Artist Highlight: Maddy Minnis
Maddy Minnis is a photographer, videographer, and motion designer with a passion for adventure. From being a scholarship athlete in art school to working in tech in a small horse farming village in New Mexico, she thrives among all the absurdities that continually sculpt her life.
Tell us a little about your background as an artist.
I got my degree in Broadcast Design and Motion Graphics from Savannah College of Art and Design, so I’ve been a designer/animator for about 10 years and use that to pay the bills. Photography came about much later and I waver in how to use it professionally. I am totally self-taught and self-driven, and couldn’t imagine it any other way. So I am trying to find a balance where I can shoot in a way that is meaningful to me but perhaps less self-serving than it has been up to this point.
You live from your car and travel wherever the wind takes you. How does that affect your life as an artist, both the positive and the negative aspects?
Living on the road has definitely made me more present, inspired, and actively engaged in my daily choices. It provides a constant stream of stimulating interactions and experiences that I must adapt for, all fodder for my artistic pursuits. I never have a chance to settle into comforts and that keeps me motivated. I wake up looking for things to do rather than looking for ways to get out of the things I need to do.
I’m a pretty quiet person and tend to keep to myself so I was expecting this lifestyle to burden me with feelings of loneliness and isolation. To my surprise, though, it has made me feel much more connected and reminded me how amazing people are. That has made me think harder about the intentions in my art.
When I was working a 9-5 I almost used photography as an escape. It didn’t matter why I was doing it or what I produced, it just filled a hole I had been chiseling out for 40 hours the week before and I didn’t think twice about it. But being able to prioritize those experiences has also added a certain awareness and pressure to them. I think it’s probably important to confront the questions that poses to me, but it has affected my process in a way. Sometimes creation feels forced because I feel obligated to show something for my time.
Living in a car might be cheaper but nothing is free. So the conundrum of creating enough time and money to do the things I’m interested in is no different. I’m just sacrificing different things for it now and am more responsible for my work/art/life balance. Small things like taking a shower, doing dishes, or finding a place to sleep become much larger tasks when living in a car. I do end up devoting a lot more time and effort towards basic necessities than I used to, but it’s all just part of the give and take.
Describe the technical process you use to create your work.
I’m incredibly untechnical in my approach. I like to use the most simple tools available so that I can focus more on the experience and what I’m feeling. I honestly use my iPhone probably 90% of the time and edit with the VSCO app. I’ve also been shooting (and loving) film on two little rangefinders. I’ve cautiously hauled thousands of dollars worth of heavy photo equipment up mountains and never even taken it out of my bag. But the whole time I would be taking photos with my phone, unnoticeable and easily accessed from my sports bra.
Would you describe yourself as an environmental artist? What is the relationship between your work and nature?
Nature is at the heart of my photography. I never used to take any particular interest in landscape photography; I was always drawn to more abstract representations, like painting and fashion. But when I starting discovering landscapes of the southwest in person, I saw abstraction everywhere. The game became creating a balanced composition out of the 360° painting I found myself standing in. Even when shooting very recognizable forms like trees or mountains, I just see colors, shapes, and light. Among all the perpetual chaos that sculpts our planet, nature maintains a balance that I will never be able to fully wrap my head around. I sure do love trying though.
Would you say that your art is purpose-driven? If so, what do you aim to accomplish through your creative expression?
I think I am most driven to relate the profound effect that nature has had on me. I can feel “inspired” almost every day but there have only been maybe a handful of times in my life when I have felt actual change sweep over me. When it hits, though, it has been so strong and undeniable, and I am forever curious about how to instigate that kind of change for myself and others. I know my experiences in nature have caused a positive shift in my life and, while it might not be for everybody, I hope I can provide another voice in the chorus that recognizes the power of our environment and the devastation we invite by taking it for granted. I don’t want to tell anybody what is right or wrong, but I would like to offer a spark that might make them curious enough to look deeper and come to their own sincere conclusions. And if I am able to encourage anyone to make actual positive changes in his or her life, I would be thrilled.
What do you hope you art communicates to those who come into contact with it?
Environmental photography inspired me to discover these places on my own, so I hope my art can relate the same sense of awe, timelessness, and mystery than I feel when I am exploring the outdoors. I find great pleasure in things as they are. I am not so interested in the over-edited, idealized image of what the outdoors are like, but rather the totally surreal, otherworldly nature of landscapes that exists right before our eyes. I want people to feel connected to these places, to see them as accessible and not something reserved for someone with 20 years of mountaineering experience. The reality of our planet is so incredible and if more people can relate to that, the more they will hopefully be interested in experiencing and preserving it.
Which environmental issues and causes are you most passionate about?
Public lands have been crucial to everything I am today. Due to their prevalence in the American West, I have been so lucky to indulge in all the sweet freedom and wonders they provide. So ensuring that those lands remain untouched and available to everyone is definitely important to me. I’ve also been documenting a family in Monument Valley that recently founded the Tsis'Na Bighan Bee Project. Their mission is to use plants and bees to rehabilitate soil around a former uranium mine, revive and restore the native bee population, and educate and engage native youth. The Yellowhorse family hopes to create a model that can be spread to neighboring tribes, hopefully all the way up to Bears Ears National Monument. So I certainly have a soft spot for a lot of the environmental issues that weigh on that particular area of the southwest.
Do you have any upcoming projects or exhibitions that you’d like to share with us?
I’ll be travelling through Wyoming and up to Alberta this summer, so there’s no telling what might come out of this trip!