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LOUISE RUSSELL: Ways of Knowing

I acknowledge that the land where these photographs are taken and the plants collected is the traditional territory of the Kumeyaay.

Come for a walk with me and see and feel and get to know this place, my family’s property in the high desert backcountry of San Diego. With my camera and plant field press we’ll wander through the oaks, sage, grassland, and chaparral with a backdrop of cowgirl mountains and expansive sky. Most of my photography is done here where my grandparents had their cattle ranch the first half (plus some} of the 20th century, where my mother grew up, where I played as a child and still play today. It’s my sacred place, my paradise and my storm.

I walk with the many spirits here–the Native American Kumeyaay, the 1870s settlers, family members, and the more than-human world, the air, plants and animals. They seep out of the ground and float around me as the land remembers and expresses the past and poses questions for its future. As my meandering mind roams from my ancestors and the Native Americans, to the oak trees dying from drought and Golden Spotted Oak Borer, to the intoxicating fragrance of sage brush, this place tells me its secrets, and laughs and cries with me.

I photograph when the land grounds me in the present and I feel its heartbeat and sense its breath. We dance. Memories and the future become the present. I lose the human-centered world and open to engaging with the biosphere. I am part of nature. I don’t own it. Caught in the spell of these sensations, I photograph and collect the plants and their seeds to save them from an uncertain future.

I resist my culture’s settler colonialism and capitalist drivers of land use that separates humans from nature. Making photographs renews my oneness with nature and the value of being a steward of the land and working to slow the climate crisis challenges. Getting to know and love a place may be the essential thing needed for us to save it, to change our ways.

Wanting to visually translate how I experience the land – spiritually, emotionally, artistically, and scientifically – led me to pair the photographs with botanical specimens and short written pieces, putting the spiritual and the physical together to express my relationship with this land.

Louise Russell