I think that traditional is never a true word to describe photography. Photography as a medium is the opposite of traditional. Photography is a visual art that broke the rules of art at the time, broke the traditions the Western world was used to.
A poetic photographer is one who romanticizes photography and who immerses themselves in the process of making images. In the case of still-life photographer Dana Stirling, her art is driven by a sincere passion to find her identity through photography, to capture moments in time that express more than meet the eye.
Stirling has always found herself moving between two different worlds. She was born in Israel to English-born parents. While she was growing up Israeli, she often faced moments of division: her home came with a deep sense of Europeanness but was set against the backdrop of the Middle East. For Stirling, finding her identity and connection to the world became the definitive subject that she explores through her photographic work.
“On a larger level, I think identity is something we are all struggling with. My struggle comes from the fact that my family traces its roots back to England and Europe. I was born into an Israeli reality, a culture different from my family. I grew up with mixed feelings of not belonging anywhere, and not truly understanding what it is to be ‘British,’ as I had no memories of London or my English family, no accent, and no childhood there. Yet, in Israel, I was the strange kid that spoke English at home, and who never truly blended into the Israeli culture and mentality. Photography (as well as found footage) allowed me to get to the heart of these issues and find an artistic way to express them,” Stirling says.
Coming of Age
Even as a kid, Stirling was someone would never leave her camera at home. She was inseparable from her Canon point-and-shoot and took it everywhere she went, shooting family gatherings, friends and social gatherings.
Although she was infatuated with shooting, she was more interested in writing and becoming a journalist. Later, she realized photography could help her write narratives in different ways. Stirling followed her love of photography into undergraduate studies in Israel and spent her first year shooting only black and white film on a Bronica 6x4.5—her photography professor insisted that his students learn the craft in the traditional way.
Her understanding of photography became cultivated through her professor’s demand that they only use film. As a result, she learned the importance of light from the beginning. Working always in film taught her how light translated onto the photograph and how integral it is to the practice of photography. It was this period of time that cemented her photographic practice: even today, she continues to only shoot with film, using either a Mamiya RZ 6x7 or a Toyo 4x5 field camera.
Writing With Light
The creative processes for photographers varies, especially given that the different genres within photography demand vastly different working methods. Stirling always reflects on what is in her frame before capturing the moment. Nevertheless, just before she shoots, she feels a moment of uncertainty.
“I usually start doubting myself. Sometimes (not in every photo) I have a weird feeling of uncertainty. When I do shoot, the mirror slamming against the camera is a great sound. I usually space out in some way when I photograph, like some kind of out-of-body scenario. The real feeling comes when the film comes back from the developer. That moment is nerve-racking. You always have the feeling that maybe all has been destroyed, that you lost it all. The moment you get the film out and see an image is the happiest and most exciting moment.”
—Adam T. Crawford, Founder/Editor-in-Chief of Precise-Moment.com
Adam T. Crawford is a seasoned photographer & journalist and has been a staff editor at various magazines in the United States. Adam’s current role is the Founder/Editor-in-Chief of Precise Moment magazine, an online photography magazine with long-form articles that contextualize the modern landscape and philosophy of photography.