If the photo exhibit Brenda Petrella is installing Thursday at the Norwich Public Library is as interesting as the story of what brought her to outdoors photography, it's going to be terrific.
Petrella was trained as a molecular biologist and worked as a cancer biologist and in biosafety. Then she got her first digital single-lens reflex camera for her 40th birthday and -- as she puts it on her website -- "everything changed." Now she works as an outdoors photographer, with a goal of helping others connect with the natural world of which we are part.
Her exhibit at the library officially opens Friday between 5 and 6:30 with a wine and cheese reception, and will remain on display through Oct. 31.
I was intrigued, so I emailed her a few questions.
How does your background in science influence your photography?
What I love about photography is that it is as much a science as it is an art. My approach to learning and advancing my photography has been very similar to how I approached my studies as a cancer researcher. For example, when I'm learning a new technique, I test it out in the field, collect the data (the images), and analyze the data, which then informs me on how to best conduct the next "experiment". I really enjoy the process of problem solving, and in photography when you have a particular image in mind, you need to figure out how to make that image before you push the shutter button.
Brenda Petrella (from her website)
How do you, yourself, try to connect with the natural world every day?
I am fortunate that I now work from home and have the flexibility in my schedule to get outside every day. I love working with my hands, and so I spend a lot of time doing yard work, gardening, and taking care of our pet cows. However, I believe the key to reconnecting with the natural world isn't achieved simply by spending more time outside. I believe we need to appreciate the sounds, smells, colors, textures, etc., that nature has to offer and also to witness nature's resilience. So, whether I'm mucking cow stalls, going for a hike, or doing photography, I try to be sure to take a few moments to appreciate and notice the beautiful place in which we live and to not take it for granted.
What's a simple thing people could do, every day, to make that connection?
Before I started doing photography more seriously a couple of years ago, I rarely found time to get outside for a hike or bike ride or some such. I was too consumed by my career and had lost all sort of work-life balance. In trying to correct that scale, I found that if I just gave myself 10 minutes outside and really tried to be present for those 10 minutes, that my stress level would come down for that day. I would walk my dogs, and instead of trying to reply to emails or stress about my to-do list, I would instead try to "see" nature's beauty and appreciate it. It could be something as simple as some dew drops on a leaf or the morning light coming through some tree branches. These little moments helped rejuvenate me, and I slowly started feeling more balanced.
My advice to people who are looking to reconnect with the natural world is to pick one of your five senses (sight, smell, sound, touch, taste - taste may be harder to do) and spend 5 or 10 minutes a day outside paying attention to that sense and how it relates to your surroundings. You will likely discover and notice things about the natural world around you that you hadn't before and begin to feel that connection and appreciation.