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Musings: Alison Turner Sees with New Eyes

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Alison Turner

Six years ago, Alison Turner needed a change. She saved up her money and quit her job in corporate advertising. She rented her house and hit the road. For the first three years, she and her dog Maggie lived out of her car and a tent, until she eventually bought a van, which she considers a luxury. She quit drinking. Thousands and thousands of miles and 48 states later, Turner became addicted to photography. She has been sober for five years.

“That’s the reason I picked up the camera, because I stopped drinking and I needed something to do with my time,” Turner says. “I just started taking pictures with my point and click. I just really enjoyed walking around during my travels, and people enjoyed seeing those photographs.”

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Over the last five years, Turner has circumnavigated every state except Alaska and is only home for a month or two out of the year. And that is what fascinates me about her exquisite black and white portrait series, which I first saw last year at PhotoNOLA in New Orleans: The portraits were all taken in her backyard in California. Sometimes you don’t need to travel far to explore and find something new. As Marcel Proust wrote, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

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“Most of the people [in the portrait series] I’ve met in the past five years and we’ve become very close—either within the art community in town, or through sobriety, I’ve met a lot of these women,” Turner says. “I’m really shy, so when I approach strangers I can be whoever I want. But this series in particular was really challenging for me because it was more personal. It’s of people I know, so it’s not like I can just run away and they will never see me again.” Perhaps it was her extensive travel experience that made it possible, that gave her fresh eyes on the familiar.

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“It all started with one of my friends, Cal, who is going through a transition from female to male. I wanted to document his transition. I took a photo with the Hipstamatic app on my iPhone, and I just loved the way it looked,” Turner explains. “And that’s kinda how everything started. All these women trust me so I really take that to heart. It’s such a vulnerable series. A lot of these women are nude in front of me, and I use the iPhone for all of them so there is really nothing for me to hide behind as a photographer.”

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“I have a stucco wall in the shade to give it texture, and I have an old projector screen from the 60’s that I put up for a white background. It’s all during the day with natural light. I don’t crop any of the images. I’m usually only three or four feet away, so it’s fairly close. Sometimes I have them lie in the grass and stand over them. A lot of times I don’t know what I’m going to get. I can’t take a photograph, like with a lot of applications, and go back and edit them. It’s really what I take is what I’m going to get.” Her favorites are those that she feels capture her subjects “in the in-between where they weren’t posing or they weren’t showing me what they want to show me or how they want to be seen.”

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Traci and Jamie

Turner’s choice to make an unconventional life change has led her to new places, people, and passions. To quote her in a post that she wrote for The Photo Brigade, “Although I considered some of the major doubts and questioned my decision along the way, I haven’t looked back for one moment. I wouldn’t want to change anything about the path I took. I feel that this is where I am supposed to be right now, and I am enjoying every moment of it.”

To see more of Alison Turner’s work, including more images from the series “Reflected Identities,” visit her website, her blog, or follow her on Instagram.

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