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FINDING COMMUNITY



IN CONVERSATION WITH LEIGH ANN EDMONDS


Leigh Ann Edmonds is a documentary photographer from a small town in Alabama. Her marriage to a full time working musician and her love of life, adventure and outdoors is often depicted in her personal works. Photography has been a huge part of Leigh Ann's life for over 25 years now and she considers it to be more about a visual journey than a professional destination. Getting out and about meeting people has helped enrich Leigh Ann's sense of connections when it comes to living in her community.


 

Tell us a bit about yourself.


I was born in a small blue collar town of Mount Olive, Alabama, where the majority of the community has a known trade in carpentry, construction, and auto mechanic work.


My family owns a small building supply store where I grew up around a lot of this type of work. I moved off to college and moved around afterwards to larger cities and did a good bit of international travel. I always thought I would not want to return and live in a small town but after life experiences, I realized, this is where I feel most at home. So I am proud to say, I have returned to reside in my small hometown for about nine years now. It just took me moving around to realize there is nowhere else I'd want to be but home.





How did you become interested in photography? What does photography mean to you? Describe your style and how has it evolved over the course of your career? Where or how do you find your inspiration?


I was always active outdoors as a child and had a natural sense of adventure. I can't remember life without some sort of camera from my childhood years.I took pictures because I wanted to share with others some of the things I would experience or see while out exploring and it was also a great way for me to remember moments with friends and loved ones. Over time, my friends started asking me to take their photos when I was around 15. I never intended on becoming a portrait photographer, but with time, I found that portrait photography was enjoyable for me when you could capture the innermost being of someone...overtime, I evolved from taking images because they were pretty to wanting to capture an image with more substance. My knowledge continued to grow over the years on photography from the classes I took to eventually receiving a degree in photography from the University of Alabama. My love of documentary photography didn't really surface until after I graduated from university in 2004 when I was mentored by a photojournalist at a local magazine I interned with.



David McCluskey in his home, 2009.

Your documentary projects depicts a sense of community, focusing on storytelling and pulling the viewer into your own inner thoughts. What do you want your viewers to experience when they look at your images?


I hope that when others view my work that it takes them there, in that moment and connects them with that time, place or person.



What did the act of photographing your projects personally reveal about you? What new connections have you made both personally and with people?


I probably never would have realized this about my work if I would have never started shooting for myself again because for so long, I would predominantly only pick my camera up for client commissions...the whole process of shooting for me again has revealed to me my love of community, family and having a place to belong.


The new connections I've made over the past year from working on recent projects has allowed me to meet and discover new found appreciation for the ranchers, farmers and neighbors I didn't know I had. It reminds me of the old days when people knew their neighbors...getting out, meeting people and speaking with so many others has helped enrich my sense of connections when it comes to living in a community.



Young flag carrier prepares the start of a rodeo in Wilsonville, Alabama, 2021.
The round up of Bronc horses before a rodeo in Wilsonville, Alabama, 2021.


Do you have any favourite memories or moments from when you have been on the road?


Road with the band or just independent travels? Most of my memories from being on the road with the band or independently would be the concept of freedom, no routine, being carefree and spontaneous with my photography and having the opportunity to create new work. I find it's the best way to feel alive, stay inspired and feed my creative spirit.



Young teen swinging at abandoned playground in old mining town of Brookside, Alabama.

You have been doing photography for over 20 years. What are some tips/advice you would give yourself if you started photography all over again?


Most definitely would tell myself to shoot more for me and continue to work on personal projects. I feel I lost the way when I became a professional full time because it was about making a living, creating work that clients wanted and approved of. I was shooting so much for others that when I was off from work, I didn't feel like doing anything photography related. I burned out hard to where I had to find work elsewhere in order to love photography again.



Argument in Italian, Venice, Italy 2010

Do you have any favourite artists/photographers?


I prefer the classic black and white street photographers, such as Elliott Erwitt, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank and just recently discovered and fell in love with Vivian Maier's black and white portrait work. I love work that helps take me back to that moment of a different era. It's like reliving that moment again regardless how much time passes by.


Young girl on ferry to Cumberland Island wearing a GOD IS GOOD mask, 2020.

When you are out shooting - how much of it is instinctual versus planned?


I shoot predominantly on intuition when out exploring with my camera. When I see something that intrigues me, it feels like lightning running through my body and I know right then to take the shot. Sometimes I'm not quick enough and sometimes I dont have the meter set properly or the focus is soft but that is what makes it so much more rewarding when I do grab that shot and get it right.


Does the equipment you use help you in achieving your vision in your photography? (What camera do you use? Do you have a preferred lens/focal length?)


Right now, my equipment is a Nikon D800. It is amazing how quickly gear can become outdated these days...so I don't think it helps my work. It is probably harder because the newer mirrorless cameras allow you to shoot more discreetly. I probably would still be shooting film if digital wasn't so easily accessible these days. I am always the last to swap gear and probably will use this gear until it dies. I can't say I'm overly enthusiastic about the tech side of photography. I predominantly don't use anything over my 50mm. The 20mm, 35mm and my 50mm are my go to lenses right now. I enjoy being able to give the viewer a sense of location with storytelling details that are achieved with the use of a wider lens.


Woman deep in thought, Mexico, 2011.
End of Season, Sunflower Field in Eastaboga, Alabama 2021.
Man reading at Library in New York City, 2008.

In five years, I would love to have the ability to return to full time photography again but with the right clients that embrace realistic documentary portraiture.There are just too many individuals that are so critical of themselves that it takes the joy out of photography for me (they don't want to have wrinkles, they think they look fat, they hate their expressions...I've heard it all). So hopefully, my goal would be to help educate prospective clients on the value of documentary portrait photography with loved ones over the mainstream 'pretty' and 'perfect' portraits.



Are there any special projects you are currently working on that you would like to let everyone know about?


I haven't started this project yet, but would love to document one of my friends running one of the ULTRA trail Marathons we compete in. They have a 27 mile, 50 mile and 100 mile distance category this coming spring of 2022. I competed in the 27 mile race this year and hope to return to document the race scheduled for 2022 . There is so much detail, emotion and grit that goes into these 100 mile races, that I would love to have the opportunity to show others what these individuals are capable of enduring.


“When I am not out photographing, I (like to)…


Run...after my "retirement" from being a full time photographer, I magically discovered the beauty of having free weekends again. I picked up endurance running and have now successfully completed two back to back marathons and countless half marathons. I am currently involved with a local ultra trail running community that I run with regularly."



Thanks so much Leigh Ann!


All photos © Leigh Ann Edmonds

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You can also read a story about Leigh Ann and her life on the road with her musician husband here on The Pictorial-List.