Visual Haiku is a collection of short films featuring the arts, artists, summer storms, backland prairies, racing pigeon, Royal Gorge train rides and photographers such as…

Clair Trotter: Photographer of the Northwest

Claire Trotter Interview:
Interviewed by Christi Collier

Reel # 1

CC       How did it begin?  Your interested in photography?

CT       1;16    I apprenticed in photography in Evanston, Illinois.  I was there for eight years.  It was a studio that handles murals for Marshall Fields, geology slide and armature finishing which was just then beginning.  And we did everything so it was a wonderful apprenticeship.

CC       When was this?

CT       1;54    In the late `30’s,. late `30’s. (pause)  and then actually the reason I left was I went to Disney’s from there and worked in the still camera.  Was in charge of the dark room for still camera.  And then married and that was the end of photography for quiet a while.

CC       When was your first exhibit and where was it?

CT       2;38    It was in a drug store window in Evanston, Illinois.  And uh, that was my first exhibit.

CC       How do you feel now, reflecting back on that first exhibit, and comparing your most recent exhibit and just all the feeling that goes on in the exhibit process but also your growth.

CT       3.08    Oh I think that there has been quiet a change…although in some ways it’s interesting because I could still (today) exhibit some of the work that was in that exhibit.  So that in a sense, the germ of my work was already present and uh, I think that I’ve grown a great deal through just being abet to return to it in the late  `60’s and beginning to be aware of the discipline needed to be able to express what I wanted to express, in black and white.

CC       What was that that you wanted to express?

CT       4.10    I wanted in a way to reduce things to the simplest possible statement.  Where the composition, while important, wouldn’t be the focus of the picture but certainly, would be relevant.  And that it would be possible to, in some way, express the essence of whatever it was that I was working with.  Because I think the feeling of space and of uh, solitude, in a way, is very present in my work.

CC       Your focus is nature photography, why?

CT      5.47    My interest is mainly in nature.  I very seldom take pictures of people.  I just find that’s an area that I’m most comfortable in.   I find that it’s an area where I can communicate with people.

CC       What message are you trying to communicate with your viewer?

CT       6.26    I think the thing that I would like most I would like most in communication is that people begin to see.  That they begin to see the beauty that is around them and through that awareness   to become more caring about the planet.

CC       Would you call yourself an environmentalist and if so why?  Why do you feel that way?

CT        7.01   I am an environmental and I believe that it that it’s a critical time and that we, for the sake of the future, have got to face up to a lot of problems, the we’ve ignored, that we’ve created and I hope through the sensitivity that my work expresses that uh, it will touch people to make them more aware of what they’re experiencing.

CC       Do you think that people come by those feeling natural?  For example, if I was exploring the dune for the first time would I immediately see that things that you’re portraying in your photographic?  Do I carry a lot of stuff around with me that would keep me from immediately recognizing that?

CT       8.18    That’s a hard question to answer because I think that each person… yes true, we carry a lot of baggage with us, and I find that when I enter a new area, it takes me a while to see… to feel my way into an area

CC       Yeah, I think that’s very common for most of us because you go in with at one track mind or y our mind is set on something you’re going to see and you   …

CT       Well you’re experiencing but not really necessarily aware, your feeling but your not really seeing.  You’re aware of may things but uh to respond deeply to something I think takes time. To walk, to look, the light is important, the shapes that you’re experiencing are all part of it and you may be caught by the way sunlight plays on leaves.  So you’re going to respond in your own way and I don’t think on can predict.

CC       I think a lot of people would find it hard to believe that you shoot exactly what you see, that you’re not setting something up, that you’re not putting that reed there, or a piece of seaweed that’s washed upon the shore.

CT       10.28  I think that it takes time to develop your eye. I don’t touch anything; it’s a kind of high game with me.  And I may photograph over the years and uh, find that it eludes me until the moment it does speak.  The picture of skunk cabbage is an example of this.  I have photographed skunk cabbages every spring for the last seven years and finally I have one that I feel shows the beauty of the form of that.  But sometime it’s a onetime picture, other times; I can go as I say, seven years before I find what it is.

CC       After you feel that you’ve made the statement or it’s made the statement for you, do you find you want to shoot it more?  Or do you…

CT       11.52  No, I uh, will then seek out something else. No I find that when I’ve finally made a statement, that satisifie3s me, like the two blades of dune grass, that sweep and make a pattern, I won’t seek that out again.

CC       What attracted you to the dunes here or to this coastline?

CT       12.22  The feeling of space, light, and uh the things that I find in the dunes.  The wood, the different kinds of grasses, there’s a tremendous variety of reeds and grasses.  And the same way with the beach, it’s ever changing.

CC       What’s calling to you know?

CT       12.56  I would like now, because I’ve spent so many years exploring the dunes and the seacoast, I’d like now to spend some time in the dessert.  I think it will be a different kind of light and certainly different forms.  But I’ve yet really to explore that.

CC       Let’s talk about light for a second because light play an important role in your photography…

CT       13.32  Yes, it’s all natural light.  And I find that the early morning light is the best for certain things.  Be late afternoon also because late afternoon until sunset, you get a wonderful gradation in the light and also, uh, shadows, shadows are very important.  So you get a very good grey scale.

CC we talked about the black and white vs. color at the gallery but do you see, because when I’m walking with you, I can sense that you’re able to look at something and compose it in your mind, as it would look in a black and white photograph.

CT       14.31  Mmhmm.  No, I find that now when I walk I’m forever framing… that’s, that’s, a blessing and a tiredness, as our nephew would say, because you’re always framing.  Its just part of looking now.

CC       Yeah, I don’t think that the person not trained, going into more of the technique, the person who’s not trained to see the light or how it’s used, that’s, that’s a part in terms of photograph of appreciating it as an art form that people don’t understand is that everybody can take pictures and just about every person can take a nice picture but there’s something to be said for hitting the right moment, the light, the shadow, all of those.

CT       15.29  No, light is very, very uh, (pause) it’s very demanding in a sense.  You become very aware of light and that’s why from ten o’clock to four o’clock in the afternoon on a sunny day, I find that it’s very difficult.  And I don’t photograph.  I don’t take that time because the light is very intense and it’s flat, in a sense.  That ’s the way I experience it.

CC       You use the words visual haiku to describe your work, tell me how that started and why you feel it describes you.

CT       16.30  I use the term visual haiku because Robert and I have enjoyed Haiku, the Japanese seventeen-syllable verse, for many, many years. It’s a …  there’s always a reference to nature and it invites one, in a sense, to enter into the poem and experience it.  In fact, when we went to Japan on one of our trips, we made the same journey Basho had made and, uh, because we had enjoyed his haiku so much. And, uh, I feel that the work is a kind of poetry, it’s a visual poetry.  So I decided to refer to my work as visual haiku.

CC       It’s…

CT       17.45  It invites the be holder to enter into the picture and to experience something that is uniquely his.  That’ why I don’t like to title the work?

CC       Do you limit your work?

CT       18.06  Yes, I limit my work to editions of twenty-five.

CC       And you’ve said that after your death you want to have the negatives destroyed? Why do you feel so strongly about that?

CT       18.17  Because I feel that other photographers, and an example of this, that led me to this decision, was that I saw prints of Half Dome that Ansel Adams had shot and it’s a beautiful photograph, but these were students using his negatives after his death, I understand he gave permission and I felt very strongly that his students should be doing there own work, making there own statement instead of reproducing his.

CC       Okay, let’s stop.