The likes of Petra Collins and Harley Weir have carved out space in the photography world, not only for women (like everything else, photography is notoriously male-dominated), but for women to discuss the world from our perspective, via imagery. Female photographers everywhere are currently creating a new culture narrative from our perspective.
Enter Natalie Yang, a California-based photographer who is so inspired by her native landscape and the women around her, that she did the thing that felt most natural to her: turned them both into subject matter for her photographs. Her imagery expresses the natural fit between these two natural forms, and here she explains her process, her inspirations – both photographic and otherwise – and why California will always be home.
When and how did you first become interested in photography?
I started shooting on film when I was in high school, at around age 16. Photography was always an interest of mine but it wasn’t until I took a trip to the Mojave desert in the spring of last year that something inside me suddenly realized I couldn’t go a day without my camera in hand. It was during this trip that I shot my first nude portraits and after that it was all I could think about. I’ve always been drawn to people and relationships between people, and I’ve found that photography is a way for me to further explore these things.
Why do you think photography is a powerful creative medium?
Photography is a way to create nearly anything out of a space that already exists. It can be used simply as a form of documentation or as a means of story-telling. Photography is so powerful in my own life because it allows me to communicate my perspective of the world around me. I can share with others how I feel and what I think about through a visual means, and that’s really special.
Which photographers do you admire?
My favorite photographers are Kate Bellm, Jacqueline Harriet, Non Golding, Brigette Bloom, Ren Hang, Nguan, Prue Stent, Petra Collins, Ryan Kenny, Nirrimi and the list goes on but those are my all time favorites.
Who and what are your ongoing influences?
My friends influence my work greatly, they are my muses. The California coast will always play a huge role in my work and creative practice. These two influences have led me to work closely with ideas surrounding the body as a landscape, I find many similarities between the figure and the geography that surrounds me.
You mentioned in your email you “work predominantly with the female figure and the way in which it shapes into its environment”. Can you explain that to me a little bit more?
I have spent the past year exploring the figure in relationship to the environment its placed in. I am compelled to shoot the female figure over the male figure because I am a woman and I find it easier to relate my own body to nature. The body has so many curves and waves and textures just as the earth does, I try to capture that with my work.
You also described your muse as “Sleeping Lady”. Can you tell me a little bit about her and why she’s so influential on your work?
I grew up on Mt. Tamalpais, located in northern California between the beach and the city. I spent so many years exploring every crevice and nook of this sacred place and it is the home of both the happiest and saddest memories of my youth. The silhouette of Mt. Tam is often recognized by its resemblance to a sleeping lady. This place, this woman, was the heart of my childhood. Mt. Tam was my first and original muse. Everything I have created has been shaped by my experiences and inspirations that were born out of this place.
You’re based in Santa Cruz and grew up in Tamalpais, both of which are in California. Can you tell me a little bit about how the Californian lifestyle and the California landscape has affected your work?
The California landscape and lifestyle lie at the center of my creative drive. Everything I shoot revolves around the coast, the Pacific ocean and the forests I’ve grown up around. The California landscape shaped the way I perceive beauty, the way I think about things. I live in a sleepy little beach town where time moves about half as quick as the rest of the world. Life around here has taught me how to calm down.
Right now the discussion about female form and body image has been reignited in quite a big way. What are your thoughts on how women’s bodies are represented by popular culture?
I think that younger women are learning earlier how to be proud of their own bodies, their own sexuality and their own ideas of beauty. I’ve found myself in and inspired by a movement fueled by amazing young women like Petra Collins and Tavi Gevinson who have become role models to so many really young girls. I think there are aspects of popular culture that continue to take advantage of and exploit body image and body ideals, but I try to not to pay attention to those.
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