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Photography with Vanessa Franking
by Lionessa

Published on February 11, 2021

The Everywhen Project exists to support art and the creators of art, on and off the playa. Our first efforts to do so is to dedicate time and space to artists who have journeyed to the desert for “off season” gatherings such as Juplaya and Seplaya. Our third Artist Showcase in this series features the stunning photography work of Vanessa Franking. We caught up with her recently and got a chance to learn more about the artist and the magic she creates.

EWP: Can you give us a little background on you and your art?

VF: I have been a photography enthusiast for years and really got more interested in improving my skills at TTITD in 2015, by rooming with two fellow amazing women photographers. Sometime in the 2017-2018 time frame, I started gravitation towards night photography and especially Milky Way and landscape photography. The first time I shot the milky way properly and saw what the camera saw in the replay, I was hooked. At a workshop in Menorca, Spain in 2019, I discovered Tube Light Painting, and now I pretty much specialize in night photography based on light painting and combining light painting with landscape and Milky Way photography.

EWP: How do you define your style?

VF: Photography in general. I shoot a lot of Milky Way with landscapes and lately, focusing on light painting scene creation. These may contain the Milky Way, art pieces, costumes, special locations, anything that makes an interesting scene.

This is me doing what I love. This shot took about 6 hours, I shot the foreground and light painting in the blue hour, just after sunset. I am holding the trigger in my left hand, and my husband painted the circle behind me. I left the tripod in place while I went to shoot a couple hundred photos of the Neowise comet, all the while wearing this long white dress in the red sand of Alabama Hills. I woke up to shoot the Milky Way later, and was delighted I got a shot of me looking up right at the Galactic Center, once I blended the photos. This one night netted me lots of fun photos and one wrecked ball gown.

EWP: Do you work with special equipment? Playa dust is brutal on gear. What is it about the Black Rock Desert that draws you in to risk all that expensive hardware?

VF: The darkness is the draw for night sky and Milky Way photography. But I go back for the feeling I have when I smell that sacred dust, memories of TTITD, yes, but also, I feel a strong connection to the land. I suppose memories from what I have seen out on the playa free me to play and imagine and that helps creativity. As for gear, I am pretty good at protecting my gear, which is just camera gear and some light toys. And flashlights, lots of flashlights.

EWP: How many times were you out there in 2020?

VF: 6, I think. Maybe 5.

EWP: Do you have a special memory of something that happened in the desert, related to your work?

VF: For Julpaya 2020, I told a few friends we would be there, off to ourselves in the corner we can often be found camping, and three sets of friends came by. Two sets of friends camped with us, at safe distances, and 2 of these friends were pregnant. Having just light painted my pregnant daughter in law the week before, I suddenly had a pregnant lady light painting niche! Now all those bellies are beautiful babies!

EWP: How much planning can go into a single image?

VF: A lot. An incredible lot. I planned a Milky Way arch over some ancient standing stones in Portugal, because I have an interest in very ancient ruins/ piles of rocks. So the planning involved: getting to Portugal the week of the new moon when the arch is low in the sky (a 1-2 week window of the year) find out how to get to these stones (google maps works but most cool things are on private property and access can be difficult at 3 in the morning in a country where you don’t speak the language), get a place to stay, find a way to walk to the stones in the dark, and get a clear sky. These were all miracles, and I allowed myself to fail, but I did get the shot! However, I find I have more miracles of coincidence, and happy accidents. The best part is meeting fellow night owls outside at 3-4 in the morning standing around in the cold air going snap..snap…snap. Or meeting a lady walking her dog on the beach and asking her if she would meet me back at the water’s edge at sunset in a ball gown and wade out into the sea with me. And her saying YES!

VF: This one took quite a lot of planning and pacing off distances. This was Michael Benisty’s work he brought to the playa in October. He had texted me to come out to light paint him with his work, which I did, and it just happened the full moon was going to rise behind the piece, which is called RISE. I spent a good bit of time planning this shot and I had about 1 minute to shoot it before the moon moved (it actually moves quite fast). I had to be about a kilometer away, and the piece shoots fire. A LOT of fire, so I had to wait until there was no fire to get this moon without blowing out the whole shot. This took lots of curse words, and I’m not too happy with the result, but it is pretty cool.

EWP: What are you looking for when deciding which image is going to represent your signature work?

VF: Awesomeness. Or a great story, like the Portugal stones. Perhaps making a new friend.

EWP: What drives you to create art? What is it that makes creating these images worth all the time and effort?

VF: Growth. Learning. The excitement of seeing something cool in the camera replay. And meeting other folks that shoot at night.

EWP: Where can we see more?

EWP: Thank you Vanessa for taking the time to share your beautiful talents with us. You truly make magic!!

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