Get to know more about 24-year old Wisconsin-based photographer Margaret Durow!
Although we’ve only been able to chat with Margaret through e-mail, her passion for photography and the sciences remains pretty evident to us. In this feature, she eagerly shares with us her beginnings in photography, her inspirations, as well as how her career in the sciences plays a role in her artistic pursuits.
Hello, Margaret! Please tell us a bit more about yourself.
I’m 24 years old, living in Madison, Wisconsin, and I often come home to Lake Mills as well. I grew up in rural southern Wisconsin. I love the lakes, changing seasons, magic, and history here.
When did you first dabble with photography, and what made you decide to pursue the craft?
Growing up, I loved playing outside and taking pictures of our pets. Then when I was about 14, my family got our first digital camera which I would take with me everywhere. I loved taking photos because they could preserve how I felt at the time. Flickr gave me a place to express myself without words. Eventually people started giving me feedback, and this influenced me to keep taking pictures and keep sharing them.
What/who are your favorite subjects?
I use myself as a subject most often, and my best friend George. I want my work to express who I am, and it’s easier to do this with myself or those I am close to in the photo.
How would you describe your photographic style?
I take photos that are nostalgic, intimate, and personal to me, but I hope they can also be relatable and personal for the viewer.
What inspires you? Also, who are the photographers and/or artists that you look up to?
My feelings and my place. The Wisconsin landscape and everything being connected. Changes, continuation, light, beauty, strength, vulnerability, love, and pain. I really admire Lina Scheynius, Ana Kraš, and Lukasz Wierzbowski.
What are the cameras that you use? What’s your favorite, if any, and why?
For my 18th birthday I received a Canon AE-1 from George and a Canon Rebel XTi from my parents. These are the cameras I have loved from the beginning because when I’m shooting they give me lot of control over the image. I can also decide how much light to let in, the focus, etc., in a way that hopefully captures the feeling.
A few years ago the Canon Rebel XTi broke, but it was under warranty so I had it replaced. The replacement was a Canon T3, which I used for a little while. But I really missed my Rebel XTi because it captures the light in a special way. So I recently bought a working Rebel XTi on eBay, and I still love both the AE-1 and Rebel XTi equally!
Aside from taking photos in film, we know that you also take photos with your DSLR. When do you shoot film and when do you shoot digital?
Sometimes I’ll just take photos in the moment and not think much about it. I love doing this with my digital camera because I can take a lot of photos and go back later to see which ones best convey the feeling at the time. With film I am more selective and think more about how I should place the camera or subject to convey the feeling with only one frame. I love the way an old photograph can make you feel a memory, not just see it, so I try to reproduce those visual qualities whether I’m shooting film or digital.
It’s interesting to know that you are actually involved with the sciences; after all, most photographers would usually major in art- or media-related courses and the like. Does this play a role in your career as a photographer? If yes, how?
When I think of having a career as a photographer, I’m not really sure what I want to do with it. The way I started taking photos, and still do, is for myself, so I rarely have someone paying me for my work. I try to sell prints but it isn’t realistic for me to rely on this or freelance projects because I have a pretty serious medical condition, and need a career that gives me security, financially and health-wise.
Studying Biological Conservation and Environmental Studies has greatly impacted my life and is a source of inspiration for my photography. I try to see things from an ecological perspective and lively lightly on the Earth. I use photography to become more aware of my connections, impact, and dependence on the natural ecosystems we are all a part of and depend on for life.
Getting Bachelor of Science degrees also allowed me to get the internship I have now, at the Wisconsin State Herbarium, where I mount and digitally archive plant specimens dating from the mid-1800s to the present day. I am hoping to attend the School of Library and Information Studies at UW Madison next fall. If I am accepted to the Masters program, I want to specialize in digital archives, which will hopefully get me on the right path to a reliable career that involves curating, preserving, and digitally archiving historical and scientific collections.
What’s your favorite project that you’ve done so far? Any interesting and memorable story that you can share with us?
My favorite project was my experience in a Paleoecology/Botany research lab at UW Madison. I analyzed charcoal particles in soil cores from a lake in northern Wisconsin to reconstruct the fire record over the past 1,000 years in the forest surrounding the lake. By comparing the fire record with historical records of climate, species composition, and land use, I was better able to understand how the forest ecosystem had developed over time in response to climate and disturbance. It gave me an interesting perspective of the northern Wisconsin landscape and I had a very meaningful connection with my research mentor. I was also accepted to share research posters at the Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting two years in a row. It was such a great experience traveling to Portland, Oregon and Minneapolis, Minnesota to share my research and soak up all the knowledge and inspiration from other scientists and researchers.
Your dream project?
I want to get involved in preservation projects. I saw a project that really inspired me by Jon Crispin, who photographed patient’s suitcases from an abandoned insane asylum which were discovered after a long time of being stored away. I love the way personal belongings and the small details of a memory can preserve the culture and history of an entire time. I hope someday I will get to work with such intriguing pieces of history!
Are there other hobbies or interests that you have aside from science and photography?
I love writing really simple HTML, like for my website. I also love antique newspapers, photographs, books, jewelry, furniture, and other personal artifacts from history. I love making collages, I try to draw sometimes, and I couldn’t live without music.
What has been keeping you busy these days? Any ongoing/upcoming projects that you’d like to share with us? Exhibitions you’d like to promote?
I’ve been spending my days falling in love with everything, getting photography stuff organized, dealing with health problems, seeing multiple doctors/specialists, applying to grad school, and working at the Herbarium. My first solo exhibition is coming up in January at one of my favorite places in Madison – Sunroom Café and Gallery!
Any advice that you could give to aspiring photographers?
Express yourself, make people feel something. Seek out inspiration and seek to inspire.
Any last words?
All the photos I’ve included here are analog (taken with my Canon AE-1), some of which were developed and printed by me in the darkroom. Thank you!!
All photos in this feature were provided to Lomography by Margaret Durow.
Related article: Film Photography by Margaret Durow