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Escargot Shells Photo © Cynthia Staples
Cynthia Staples : To Define or Not to Define: That is the Question

Words & Images

To Define or Not to Define: That is the Question

By Cynthia Staples

Recently I overheard a friend describing me to others as a nature photographer. And that's true. I love to walk outside in the woods and by rivers snapping photos of birds and bees and of flowers and the trees. I spend a lot of time outside. But I also love to eat so I spend a good amount of time in the kitchen, as well! Over the years, I've learned that those same elements that catch my eyes in the natural world — color, texture, the interplay of light and shadow — they draw my attention as I walk through a culinary landscape.

Spoon Photo © Cynthia Staples

Oh, what sights I have seen, both simple and complex, just in my own kitchen. Sunlight striking a silver spoon. Rosemary growing in a window. Escargot shells gracing a tabletop. Today, I immediately grab my camera and photograph such scenes. I did not always do so. Why? Well, at the time, I too called myself a nature photographer. That's it. Nature. End of story. The great outdoors was my subject, not food. Away my camera was placed as soon as I returned home from one of my nature expeditions. The instinct would be there to take photos in the kitchen but I would always stop myself from seeking out my camera. People were praising my pictures of birds, not requesting images of baking bread no matter how beautifully browned.

Rice Photo © Cynthia Staples

Eventually I realized that "people" were not limiting my creativity. I was the one putting the brakes on my professional growth by narrowly defining who I was and what I photographed. Just as I was often paralyzed by the beauty of light dancing on blue waters, I was similarly affected by sunlight illuminating a slice of fruit. Just as I loved the rich mix of textures composing beach sand, so too was I impacted by the multitude of shapes found in a simple bowl of uncooked white rice. Food was beautiful. I joyfully took pictures of blueberries growing wild in Maine. Why not photograph blueberries spilling across a white plate?

Now, not only am I prepared to take impromptu photographs in the kitchen by keeping my camera accessible, I create scenes as well. There's nothing quite like walking down the fresh produce aisle of the grocery store selecting a few ripe red berries from one bin, and dark greens from another bin, purely for their photographic possibilities. I sometimes select items for their taste as well in hopes that I can respectfully consume my subjects at the end of the shoot. This strategy has worked quite well for my stomach except for the time I purchased three wonderfully orange habanero peppers.

Habanero Peppers Photo © Cynthia Staples

Certainly, it may be necessary on occasion to describe only a small part of one's photographic style or choice of subject matter. But in general I will continue to work on not narrowly defining myself or allowing others to do so. Yes, I am a nature photographer. And, yes, I'm a food photographer. If I decide to migrate to other rooms in the house with my camera, I may become a living room photographer, too. In the end, I am simply a photographer with a wide world to explore, both indoors and outside. •

Next: Ephemeral Beauty, Enduring Inspiration »

© 2011 Cynthia Staples. All rights reserved.

Photo by Cynthia StaplesCynthia Staples is a highly creative writer and photographer living in the Boston area. Her words and images capture moments and memories and weave together inspiring stories for her readers. More »

Updated 4/17/14