Jocelyn Catterson: Seeing the Light

Features September 27, 2015

“I never really understood the word ‘loneliness’. As far as I was concerned, I was in an orgy with the sky and the ocean, and with nature.” ― Björk

There is a vibrant energy behind the nature’s hidden refrain. Capturing the ’emotion’ of the landscape scenery marks out the extraordinary from the ordinary, the light from the shadow. This wanderlust has been captured by the extremely talented Jocelyn Catterson, who has left the city behind and has decided to be a part of the wilderness.

jocelyn catterson_03Jocelyn fell in love with the outdoors and the mountains’ elevation since her childhood, growing up in a small town in Colorado. Her passion for the open freedom grew more intense with time, urging her to look for nature’s mouth of fresh air, to grasp the smell of pine trees , the lap of the rivers, the sound of the abyssal canyons. She is conveying depth and dimension in her photographs and this gives people the impression they could step right into her images. But she isn’t just a witness to nature’s merry-go-round. Jocelyn is a participant to these experiences and she hall-marks the interaction with nature at a personal level. Recently moved in Pecos, New Mexico, Jocelyn’s work captures the soul of a landscape, bringing to light an inviolate natural beauty which is part of a personal journey both inwards and outwards.

What was the catalyst (inspiration that drew you to become a travel photographer (the ah-ha moment)?
I don’t know what moment exactly but I know that it was because of my dad. When my dad finished college, he took a long trip around Asia and the Middle East with one of his buddies. While he was traveling, he brought along his old Ricoh camera and took tons of photos on slide film. When I was younger, he would come into my elementary classroom, turn on his slide projector, flip through his photos of the trip, and tell everyone all about Pakistan, China, and Nepal. I have incredibly fond memories of the whrrring and clicking sounds of the slide projector, the hot air that blows out of the machine, and the fantastic images of men on camels or giant mountains flashing across a white wall. I wanted to do the same thing. I wanted to travel like my dad. I wanted to explore the entire American West, the entire world! And I wanted to take pictures of it so I could show the beauty of the world to those around me, just like my dad. So I started traveling around Colorado in high school, climbing mountains, and camping. Then in college I started traveling across the country more and more frequently. I took a trip to the Indian Himalaya. When I traveled to India and went on long road trips across the American West, I actually used slide film just like my dad did. I now have boxes full of slides from that time in my life. My dad and I can both share our travel photos by clicking through the slide projector!

I notice that your vision is somewhat focused on being “observational.” Whilst the wide view of a huge vista can be spectacular, you seem to prefer getting in a bit closer and seeking out hidden shapes and patterns which may not be immediately obvious. What kind of atmosphere/feel do you try and create in your photos?
Yes! That’s exactly right. I often try to focus my photos on a closer point of view instead of those huge vistas. In doing so, I’m not really trying to create a particular feel or atmosphere, I merely taking photos of what I find the most beautiful and engaging. I think a lot of people have forgotten how to have a truly personal interaction with the natural world. We, as a modern society, are obsessed with the aesthetics of a vast vista, a scenic viewpoint, etc. We often forget to look at the beauty of everything around us at a smaller scale. It is this smaller scale that I find the most beauty and that is what I’m trying to capture. I could spend HOURS looking at all of the intricacies of color and shape in the flora of an alpine meadow. I love the contrast of a hiker in bright clothing sitting next to giant, grey boulders covered in the subtle hues of various lichens. Yes, I still capture huge vistas as well. But I also try to capture this often overlooked beauty because that is really what makes me feel the most awe when I am outside.jocelyn catterson_01 jocelyn catterson_02 jocelyn catterson_05Some say that the return to wilderness is a form of nostalgia. How would you respond?
I agree with that, but only to a certain degree. As I previously mentioned, I think that a lot of us have forgotten how to actually interact with nature on a personal level. We crave a “return to wilderness” because the idea of living off the land, living in close contact with nature, is very romanticized. So yes, this is definitely a form of nostalgia. That’s why people love watching movies about cultural throughout the world that are living closer to the land, or old Western movies, or even the Discovery Channel! However, I don’t believe that the “return to wilderness” is complete nostalgia. I think that there is something within out genes, in every human being, that really NEEDS to be close to nature. After all, we are just animals. There is something about the “wilderness” that makes our hearts and minds feel GOOD. I think it is really a very primal thing. There is much more to the “return to wilderness” than mere nostalgia. I think it is truly a part of who we are as a species.

What is the importance and influence of cultural discoveries in your work?
“Cultural discoveries” are a large part of why I travel. Yes, the physical places that I travel to are absolutely gorgeous, but it is the culture of a place that ultimately makes me fall in love with it. I love stopping to grab a drink at bars in the middle of nowhere and talking to the bartenders. I love picking up hitchhikers so I can hear their stories. I love driving through the downtown strips of towns that I didn’t even know existed and having conversations with some of the people who live there. We try to stop at as many historic landmarks along the highway as we can. Once, when we were driving through Idaho, we stopped at a historic marker on the side of the road that was all about a man named “Dugout Dick.” This guy had built dugouts all along the canyon and just lived there as a hermit for years. Now every time we drive through the canyon I try to look for the dugouts. The landscape may be why I originally decide to go to a place, but the culture is almost always why I keep coming back. Every parcel of public land has a tiny community around it and that community adds so much depth and intrigue to the place. Every place has a history. People help to shape the “culture” of a landscape and the landscape definitely shapes the culture of a people. It’s a beautiful thing.

I know this is not an easy question to answer, but what trip would you say was your best experience? And why?
Oh gosh. That is a hard one. Let’s see… Last summer, my boyfriend and I were planning on going to climb this desert butte down in southern Idaho. As we were driving down there, we drove by this INCREDIBLE mountain range. We both could not stop thinking about getting up into the mountains that we were driving by. We ended up stopping at a historic site on the side of the road about a huge earthquake that had happened in the area. A sign pointed down this dirt road that led to the fault line. Turns out, that road led deep into the mountains, through all the canyons, along the rivers, and through the valleys. We immediately decided to spend the weekend there instead of climbing the butte we had planned on. We drove up as high as we could, climbed this unnamed peak, and watched the sunset from out little campsite. The next day, we explored some more and found an incredible canyon, some old homesteads, etc. The place looked like Patagonia and we never even knew it existed. We only saw one other car the whole time we were there. It was incredible. Obviously, a planned trip can be wonderful. You know where you are going and what you want to see there. You’ve done some research ahead of time so you theoretically know about a lot of the sweet spots. But when you just drop all plans and decide to go for something based on a gut feeling, to truly EXPLORE… That is the best feeling in the world. That place in Idaho is now one of my favorite places to travel to and we found it by chance.jocelyn catterson_06 jocelyn catterson_07 jocelyn catterson_08 jocelyn catterson_09What’s your favourite scene to shoot?
I absolutely love shooting photos of tiny people in a gigantic landscape. I also love taking pictures up close of people doing everyday things like making coffee or sitting my the campfire. Oh, but probably my favorite of all is dusk light… Everything looks so beautiful in the morning light!

Out of all the places you’ve been, if you could pinpoint one adventure as your favourite, which would it be?
Bishop, California. I started climbing a lot back in college and ended up in Bishop to climb. We stayed at this grungy climber’s campground right at the edge of the Eastern Sierras and I just well madly in love with the area. That place has everything: winding rivers, deep canyons, rolling hills, snowy mountains, gorgeous natural hot springs, rocky desert, and an amazing small town culture. I don’t really climb anymore, but I go back to Bishop every winter.

About the most recent Project – „HOME”:
We bought a house. It’s crazy, but we did. Christian and I just moved into a 700-square-foot, adobe cabin in Pecos, New Mexico. Population 1,300. The house is off-the-grid and less than half a mile from the Santa Fe National Forest. When we first moved in, the house didn’t have power or running water. I had to wage war on all the spiders and bugs that had been living in the wood that covers our ceiling. It took us a week before we were able to get the power up and running. Christian and I had dinner by candlelight and had to haul in water. The first time I took a hot bath in our bathroom was pure bliss after a week and a half of no bathing. We now sit and watch the sun set over Pecos and have campfires at night. Every morning I wake up as the sun rises to the sounds of roosters and commute half an hour into Santa Fe to teach. Our neighbors are all completely crazy in the best of ways and the most generous people I have ever met. This is my life right now. This is my current project.

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” — Edward Abbey

Images by Jocelyn Catterson
Interview by Rebeca Scurtu

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