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Call of the Wild

Cig Harvey’s photographs are mystical elixirs in which fleeting natural moments mingle with the mundane.

Wisteria, Camden, Maine, $4,500. / Courtesy photo

The day we spoke, Cig Harvey was up at 4 a.m. to capture her subject outside at dawn—a massive white cake that she and her daughter, Scout, had baked and covered in cherries the night before. “By the time I finished shooting, the cake was halfway down the river,” Harvey laughs, whose shoots tend to turn into adventures. “Then I heard a rustling, turned to see the back end of a skunk ready to spray, screamed, and ran home; it was hilarious.”

The resulting image will be beautiful, achingly so, its luxurious color another character in the composition. And then there’s the underlying context, the duality of the brutal and the beautiful that drives the photographer, who lives and creates in rural Maine. “The idea of cakes seems fluffy, but cakes have a complicated past,” she says. “They became commonplace because of sugar, which carries the weight of colonialism.”

From Harvey’s book Blue Violet. / Courtesy photo

This newer work is steeped in history but, like all of Harvey’s work, is meant to immerse the viewer in the here and now. She wants you to pay attention, to live with eyes wide open, to absorb the riots of color, the explosions of light. “I make pictures of things that make me gasp,” Harvey says. “I want to evoke that same feeling; I want the viewer to halt, too.”

Harvey carries her camera everywhere—props, too. And she seizes opportunity because nature is a time bomb and conditions don’t re-occur. On a camping trip for a friend’s 40th birthday, she packed a pink trench coat that ended up on her friend Jesse, who stood barefoot at the water’s edge. “The magical light and deep fog elicited that atmosphere,” Harvey says. “Behind me, six other women were laughing, drinking bloody marys.”
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