She has published several books in collaboration with Terry and has been the recipient of many distinguished honors and awards. Her images can be found in private collections and have been showed widely in innumerable exhibits.
She and Terry are highly regarded as an effective photo workshop team, though their busy schedules limit their availability. In addition to their workshops with Visionary Wild, they teach an annual workshop at Lamar Buffalo Ranch in Yellowstone National Park.
Mary Liz Austin Q&A
What motivates your work?
At the heart of things I am a storyteller. I create a relationship with my photographic subjects and try to tell a story about that relationship. As a photographer the trick is to reveal the subtleties and depth of the three-dimensional world in the two-dimensional medium of the captured image. I strive to be an honest witness in this process.
What skills/qualities are most important?
Stillness and an open mind are both extremely important in my work. Although I plan to photograph at a particular location I usually don’t know what my exact subject will be. I must have the right frame of mind in order to allow the conversation between me and my subject to reveal itself.
What was your biggest break professionally?
I was introduced to the world of photography by my husband, Terry Donnelly. I consider this to be an amazing break professionally because early on I met other photographers (Willard Clay, Carr Clifton, Jack Dykinga, Larry Ulrich, Jeff Foott, George Ward, etc.) and observed how they worked. Because of this I was able to learn quickly, find my own photographic “voice”, and hone my craft. I am grateful to these mentors and am proud to now be considered one of their colleagues.
How do you break out of a creative block?
Walking, sleeping, gardening all help to soothe the creative beast. If I am somewhere and feel there is something “speaking” to me but I just don’t see it, I will walk away for awhile, make sure I have eaten, watch the light change on the subject or admire the subject for what it is and not try to photograph
Who are your most significant influences, and why?
Terry has been an immense influence because he continues to play, explore and challenge himself in all aspects digital photography. From the fieldwork to the digital capture to the digital processing, he takes on new challenges with an enthusiasm that I find contagious.
George Ward is another photographer I admire. He stays in one location for days or even weeks, really immersing himself in the place, waiting patiently for the conditions to become magical. His approach to photography has a spiritual quality.
Bruce Jackson has a lovely eye for the subtleties of nature. Because he photographs for prints he is quite particular about his shot selections. His approach is more conservative than mine (I shoot a lot for stock) and I find that thinking about being in his shoes helps me focus my attention differently.
I did not initially fall in love with photography. I grew to love photography during my affair with my Wista 4x5 field camera; it was what we created together. The Wista was the perfect instrument for me to learn photography as it was heavy and cumbersome; it was antiquated, stubborn and limiting. But it was also reliable, powerful, simple and straightforward in design. It was through this camera that I became aware of the expanse of nature. The gift of this camera was that it slowed me down and made me think about each image. Each shot was a commitment. It enabled me to establish an intimate relationship with my subject. I only recently made the switch to digital. Even though digital offers lightness and flexibility I am grateful for the connection I had with my Wista because it taught me the slow deliberate meditative dance photography can be.
Where would you go back to?
I always want to return to the place I most recently visited. As I leave a location I get the feeling that I am driving away from a good friend who I know I may not see for a while. I feel a strange sense of nostalgia as I reminisce about the light of a place and the subjects that I interacted with. And, as with a visit with a good friend, I want to continue the conversation and capture the moments that I didn’t quite get.
Why are you excited to be working with Visionary Wild?
I am excited about the attention to photography itself. Although the programs are international in scope, the emphasis is still about seeing what is in front of you, wherever you are.
What are your greatest strengths as a teacher and workshop leader?
I think that I am able to put my ego aside and help students capture what they see through the lens. So I love to be in the field with the students working on composition as well as demonstrating to them in the classroom the editing and digital workflow.
What are your favorite things about teaching?
Setting the hook! I think that people benefit greatly by having ways to express themselves creatively in their lives. I try to teach people to go from unconscious photography to conscious photography; to think about studying some scene or object carefully and create a photograph from their inner voice. When a student realizes that they have the power to express themselves through photography, not just shoot pictures, I can see the hook get set.
How did you get your start in photography?
Initially I had no intention of being a photographer. I was working on my Master’s thesis in Nutrition and was able to travel with Terry on his photo shoots. I loved the travel and became enchanted with light. I became quite skilled with the light meter and after five years of watching Terry my opportunity arose. One day we were scouting in the Smoky Mountains and I thought a particular field in Cade’s Cove was beautiful and photogenic. Terry stepped away from his camera and then smiled and walked away. Although I was a puddle of insecurity I took the image. The camera was a large format Wista and I discovered that I loved it and purchased my own that same year. That image sold to a client and my hook was set.
How do you find ways to take your own work in new directions?
This is a challenge for me because we photograph for our publishers/clients and their needs, so we tend to photograph for them. One escape for me is to do garden photography. Vashon Island has exceptional private gardens and the owners have been gracious in opening up their gardens for me to photograph.
The changing technological landscape of photography moves my work in new directions as well. I have fought this because I do not consider myself to be a technogeek but I have found that digital photography gives me an expanded palette for expression.
The opportunities I have had to teach have also pushed my work in new directions. It helps me to re-experience the newness of photography and see with the “beginner’s mind”.
What do you think is the most important role for photography today?
To foster creativity. When we all find ways to slow down and pay attention and be creative we help create a better world.
My images are featured in numerous calendars, books, cards and magazines as well as corporate reports and brochures for environmental organizations and wildlife protection agencies. Clients include Sierra Club, Audubon, Hallmark, National Wildlife Federation, Nature Conservancy, National Geographic, National Wildlife Federation, American Art Resources, Brown Trout Publishers, Horizon and Alaska Air Magazines.
Books using exclusive collections of images in collaboration with photographer Terry Donnelly include:
Wild Seattle: a Celebration of the Natural Areas in and around the City. © 2004 published by Sierra Club Press
California Wild: Preserving the Spirit and Beauty of Our Land. © 2004 published by Voyageur Press
Oregon: Preserving the Spirit and Beauty of Our Land. © 2003 published by Voyageur Press
Washington: the Spirit of the Land. © 1999 published by Voyageur Press. Benjamin Franklin Award winner.
The National Parks in Washington, Washington State Convention Center, October 2010 through January 2011. A fine art exhibition of prints celebrating the beauty and diversity of National Park Service units in Washington State by seven resident professional photographers renowned for capturing exceptional views of the natural world.
The Barn Show Invitational, June 2011 Blue Heron Art Center, Vashon Island, WA
Partners in Art, April 2011, Blue Heron Art Center, Vashon Island, WA
Inner Vashon and Outer View, July, 2009, Blue Heron Art Center, Vashon, Island, WA
Random Acts of Kindness, January – March 2009, Silverwood Gallery, Burton, WA
Honors and Awards
Nature’s Best Photography Collection – 10-Year Best of the Best Collector’s Edition of 100 best images over 10 years © 2006
Nature’s Best International Photography Awards 2003, Highly Honored in the Landscapes Category. Image exhibited at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
Mother Earth, Through the Eyes of Women Photographers and Writers, Second Edition, Sierra Club Books © 2002
Teaching & Testimonials
In addition to teaching with Visionary Wild, Mary and Terry teach a yearly landscape photography class in Yellowstone National Park through the Yellowstone Association at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch.
Quotes from students:
I found Terry and Mary to be incredibly generous of themselves and their time and tireless in the field helping every class participant. Kudos to both!
B.Z. Yellowstone June, 2011
Mary and Terry were engaging, humorous and hands on.
B. E. Yellowstone June, 2011