Erika Larsen felt magic as she held the Kodak prints of Saturn captured by the Hubble telescope that her father helped design. She was holding something far, far away from here, and she wanted to be a part of that magic forever. So, Erika Larsen became a storyteller, as she believes all photographers are. With our cameras we tell stories, heal, teach, entertain, and listen.
Photographing Family Life to Working at Time Magazine
Erika began by photographing families and working for Time magazine as a contract photographer for eight years. She explores themes such as time passing in images, as seen through her friends and family, including her grandmother. To her, the camera not only documents time, but allows us to deal with events as time passes. While photographing families Erika rarely stays in hotels, but rather lives with the people. For example, she was hired to live with a family for two weeks whose mother was diagnosed with cancer. Her work from this time also features terminal illness, dementia, and what it meant to be elderly in the USA, as well as adolescent-themes such as suicide, drug use, self-esteem, self-image, and body-image disorders.
Afterwards, Erika moved onto themes of how people communicate with their environment and landscape, as she finds portraits and landscapes inextricable. She began work on The Hunt beginning with two-week bear hunt in Alberta, Canada. Hunting started as a break from her work at the magazine, but she realized she wanted to know why children hunt. What is their connection to nature? Were they inherently violent? She worked on this project for a year and a half and traveled throughout the USA and Canada photographing children and how they hunt. Erika learned that these kids were actually interested in their local ecosystems and the wanted to pursue careers in national parks, wildlife biology, etc.
Working at National Geographic
Erika temporarily left Time and started her project Walking with Reindeer to explore what it meant to descend from hunter-gatherer ancestors and maintain pastoral communities and lifestyles in nomadic societies. She traveled to two extremes: the Peruvian rainforest and the Scandinavian arctic. She stayed in the arctic for four years with the Sámi people. After three of those years, National Geographic reached out to her, and Walking with Reindeer became her first story for National Geographic. It was in the arctic where she learned even further how to listen, since the Sámi didn't want her voice to replace their own in telling their story. During her stay, Erika worked as a housekeeper, learned the Sámi language, received a Fullbright, and received grants from Sámi parliament and other professional organizations. She also participated in slaughtering reindeer and preparing their skin, allowing her to relate further to how the indigenous groups sustain themselves in the worlds of the past and the present. Erika finally found an answer that concluded her project when a man named Sven, who is used to slaughtering reindeer, revealed his sadness at at a pair who locked antlers and starved over several days. She realized that it was our relation to suffering that made us human, and knew it was time to return home.
Her next body of work was People of the Horse, another story for National Geographic which took three years from start to publish. Erika explored the connection between Native Americans and the horse for this project, and visited 22 tribes to see the indigenous connection to the American landscape through the eyes of Native Americans. After that, Erika worked on The Personal Geographic of Garrison Keillor, where she provided photos to accompany Garrison's life story. Erika returned to photographing families like before, and lived with him, his wife, and daughter, as well as his late mother's house. She photographed things that would have been significant in his formative years, and even wound up photographing his niece's wedding. Erika's latest project with National Geographic is Women of Vision, a collection of portraits of important women, including Oprah and Jane Goodall.
Erika Larsen's Latest Work
An Exploration of Ritual is Erika's final body of work thus far. It is about how people with strong relationships to the natural world interpret climate change and language through ritual. Erika sees an evolution of language happening. The way we communicate is constantly changing. However, there is a dichotomy amongst the people she works with; some believe the language is worth remembering, whereas others embrace its evolution.
Alexandria Salmieri wins first place in our monthly print competition for August's theme "Travel" with her entry Sólheimasandur (Plane Wreck). She took this impactful photograph on her trip to Iceland last February. It features a US Navy plane that emergency crash-landed on the South Coast of Iceland in 1973 and became a popular tourist destination. Alexandria achieves technical excellence through photo-manipulation using the Brenizer method, merging multiple images of the plane into a panoramic composite that retains immense detail and sharpness. This method also creates the illusion of a wide-angle lens with a shallow depth of field. The altered perspective combined with the center composition not only focuses the viewer on the plane, but also draws them into the image as the plane appears to loom above their point of view. Alexandria embraces the overcast sky as her light source, but color-corrects the image to intensify the cotton-candy colors of the sky for a more creative approach. Finally, Alexandria's Sólheimasandur (Plane Wreck) is entrenched in storytelling. The plane has a fascinating history beginning with its wreck. The crew survived, but the plane was abandoned on the black sand beach, and used as storage and target practice. Through 46 years of decay, the plane continues to draw visitors (especially photographers) from all over the world after being featured in pop culture media. Alexandria's photograph is a commentary on the lure of abandoned objects, adventurous sites, and the detrimental effects of tourist culture to the natural environment, which she has actively participated in by creating this image. The footprints in the snow surrounding the plane are evidence of the hundreds of tourists who visited the site that day, and a reminder of Iceland's advocacy for sustainable tourism.
Congratulations to all of August's Winners and their Photographs!