I had worked all year during my spare time on this project. I had a message I wanted to share with the world. It was a roller coaster ride of emotions. The way this project evolved from beautiful girls with sticks and moss to beautiful girls with taxidermy still astounds me!

Here is my original idea in my idea journal…

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I knew what I wanted to share was inside me somewhere; I just had to find it. I prayed ALOT! Things kept happening that just couldn’t be explained! In the early part of the project I only had 3 portraits with the animals. Refuge had won 2 first place awards and Keeper a second place.

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I was in a dry spell. I felt like giving up. I couldn’t find any more animals. I made a connection with someone at an antique store because I asked him if he knew anyone with taxidermy. I never thought he’d say,” actually I do!” I showed him my few images and he took my info. It was a tough several weeks for me. I heard nothing back and was losing hope in the project ever finishing. I finally said, “God, I am going to lay this project at your feet, if a door opens then I will move forward”. I was done. Then two days later I got a text message. It was from a taxidermy collector! He said he’d be happy to let me photograph his animals and use his beautiful daughter as a model! This was just too good! God gave
me an open door! Then the following day I got an amazing gift. I had been trying to find my high-school photography teacher for a few months. I had searched and found two addresses that could be her. I mailed her a letter to each address. She sent me an email! She was astonished that she was sitting and reading my letter. She was so full of complements as she had looked at my web-site.  Here are a few sentences from her letter;

Erika… Erika……

I just can’t believe you found my correct address. I have just opened a letter from you…………I am sitting here speechless.

I immediately went to your website and I am absolutely blown away. Just blown away with joy, admiration and respect for all you have accomplished. All that you have turned out to be. All that you are giving and expressing. All that you are sharing with and showing the world. All the hearts and souls you are touching.

much less……
All that you are modeling for your children….. how to see, how to feel, how to dream, how to be brave, how to follow your heart.

Oh my…….I am so touched that you took the time to write to me Erika. You cannot imagine what a gift you have given me. Teaching is like sowing seeds and then disappearing. You almost never get to know if the ‘seeds’ matured into what you hoped they would. Your letter and visiting your website proved to me that some ‘seeds’ do EXCEPTIONALLY well and all the patience, tending and encouraging is so worth it.

You have truly dropped into my life at a time that I needed it the most.

Words could never adequately express how much I appreciate your taking the time to ‘find me’.

Lets do plan a time to talk when you can. A visit from you when you are in North Carolina would make me so very happy!!!!

Thank you thank you……………

much love…. connie

 

I can’t wait to visit with her and catch up over the last 25 years. Back to the project! I set up the day to photograph the collector’s animals. I had 4 models, which included my 2 girls. It was an epic shoot! It was a great experience with “Betsy”, my 4×5 graflex super D. I realized that I need more than 10 film holders!

epic shoot   click on epic shoot to see a very short video of one of the shoots!

The animals were so beautiful. I have a new appreciation for God creatures. I will NEVER in my life be able to see these animals up close. I never even knew some of them existed! The different species of Rams and Mountain Goats.

I got to work developing the film!

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Now I had 11 images completed for my project. I really wanted to say it was finished but I just knew I needed at least 20 for a good series of images. It was January and I kept searching the Internet for taxidermy. Everything was just too complicated. I found collectors but they were either in Texas or California. How would I go there and take models? I was discouraged. I then found this website that sells taxidermy and it appeared they had a shop in Miami. I sent an email to taxidermyforsale.com.

I waited several days. I was ready to give up and an email came through. I was astounded and humbled by the email address! Artbygod.com. What! “I thought”. I literally cried and thanked God for his obvious “sign” that what I’m doing is important in some way. At that moment I decided I was going to have an exhibition at my studio in April, just 2 months away.  I set up the Miami shoot. I was so blessed to have models whose mothers were willing to drive to Miami for the whole day. One of them gave up her birthday for it!

It was a very exciting but difficult shoot. They had hundreds of animals and I was overwhelmed in choosing which ones and which model with which animal. We choose the very large animals first. The store gave me an awesome helper to move all the Animals for us. I had my best friend there as my assistant as well. Half way through I was hot, dehydrated and discouraged. It was so huge! There were too many animals! I was afraid I was going to mess it up. I felt sick. I was also out of film holders. I had bought a bunch more in preparation for this. I needed a break so I decided to empty and reload all the film holders, 25 of them or 50 sheets of film. It took me about 40 minutes to reload. I just kept praying over and over, God this is too big for me, please help me. My assistant found a new shaded place to move the backdrop to which made the rest of the day much better. It was a long and grueling day, but it was so worth it! And I got through it!

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The next couple weeks I processed the film, scanned the negatives and edited the finals.

I had 21 images! Now it was time to plan and market the exhibit.  I found an amazing local printer John Sluder to do the gallery prints. I made 5×7 cards of all the images, a beautiful booklet of all the images, and I also made necklaces out of dominos with all the images! The pictures were hung and ready for the big night.

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My face-book invite said 70 people were coming. I was so nervous and excited at the same time. I’d be happy if 30 people came, I told myself.

My photography teacher was planning on coming! She had a family emergency at the last minute and couldn’t make it. But she sent me a beautiful bouquet and note.

The big day came and we had about 70 people come through! I couldn’t believe the positive response from everyone! The necklaces, booklets and cards sold like crazy! I sold lots of prints too!

I had planned on giving a speech when it was full of people. That time came and went, so towards the end my friend encouraged me to give it. There were maybe 15 people there. Here is what I read. My heart was pounding so fast and I literally could not breathe! I was about to pour out my heart. Put it on a butcher block! Here goes;

My photography to me is not the images themselves, but the latent (hidden) meaning that comes through them, not from them. I do not put my trust in making the photos, but in the longing that dwells within me to create them. It is that which brings them to life for me, and those who choose to “see”.

I wanted to start by talking about “Longing” If any of you are artists or have passions for certain things, I am sure you can relate. I wanted to quote CS Lewis. He is an amazing writer and theologian. The other day I was reading his quotes and came across this one, which totally connected me to my art and my own “Longing”

“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located

will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.

These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.

For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

C.S. Lewis

 After I read this, I was able to write my own description of my photography that I read to you first. I believe that this “Longing” in our hearts to create comes from God, This never-ending desire to create something or to be somewhere, reveals our hearts and our souls, it is God helping us to work something out within ourselves.

 My deepest longing that has never left me my whole life is to be surrounded by nature. I love the mountains. I love rivers and lakes. I love the sounds of the birds and the wind blowing the trees. I love the smell of the pine and the smell of the campfire. I love the secret places, streams and waterfalls. I love the feeling of knowing that I am in the home of the animals, I am in their domain.

It’s scary and invigorating at the same time. I feel humbled and insignifagant in this setting. It lights a spark within me, a connection to a much greater being and purpose. I am facing my fears and living a dream at the same time. It’s how I imagine heaven.

 I never imagined that I would love these animals so much. Yes, they are not alive. But I was able to look at them not as what they currently are, but what they used to be, alive and wild. Beautifully and wonderfully made. I then had this amazing feeling of gratitude. Never in my life or your lives would we ever be able to see these amazing creatures up-close and alive. Their lives are similar to our lives. They were created, they lived and then they died.

 When I started this “Parts of the Earth” project, it was sparked by a scripture I read, and evolved into my exhibit today.

 “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:14-16

 This is the longing…

After the event I entered some images into a big photo completion in Fort Pierce. I found out I won “Best in Show”!!! Foundation won. It was the AE Backus Museum, the same competition my dad had entered and won first place several years before. It was special to me for that. My dad was a great photographer. He passed away 2 years ago from Alzheimer’s disease. This one was for him!

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Then I got a big article in The Palm Beach Post!

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I feel very fulfilled by all that has happened so far with this project! I will keep on trying to get the images out there for more to see. And I will keep you posted!

view all the images on erikamasterson.com and erikamastersonfineart.com

Erika MASTERSON