Meet Catherine Arcolio: making poetry out of pictures

Submitted a year ago
Created by
Tom Haushalter

Since we can’t always be basking in some breathtaking Upper Valley vista or walking among its flora and fauna—because we would be—fortunately we have Catherine Arcolio, resident DailyUV nature photographer, poet and keeper of the blog Wonderment, who reminds us that such sublime beauty finds you in the most unlikely places. Lucky us, it finds us every day in the DailyUV feed.  

How did you land in the Upper Valley?

I had been visiting the Upper Valley for many years, relaxing in the beauty and gentler pace of life. When the opportunity arose for me to move from Boston to be closer to family I jumped at the chance. 

The Upper Valley is such a magical place. Geographically it is spectacular—the river, the valley, the mountains, the palisades. I love that it borders two states. The college brings a diversity of people and ideas. There is an enormous amount of creative enterprise and energy. Being able to live in nature, in the quiet, with activities attuned to the seasons—for me it is paradise.

What inspired you to begin photographing your chance encounters with nature?

When I first moved here I was awed by how beautiful it is. I still am. I remember marveling at the lack of trash. In the city, I seemed to wade through trash and I never saw my neighbors cleaning up the street like happens here. 

In July 2011, I began a daily practice of creating an image and a micro-poem as an act of gratitude for living in this beautiful place. I didn’t know it when I started, but combining an image with a small poem is an art form called ekphrastic poetry, which has roots back to Homer’s The Iliad. I just wanted people who didn’t lived in this wonderful place to be able to experience a little of what I am so fortune to have. 

I started a blog on WordPress called Leaf and Twig and have posted every day since that day in July. The beauty of the Upper Valley resonates. Leaf and Twig has 22,000 followers from all over the world, and a lovely community has grown there. I am so pleased to be able to share my practice of gratitude with the Daily UV’s readers.

turning heads / the maple / in her red dress

Your pictures are clearly made with a poet’s eye. What’s your advice for a young photographer hoping to capture the sublime?

Don’t worry about having a fancy camera. The things that make a great shot are the light and the composition. So it is really about your eye more than the equipment.  And you can make a lot of adjustments to both those elements when editing your photos. 

Spend time really looking at the photos you take and experimenting with how you can improve them. Spend even more time looking at other’s photographs. 

Have some photographers who are your idols. (Two of mine are Imogen Cunningham and Fay Godwin.) Study their work and use them as teachers. 

Always keep your camera with you. The sublime rarely keeps appointments; mostly it sneaks up and surprises you.  

Do you have a favorite place in the Upper Valley to bring your camera?

I work as a private gardener so I have access to these marvelous places that I know intimately over time as I tend them. As a gardener I am attentive to small changes, new growth, evidence of bugs—the sort of small detail that often leads me to a wonderful image. 

When I am tending and designing landscapes, I spend a lot of time just looking. Looking to see what is missing or what there is too much of, or what needs space. Often when I am doing that kind of thoughtful looking, I’ll see an image I want to capture. It seems like it is more that the images find me than I find them. It’s about being open and ready. 

In the winter months I’ll go on drives and hikes with my camera, just exploring. I might be walking my dog on the same path I always do, and every day there is something new to see. That’s the wondrousness of nature. So I guess my favorite place is wherever I am at the moment.

serene in uncertainty / possibilities tumble / into the unknown

Okay, I have to ask about your experience as a comic (according to your bio). Stand-up? Can we catch you at an open mic sometime?

No, you won’t catch me at an open mic. I was an improvisational comedian with a group called Faultline in San Francisco during the 1980s comedy heyday. That was one wild and wonderful decade. In the Tibetan Book Of The Dead, humor is described as “making space where there is no space.” That’s what I try to do with my images, not that they are funny, but that they offer space—to live, reflect, rest—a reprieve from the pressures of life, a place for connection and recognition.

Keep a sense of Wonderment in your day. Subscribe to Catherine's blog.

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