Erinn Springer is a photographer based between Menomonie, Wisconsin and Brooklyn, New York. Her work examines the character of rural life, the cycles of the land, and the reflective relationship between people and their environments.

Home Is Where The Garden Grows is one of Erinn’s current projects which caught our eye with its delicate and poetic look at familial relationships, grief, and small town life. In this interview for LensCulture, Wesley Verhoeve speaks to Springer about how she arrived at this project.

From the series “Home Is Where The Garden Grows” © Erinn Springer

Wesley Verhoeve: Erinn, can you tell us how you arrived at your ongoing project Home Is Where The Garden Grows?

Erinn Springer: I arrived at this series during a period of grief. I began capturing these images as a sincere observation of my family, mostly images of my niece and nephew amongst a halcyon landscape of our home in northern Wisconsin. But after the tragic and sudden death of their father, my brother-in-law, to suicide, the process of photographing became a coping mechanism and record of the coexisting, often contrasted, moments in our lives—abundance and absence, growth and decay, innocence and agony. At the core of it all, these images are a portrait of my love for my family; the ones still with us and the ones since departed.

From the series “Home Is Where The Garden Grows” © Erinn Springer

WV: Does it feel natural for your family to be seen through your lens? Was it already like that in your younger years when you started out? Has it shifted with the kids as they get older?

ES: It’s natural in that we share an environment and little to no coordination needs to occur for our collaboration. It’s maybe unnatural in that I never really turn off my photographic vision while I’m with them. I try to be as present as possible while still observing them through a lens, but the two versions of myself—one being ‘auntie/sister/daughter/niece’ and the other being ‘photographer’—can be challenging to balance. As the kids get older, I hope they look back on these images with fond memories of my presence and interest in their lives.

In general, I’d say the dynamic has changed a bit in that when I was younger. I made all of these mental notes and recordings of my family, and now, I’m actively pursuing that very imagery with camera in hand. Everyone is used to, and hopefully comfortable with, my camera as my extension of self and I’m so thankful for all of the time that people give me time to work with them on an idea. Ultimately, it’s all a beautiful process of play and I’ve really gotten to know my family on deeper levels through these creative curiosities.

From the series “Home Is Where The Garden Grows” © Erinn Springer

WV: After working mostly in New York City for the past few years, you have returned to your native rural Wisconsin for your most high profile client work and personal projects like this one. How did this shift come about?

ES: Prior to the pandemic, I’d been going back and forth to Wisconsin just for holidays and special occasions. Slowly, through those visits, I’d started building a couple of bodies of work—Home Is Where The Garden Grows being one of them, Dormant Seasons being the other. In many ways, I was still figuring out what I was interested in as an image-maker. New York has been a really important teacher and wellspring of ideas and close friends. It took years of traveling and experimenting with photography before I realized how unique my home is in Wisconsin and how special it could be to tell the stories with the people and places that I grew up with.

As the midwest became a critical region for the 2020 election, I went home to pursue a series on the events leading up to November 3rd. Simultaneously, COVID-19 started reaching rural Wisconsin and forming its grip on the small towns that had previously been relatively untouched by the pandemic.

My first commission for The New York Times was a story on a medical examiner who lost her father to COVID-19. Through that assignment, I began working with Heather Casey, who then assigned me to photograph a conceptual piece on the feelings around winter, which was a perfect complement to my Dormant Seasons series. The rest snowballed from there and I’ve been so lucky to have the support of publications and editors in continuing my series and expanding my experiences at home. Once the adventure started, I didn’t want it to stop! And as such, I’ve stayed in Wisconsin to continue developing my work.

From the series “Home Is Where The Garden Grows” © Erinn Springer

WV: Do you have a specific vision for the future of this project? What kind of format do you imagine you’ll share the work in once it’s completed?

ES: This particular project is so amorphous, but at this point, I know I want to keep it close to heart and keep photographing into the far future. I’m interested in documenting our more linear physical human evolution, the kids from children to teens, alongside the landscape’s continuum of cyclical change. I’d love for it to become a book one day and I’m looking forward to all that I will learn in the process of observing my family and self through the years to come.

Editor’s note: Arrivals is an ongoing column focused on remarkable projects by new voices in photography, curated by Wesley Verhoeve. Read more about him here.