We had the good fortune of connecting with Molly Peters and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Molly, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
In my experience, taking risks is a necessary part of life but one that needs to be approached thoughtfully and strategically. There is no growth, progress, or innovation without some risk. I prefer to take calculated risks in both my life and my career, which allows me to develop my work conscientiously.
As a woman and the sole owner of my freelance business, there are risks I need to consider every day. Some are related to my personal safety – I prefer to travel and work alone, and as a photographer, that means I often end up in places where I don’t know anyone, where I am frequently carrying expensive equipment. To mitigate the inherent risks in that practice, there are certain steps I take so that I can still create my work without being held back by fear. In my mid-20s, I began studying self-defense, which has instilled in me an increased awareness of my surroundings and intuition. Other risks are financial, for example weighing when to invest either in equipment or travel to produce my work while also ensuring my overhead is covered.
The last two longform projects I’ve worked on independently required my being accepted into tight-knit communities outside of my own in order to make the photographs. As someone who is inherently shy with strangers, that initial step of introduction feels like an enormous risk, particularly when it’s something I’ve chosen to do on my own, as opposed to being an assignment. There is also the obvious risk in taking on a long-term project without outside financial support. At the end of the day, though, it’s always a worthwhile experience. The biggest risks I’ve taken have also led to profound growth, both personally and professionally.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My photographic work is highly personal, reflecting my own lived experiences and interior emotional landscape. Even the projects I’ve taken on that are more documentary in nature have been personally life-altering, as I’ve been lucky enough to essentially be adopted into the communities I’m photographing. The people I’m working with aren’t subjects in the traditional sense of the word; they’re family. I’ve lived alongside them for weeks or months at a time. While there, I’m not making pictures constantly – I’m also helping with other tasks as needed, including but not limited to writing, repairing tents, cooking, butchering, preparing for and participating in traditional ceremony, running errands, and even babysitting. I’ve been told that my respect for the people I’m photographing is clearly evident in the resulting images, which makes me very proud.
Nothing about getting to where I am today was easy, but I’ve worked consistently for over 12 years to build and maintain a professional network while also developing my artistic practice. My connections have come from many places – attending events, working at portfolio reviews, serving as president of a nonprofit board, meeting editors, curators, and other photographers through my former jobs, and my graduate school experience. It’s been a constant balancing act between working to survive and thrive, while also making time and space to create projects that are important to me.
Along the way, I’ve learned that it’s vitally important to me to be in control of my work and how it is presented to the world, not only because of how deeply personal it is, but also due to the sensitivity of the content. It’s essential to strike the right balance with the message of the accompanying text, to ensure the accuracy and context of the images wherever they appear. I work closely with the people I’ve photographed and other community members to achieve this.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
There are a few day trips I’d take with a friend – the Getty Museum is a fun one for out of town guests, especially if you enjoy lunch in the gardens. I also often bring visitors to Point Dume, my favorite beach in Malibu, which is another great day trip only about an hour away from where I live. After a day on the beach with a picnic lunch, Malibu Seafood is an ideal stop for dinner before heading home. A meal or treats (preferably both!) from Porto’s Bakery is another necessity for anyone visiting who hasn’t eaten there before. There’s a hiking trail near the more-popular Runyon Canyon trail that I used to pass regularly, and I’ve enjoyed bringing friends from out of town there too, for a less crowded hike that still has great views of the whole city. I’m also a big fan of roadtrips, so if time allows, heading into the desert to Joshua Tree and Palm Springs or driving up the coast towards Santa Barbara are fun, short escapes with plenty of hiking trails and opportunities for enjoying beautiful scenery.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I can’t talk about success in my work without acknowledging a deep gratitude and appreciation for the people and communities who’ve trusted me to photograph them and opened their worlds to me. I photographed my friend Ellen McMannis for my MFA thesis project, during a difficult and vulnerable time in her life. A few years later, I spent months living with and documenting the kia’i, protectors of Mauna Kea whose efforts have thus far prevented construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, which would desecrate a place held sacred by Native Hawaiians and damage an already delicate and unique environment. More recently, I’ve spent much of the last year with the members of the Apache Stronghold particularly Dr. Wendsler Nosie Sr, who invited me to document their efforts to save Oak Flat, a highly sacred place for the Apache people, from a proposed copper mine which would destroy this ancient and holy site.
Other: Newsletter (sent quarterly): https://tinyurl.com/mpeters-news
Main photo is taken by Dr. Wendsler Nosie Sr.
Other photos by ©Molly Peters