Caitlin Peterson was born in Milwaukee, WI, but spent the majority of her formative years in Birmingham, AL. She now lives in Savannah, GA where she is pursuing her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography at the Savannah College of Art & Design. Caitlin primarily uses a large-format view camera to explore the relationship between man and the land. She has exhibited work in various group exhibitions in Birmingham, AL, Chicago, IL, & Savannah, GA. She hopes to relocate to Chicago after she graduates in the fall of 2013.
The Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia were originally compiled by the state librarian, Ella May Thornton, in 1926. Although the list has changed slightly over the years, today the Wonders are generally acknowledged to be: Amicalola Falls, Okefenokee Swamp, Providence Canyon, Radium Springs, Stone Mountain, Tallulah Gorge, and Warm Springs.
My work often deals with man’s relationship with the land: how we use, preserve, and classify it. In particular, I’m fascinated by the places that we have specifically set aside to preserve nature and the fact that places such as state parks and wildlife refuges have become necessary in order for nature to even survive. In this body of work, I used The Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia as a platform to explore these ideas.
These places are meant to be the most “wonderful” natural places in all of Georgia, however what intrigues me most about these sites is not the natural, but the artificial. From warning signs to guard railings, even to platforms from which to see the “best” view, man’s presence is clearly evident. It begs the question: How much is too much? Is man’s mark on these places a necessary evil in order to preserve them? When does man’s presence become so great that we no longer deem a place natural?
We recently had the opportunity to catch up with Caitlin and chat a bit about her work.
So…tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m currently 22 and in my final quarter at the Savannah College of Art and Design. I was born in Milwaukee, WI but moved to Birmingham, AL at a young age. But I would definitely say my heart belongs more in the midwest than the south. My hobbies include eating pizza, rescuing stray cats, and collecting old issues of Nat Geo.
What was your original inspiration for “The Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia?”
I took a Contemporary Landscape course in the spring of 2012 and this work is a product of that class. We spent a lot of time discussing the role of the landscape in contemporary photography. In particular, we read John Szarkowski’s introductory essay to American Landscapes which I drew a lot of inspiration from. I wanted to begin photographing the spaces that have intentionally been set aside to preserve nature and how through preserving them, we have also altered them. Through my research I just happened to stumble across the list of The Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia (which was originally compiled by the state librarian in 1926), and the idea of a predetermined list of “natural wonders” just seemed to push those ideas even further. I also intentionally shot the work with a view camera in order to further emphasize the way that man’s impact has altered how we view these places.
How has the work evolved since you began shooting it?
Well I did a bit of a spin off series titled “Alabama, the Beautiful” in which I shot my own list of natural wonders in my home state of Alabama. While shooting that series, I became more interested in not only how people have altered these places, but also how they inhabit them. So I am currently in the process of revisiting “The Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia” work. It’s been about a year and a half since I last photographed these places so it’s been interesting to go back and see how they’ve changed and also how the way I make pictures has changed.
What most inspires your photographic work?
Honestly, I would say a little bit of everything, from other photographers’ work to the things that I’m reading/watching/consuming to the conversations I have with people.
How long have you been working with the view camera? Why do you prefer working this way?
I’ve been primarily shooting with the view camera since I first learned how to do so at the beginning of my junior year at SCAD. I guess I just really love the formality of it and the process involved when working with it, and of course, the detail.
How has your job as a gallery docent at the Gutstein Gallery and other SCAD galleries prepared you for your future as a working and exhibiting photographer?
It’s been a great experience for me getting to work in a gallery and see the behind the scenes of what goes into preparing for a show. And it’s been especially interesting getting to help prepare for shows in which I’ve also had work. It just makes the entire experience come full circle.
This is your last quarter at SCAD. What’s coming up next?
As of right now, my plan is to stay in Savannah at least through the rest of the academic year. I’d love to continue working in SCAD exhibitions, but we’ll see how that all plays out after graduation. Endgame, though, is to work in a museum/gallery setting, preferably in Chicago. And maybe get some grad school in there at some point.
For more information about Caitlin and her work, please visit her website.