• April 8, 2014

Musings: Alison Turner Sees with New Eyes

Kurt Mutchler

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.”

Picture of a woman with her eyes closed and her head tilted up

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.”

Picture of a woman hugging her knees

“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.

Picture of a woman with bare shoulders and straight blonde hair

“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.”

Picture of a person with tattoos across their chest. This is a diptych.

“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.”

Picture of a woman with her hair combed out in an afro. She is looking directly at the camera.
Picture of two women with tattoos on their arms, hugging
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.

There are 13 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Sandi
    May 7, 2014

    I love Alison’s adventures. I live vicariously thru her photography travels. She inspires me to see the world with a different view, to slow down and notice the moments. Been a follower since the very early days and it’s been a fabulous journey!

  2. Alison Turner
    May 5, 2014

    Thank you all so much for taking the time to comment on my life and images. It means a lot… Positive and Negative. Thank you!

  3. Robert M.
    May 5, 2014

    This series is absolutely brilliant. She’s nothing like Arbus. Diane Arbus usually photographed people in their environments and her prints never looked like this. And to the person questioning “Who calls this art?” A little art education would go a long way.

  4. Glory
    April 17, 2014

    I believe she is trying to show the marginalized….in this way she is like Diane Arbus

    April 13, 2014

    wonderfull where can i get more of this

  6. Robbie Kaye
    April 9, 2014

    This work reflects Alison’s courageous and passionate spirit. I so admire her as a photographer and as a fellow warrior on the road. This work is completely inspirational and beautiful.

  7. Diane
    April 9, 2014

    One of the greatest compliments of this work is the “disturbing” comment. It forces one to see the humanity of the portraits, and by relating to that understand the power of art.

  8. Laura
    April 8, 2014

    Love it. To the person who said she finds this work “disturbing”– that’s why it is art.

  9. Clarence Castillo
    April 8, 2014

    Love the concept and how the artist projects the message in every photo. Seems like the photos describing the personal character of each subject deeply making the audience understand what they are feeling as well

  10. Shelby Ruthers
    April 8, 2014

    I do not understand this piece and find it disturbing. Who calls this art?

  11. Raul Manuel Cancela
    April 8, 2014

    It pleases me that this person was escaping of the hell. I wish also to could help others.

  12. Lee Lange
    April 8, 2014

    Conceptually, actually, masterfully. I adore the message

  13. Lori (Brown) Murphy
    April 8, 2014

    I know exactly what she means about photography being her therapy or helping her fill a bad addiction with a more productive one. I was addicted to cocaine at one point in time years ago, and I literally asked God to be my eyes through my camera and taking photos, even though it had always been a passion, became my therapy. It seemed as if every photo that I took, spoke to other people in ways that I had never imagined while taking them. These photos here are beautiful and they have a very personal signature. They tell a story and they are very real. I believe those are qualities that are rare.

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