Anna Beeke is a freelance documentary and events photographer based out of Brooklyn, NY. She is a graduate of the International Center of Photography’s Photojournalism and Documentary Photography certificate program and is currently pursuing her MFA at the School of Visual Arts.
What forces lured you into the forest for this new project?
‘That’s a good phrase you use—lured into the forest— because I am interested in exploring exactly that question in my new body of work: what draws people into the forest, what kind of encounters happen there, what do we leave behind? But to return to your question more specifically: before I was born, my parents lived in Seatlle. I was conceived in Washington State, but I grew up in Washington, DC, and I had never been to the Pacific Northwest. This is going to sound fanciful but recently I had been struck by the compulsion to go to the place where I began life and the conviction that if I did, I would surely find something there. I guess I found the forest.
‘I rented a car spent a week alone on the road, mostly in the San Juan Islands and the Olympic Peninsula. I was experiencing a lot of anxiety about life and photography and what would be the next project, and it wasn’t until I entered the Hoh and Quinalt rainforests that all of that melted away, I felt a sense of peace and magic, and I began photographing the forest and the encounters I had within it.’
There is so much myth and folklore around the forest. What are some of your inspirations for this work?
‘Well, I grew up on the Brothers Grimm and the Andrew Lang Fairy Books and as a young girl I was always trying to write my own fairytales, as well. The forest plays a major role in the majority of these stories: as a place of enchantment, the landscape of an epic journey or the fulfillment of a quest, but also as the unknown, a dark and dangerous place outside of normal society where anything can happen.
‘Many cultures have myths about forests and the creatures that live there, such as the Dryads of Greek mythology, or elves, which can be found in the mythologies of several regions. I am interested less in specific tales and more in the perceived mystery and magic of the forest, and how these ideas have been constructed in our collective consciousness through myth and fairy tales. My working method follows the structure of many of these fairy tales: I go into the forest in search of adventure, the unknown, and chance encounters with strangers, and my experiences in the forest become not myth or written tale, but the images in this body of work, which are still also firmly grounded in reality as well as magic.’
Because I know you, I can see traces of you in the pictures. Is that leading towards something that will be a more pronounced articulation of self portraiture?
‘Because this work is made in an intuitive and experiential way, I can’t say with absolute certainty what it’s leading towards. I’ve never worked much in self-portraiture before, and I’m a bit shy of inserting myself (visibly, at least) into my projects, but I did begin to experiment with that here; perhaps I was feeling a more personal connection to the landscape and how it was wrapped up in my genesis. In fact, when I went on this trip, I had recently watched Agnes Varda’s Les Plages d’Agnes in film class at SVA. Varda has a phrase that stuck with me, something like: “If we open up people, we find landscapes – if you opened me up, you’d find beaches.” I kept thinking: “If you opened me up, you’d find forests.”
‘I come from a more photojournalistic training and I’ve always had serious misgivings about going onto someone else’s territory and photographing them, though I’ve done it quite a bit. I’ve also had trouble photographing my territory, as in making a project that is completely and explicitly self-referential. The forest, to me, is neutral territory; it is everybody’s forest. In my mind this makes it the perfect meeting.’