeing process,” please take time to learn to use a camera replacement app like Camera+ or ProCamera that allows you to separate focus and exposure – like a real camera – and to save a file big enough for you to do something with beyond screen-sharing. Unless that’s all your want to do. If you want to print bigger than 8×8”, you need plenty of data in your image file or the traditional digital photographers will laugh at your prints.
‘This being human is a guest house, every morning a new arrival – Rumi’ ©Meri Walker
What or who ignited your passion for mobile photography/art?
By late 2010, I found EyeEm.com and ComboApps.com (now Ashcroft54.com), led me to iPhoneArt.com and TheAppWhisperer.com and P1xelsAtAnExhibition.com and Mobiography.net and iPhoneographyCentral.com LifeinLoFi.com and the NewEraMuseum.org. In about 6 months, I realized that it simply wasn’t true that I was a crazy-old-woman reduced to playing with her iPhone because she didn’t have a darkroom anymore and hated digital editing using Photoshop on the computer. These pioneers set a new creative fire in me by showing me that I had stumbled into a global art-making culture that was starting the next revolution in human creativity and communication.
At first, I was simply stunned – and way too shy – to share my own discoveries. But after a few months, I began making some two-way contact with these pioneers and, one by one, they welcomed me through the gates into the next chapter of my creative life. The pioneers helped me see that mobile photography is nothing short of a NEW LANGUAGE that humans can use to communicate with others. As someone who has studied language arts, linguistics and anthropology, as well as photography all my life, this insight continues daily to illuminate my discoveries using my mobile phone/tablet.
‘No heart can be at peace hidden in the ground’ ©Meri Walker
What is the most unusual subject you have photographed/painted?
Since the iPhone woke up my peripheral vision again, everything I see with a camera iis unique and unusual to me. I don’t know how to isolate one subject any more. Maybe it would be honest to assert that the most unusual subject I have photographed in my life is my ongoing ecstatic communion with flowers.
‘They decided to make some money on her innonence’ ©Meri Walker
What are your favourite mobile photography accessories?
When people ask what equipment I use, I tell them my full vision and my iPhone. I have tried all kinds of accessories and, for me, they quickly become something to lose while I’m wandering around enraptured by my vision. I think of my iPad Pro as my “favorite accessory” for mobile photography/art because it allows me to see better what I have captured with the iPhone camera and engage with the capture in greater detail using editing, painting and drawing apps in ways I used to use traditional media to amplify and extend my traditional photographic prints.
‘At 66, she finally met her match’ ©Meri Walker
Describe your dream photography assignment
Ahhhh! My dream photography assignment is always to accept the invitation of the owner of a property, or an organization, or a media outlet, or a book designer, or a travel editor, or an art or editorial director who wants to collaborate on a story. I love nothing better than capturing and editing images others want me to find and deliver to them that help them amplify their story. I did this kind of work for 40 years and I love this process and challenge even more when I’m using only my mobile devices.
‘She agreed to go away with him’ ©Meri Walker
What does mobile photography/art mean to you?
● Freedom to inquire simply in the visual ways I use naturally.
● Freedom to marry my inner vision to my outer vision right in my personal camera (mobile device).
● Freedom to carry my entire studio with me so I can further enrich my visual images anytime and anywhere.
● Freedom to share what I discover on my personal inquiries with other photographers/ artists who are, themselves, inquiring fiercely into their personal worlds.
● Learning together with other human beings who see that language doesn’t allow us to convey our whole human intelligence and relish the rough-and-tumble game of discovering how we can use mobile devices to enrich and extend our self-expression – and connection – across the globe, 24/7.
‘Snow flowers’ ©Meri Walker
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