Missy Prince is the kind of photographer who turns the overlooked or unassuming into something infinite. Her photographs have a calming effect, each image has a delicate surface tension and a subtle sense of humor. We thought we’d like her in person too – and jumped at the opportunity to chat about life and photography, and whatever comes in between.
AHB: Where are you from, and where do you live?
MP: I grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but I’ve lived in Oregon most of my adult life.
How did you get started in photography?
Various cameras came and went over the years, starting with a Pentax SLR in high school, but it wasn’t until I found the Olympus XA that my serious interest started. A friend of mine had one and the spontaneous photos he took with it opened my eyes to possibilities I hadn’t considered before. Having a camera that fit in my pocket made all the difference in keeping me engaged.
I read that you have quite a collection of records when doing research. I don’t know why, but looking at your photos, I sense you are a big Skynard fan. Am I right?
Not really. I mean, they’re okay. Free Bird, Tuesday’s Gone, and Simple Man are great songs, but I can never get through an entire record of theirs without getting bored. I’d rather scratch my Southern Rock itch with The Allman Brothers or early ZZ Top. I will say I was once moved to tears by Free Bird. When I was a kid I used to go to horse camp in Michigan. Some kids cried when they got dropped off but I loved it so much I cried when I had to leave. One summer on the last day of camp I was sitting on my bunk thinking about saying goodbye to it all – the woods, the horses, the different way of living, the counselors I thought were cool. A radio was playing Free Bird. It struck a chord with my sadness and I cried my ten year old eyes out.
I definitely get the feeling of a modern Stephen Shore or William Eggleston when looking at your work. Are they big influences? If not, who are the major ones?
Eggleston was the first photographer I learned about. His photos helped me realize the potential of the everyday. I always noticed little visual details, but I don’t think I realized how those observations might contribute to a photo until I saw his work. He was an influence in the beginning but not so much anymore, though I can’t help but feel his presence when I am shooting in the Mississippi Delta.
I struggle a little bit with my attraction to old things, but I like small towns and they are usually a little behind the times. At least landscapes are timeless.
I was briefly fascinated with Shore’s Uncommon Places for the postcard quality of the photos. His photos that have an expansive yet minimal view of streets and buildings probably contributed to my formal sense. Those guys definitely nudged me into the mundane approach to photography.
But I would say the biggest influence is Wim Wenders. His book Once is probably my favorite photo book of all time. I love Danny Lyon, William Gedney, and Joseph Szabo too. Films are also a big influence. Slow ones that have a lot of space and a sense of realism.
Sometimes I forget that your photos are from this decade. If this guy wasn’t texting I would have no idea.
Yeah, that kind of bugs me about myself. I struggle a little bit with my attraction to old things, but I like small towns and they are usually a little behind the times. At least landscapes are timeless. I can’t be accused of nostalgia when photographing nature.
How do you feel about Portland absolutely exploding right now?
I have some resentment about it. I hesitate to discuss it because I’ve had this conversation a lot in the last year and I’m ready to move on to acceptance. It used to be cheap and gritty, but it’s rapidly becoming expensive and slick. Portland is a brand now. A cartoon, almost. I don’t mind people moving here. I moved here from somewhere else too, but the type of people who are coming are driving up the cost of rent and making it difficult to live a laid back simple creative life.
Did you study photography in school?
No. I never wanted to mix academia and art. It seemed like it would spoil the fun.
Does philosophy or literature play a role in your work at all?
Not directly, but my interest in all of them orbits around a curiosity about the world and the way people live. I guess there is a kind of literary force driving me. I’m not really trying to tell a story but I am trying to hint at something. A photo can work like a sentence that makes you see beyond what is written. It is literal and fantasy-inducing at the same time. This dual nature of photography gives it great persuasive power.
A photo can work like a sentence that makes you see beyond what is written. It is literal and fantasy-inducing at the same time. This dual nature of photography gives it great persuasive power.
I read that you make a living from gardening. Does that intersect with photography in any way?
One of my clients, an eighty four year old colonel, has commissioned me to take his portrait a few times, but the garden didn’t factor into it. He just wanted photos of himself in various uniforms for his grandkids. I’ve thought about possible projects but when I am working I don’t really have time to stop and mess around with photos, and when I am done working I kind of just want to be done. I think there is some potential there, though. Maybe one day.
What role does the darkroom play in your photography?
It played a huge role when there was still a color darkroom in Portland. I printed every week and it was relatively easy to stay apace with my shooting momentum. That darkroom closed last December so now I drive two hours to Evergreen College in Olympia, Washington. I can’t print everything I want because I can’t get up there nearly as often as I’d like. I have to be more selective and I’m amassing quite a backlog. It’s driving me crazy. I don’t want to give up printing, but I’m realizing I have to give up my old workflow. Luckily there is a great lab here in Portland called Blue Moon Camera and Machine that makes beautiful non-digital machine prints. I have them print what I can’t. They are total analog snobs and I don’t know what I would do without them.
Social media is pretty much the only way people see my work, so it impacts the viewing aspect almost one hundred percent. I can’t really say how it affects the work itself.
You have amassed an insane flickr following. How does social networking impact your work?
Social media is pretty much the only way people see my work, so it impacts the viewing aspect almost one hundred percent. I can’t really say how it affects the work itself. There is definitely a relationship between the evolution of my work and people’s responses over the years, but I can’t say to what degree. When I first started posting photos I got a lot of encouragement from it. It’s possible that I might not still be photographing if there hadn’t been such a reaction. Now it is in my blood and I would do it even if no one saw it.
Do you sell prints?
I do. I have a Big Cartel site.