Cicely Voigtlander Williams is an amazing photographer. She has an ability to capture moments of family and childhood that are both intimate and familiar. Together with her husband Dan Williams they run Rusted Van Photography out of Northbend, Washington.
What I love about her work is that you can feel her fondness for the subjects she captures in her photos. Her style is immediately recognizable, but it is always evolving as she works to grow and change her craft. The result in constantly stunning images.
In our conversation she explains why it pays to bargain shop, how photography has changed her outlook on life, and describes the challenges of balancing motherhood, and artistic pursuits.
Cicely was kind enough to participate in the following interview:
How long have you been a photographer? I have been actively shooting with artistic intent for almost 2 years now, but I feel like I have always had the heart of a photographer – seeing the beautiful moments around me, but not knowing how to capture it they way I saw it. My husband, Dan, is such a wonderful photographer that I really left it all up to him for our first 13 years together…then it dawned on me that I have a photographic voice and vision to share too!
What kind of gear do you use? Since my husband has always had an interest in photography, I already had a robust collection of cameras and lenses at my finger tips by the time I decided to give it a go…so I won’t even attempt to list them all out here. But, for the most part you will find me using our Olympus E-5 with a 14-54mm lens for my everyday photography. I love the way the wide lens allows me to capture the entire scene before me. For portrait work, my favorite is an 85mm Nikon lens we picked up at a garage sale!! It’s actually broken and stuck at a 1.8 aperture, but that’s OK by me because it is pretty killer at 1.8!
How did you discover photography? I very specifically recall being in Madrid, Spain while studying abroad and popping some black and white film into my little point and shoot, then spending the day walking around trying to photograph all of the beautiful structures and moments of city life occurring around me, but I ended up disappointed with the results and gave up before I really even began. I didn’t do much with it (see question #1) for years, but once my second child was born I finally decided to give it a try again! And I am the type of person that gets into something 110%, this was no exception.
How would you describe your style? Definitely a “documentarian”. I have been a crazy, crafty scrapbooker since I was in high school, but I had always previously relied heavily on the words and journaling to tell the complete story. Now I realize how much a photo can tell without any words at all, and I love that! And I love how it can work for portrait photography as well, the connection and the story of a person or a family doesn’t mean looking at the camera and saying “Cheese”…in fact, my most cherished photos don’t look at all that way! Otherwise, I want my photos to be timeless with bright, clean colors and crisp, contrasting black and whites.
What does photography mean to you? As a mom, and a stay-at-home mom at that, I find myself getting VERY bogged down by the monotony and details of the day to day life. The daily routines, the tantrums, the clutter, the mess, the loneliness…it’s easy to lose focus on the end goal. I find that daily photography of our lives helps me to “see” my life in a different way. I know that life won’t always look like this, my kids won’t always be little and need me like they do now, and I want to remember how it felt while I was in it. It’s not glamorous, but it is beautiful and these images help me recognize that.
What makes you reach for your camera? Right now I am 300+ days into a “Project 365” in which I have committed to taking a photo every day. It was easily the best thing I have ever done for my photography, but I admit there are some days when I reach for my camera just for the sake of getting something. Anything. Surprisingly, once I have picked up the camera and force myself to use it I suddenly can see something worth photographing. Last night was a great example…already 8pm and with no daily photo, I picked up the camera to photograph my son while he was sitting at his desk working on homework and as soon as I looked through the lens I realized that the light of his desk lamp perfectly lit his face and hair, and he fit so perfectly in this small child-sized desk, and he was so focused (which is rare for him). If I hadn’t picked up my camera, not only would I not have that brief moment to remember 20 years from now, but I wouldn’t have even recognized or appreciated it at that exact time either!
Is there any subject matter that you off limits to you? If so, why? I am trying to find the balance between respecting my growing children’s privacy, and documenting the real, raw moments of childhood. Especially in today’s age of social media, I want to be sensitive to what goes out there and recognizing that it could end up in places I don’t feel comfortable with. And there are times when I struggle with being a mommy…comforting them when they need comforting, etc vs. photographing these poignant glimpses in their lives. I never want to sacrifice their dignity in the name of my art.
What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos? A fancy camera does not make a fancy photographer…and conversely, a “budget” camera does not make a terrible photographer. If you learn how to use the equipment you have well, you can still take great images. That being said…there is a reason professional photographers use professional equipment, and I would not turn down a full-frame camera with a few nice lenses if anyone offered them to me!
What is one question nobody has ever asked you—that you wish they asked you? Maybe, if they were willing to make it happen for me…”What is on your photography “bucket list?”. My husband and I are dipping our toes into wedding photography, and I am in love with the beautiful work of Ben Sasso and Benj Haisch. I would love to photograph a beautiful elopement in the forest, or something along those lines…nothing too posed, or formal in the traditional sense of wedding photography. I would also love, love, love to photograph a natural, home birth. Anyone interested? ;)
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? Shoot what you love and you will love what you shoot. If your photographing something because somebody else does it, or because that is what you feel pressured to photograph…it will never be as good at photographing the thing that you really, truly LOVE to photograph.
You can view more of Cicelys work on her site rustedvanphotography.com