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A Brief Interview with Noelle McCleaf

SM: Who are you?
NM: Noelle McCleaf (b. 1983, Springfield, Virginia)

SM: What are you?
NM: I’m first and foremost an artist, but I’m also a teacher, a daughter, a sister, and a friend.

SM: When are you?
NM: Living in the anthropocene era, a term used to define the time from which humans propose a significant impact on the Earth’s ecosystems—including mass extinction, climate change, and biodiversity.

SM: Where are you?
NM: For the past five years I’ve lived in Venice, a sleepy tourist town on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

SM: Why are you?
NM: To be a maker, a storyteller, a listener, and a giver.

SM: First and foremost, I hope for the well-being of your mother, her friend, and the land they occupy. By coincidence as I am writing this, The Center for New Beginnings—the setting for your project Evie Lou and Laura Jane—in Myakka City, Florida is currently facing Hurricane Irma. I cannot help but consider then that the name: The Center for New Beginnings is aptly and distressingly appropriate. The subjects of Evie Lou and Laura Jane—your mother and her best friend—as you describe them in your project statement are “a healer and a survivalist” and “a medical intuitive and hospice nurse from the Blackfoot tribe” respectively.

SM: In short, Evie Lou and Laura Jane seem to live in a mutual relationship with the Earth and one another. Their relationship to the Earth is understood as if not healing, then at least self-possessed through the intimate photographs that comprise Evie Lou and Laura Jane—photographs of the two friends embracing one another, embracing tree limbs, water, bananas and other essences of the surrounding landscape. As evidenced by the photographs, it seems as though healing and well-being comes by concordance with one’s surroundings and assurance in that agreement.

SM: Their agreement seems to be the antithesis of the typical anxieties that many of us face as we find ourselves in contention with our environment be it disagreement with peers and co-workers, families and friends, or the expectations we place on extrinsic forces be it traffic lights, WiFi, or the weather to align with our intrinsic motivations.

SM: In most any scenario, central to our well-being seems to be how we align ourselves with our environment and how one responds when our environment does not match our wants or needs. How does one respond to extrinsic forces—whether WiFi or hurricanes—when they do not align with our motivations, our desires, or our needs?

NM: When I spend time with my mother (Evie Lou) and her best friend (Laura Jane) I often have the privilege of participating in their conversations, listening to their stories, and learning their philosophies—one in particular being our need to reconnect with the Earth.

NM: The Center for New Beginnings is a large property in Myakka City, Florida, where Laura Jane lives and where all of the images are created. The house has a large organic garden, and works off of well water. In addition to Laura’s work as a hospice nurse, she also has her own line of organic products, and never puts anything poisonous into the soil, as it is against her beliefs, and it would directly contaminate her own well water. Her lifestyle reflects her deeply held personal beliefs and those of her grandmother, who was a member of the Blackfoot tribe.

NM: For the past decade Evie Lou has studied survivalism. For most, the idea of a survivalist may conjure up images of preppers hoarding food or offbeat reality television. A survivalist, by her definition, should know how to live sustainably—by knowing how to create fire, grow your own food, or follow the tracks of animals.

NM: Before Hurricane Irma, I spent a week frantically throwing all of my belongings into plastic bags (my negatives included, made from plastic, derived from petroleum). I came to the obvious realization that most of us, myself included, have an unhealthy addiction to things. Trying to move and protect all of my belongings exhausted me so thoroughly that I simply left some things unwrapped.

NM: If I’ve learned anything from my subjects, it’s that we humans have a long way to go if we want to continue living on this planet, and we only have to look back a hundred years to understand that we are very capable of living without many of the things we think we “need”, our creature comforts, and we can do so without many of our destructive, wasteful tendencies.