Atelier artist Erika Masterson is a master at capturing raw innocence, femininity and whimsy.
Based in Satellite Beach, Florida, she has been working as a commercial portrait photographer since receiving her degree in photography in 1990. In 2012, she ventured into fine arts, where her distinct ethereal style set her apart as a creative force, earning her several awards. Erika’s images have been featured in Black and White Magazine, Silvershotz Magazine, Shots Magazine, and many more.
We caught up with the mother of four to learn more about her creative process, inspiration, and of course, how she incorporates wild animals in her shoots.
I’ve been a photographer for over 25 years; I still consider myself old school?, in that I love black and white film and all the old photographic processes. I love the craftsmanship that goes into these treasures of the past. My favourite subjects are my four children, as I love to capture their ever-changing lives and use them as models in my work.
What inspired you to become a photographer?
My dad was a professional photographer, so he always had a camera in his hand. He never pushed photography on me, but just patiently hoped I’d take it up. Also, in high school, I took a photography class and had a very inspiring teacher. She encouraged me to pursue it and told me I had a gift. I just needed to hear that I was good at something, so I decided to go to photography college.
My deepest longing is to be surrounded by nature. I love the mountains, rivers and lakes; the sounds of the birds and the wind blowing through the trees. I love the smell of pine, campfire, streams and waterfalls. The feeling of knowing that I’m in the home of the animals, in their domain, is scary and invigorating at the same time. I feel humbled, submissive and insignificant in this setting, and the girls in my photographs are symbolic of those feelings.
Take us through the process of your craft.?
To create this work, I go to several taxidermy collectors throughout the state of Florida. I use a simple backdrop to feature the beauty of the living models and the preserved animals. I shoot large format film to capture the details of these beautiful creations without distraction. I then hand develop my 4×5 film and scan each negative, so I can create the final images on my computer.
The common themes in your photos are majestic animals and angelic young girls. How did you come up with this signature style?
I choose the animals carefully and many symbolize biblical scripture. The dresses are white and old, which represent the purity of a new life in dresses that many souls have worn before. The girls symbolize complete submission. The animals have been preserved as a visual legacy to this world. My physical style, if I were to describe in words, would be ethereal, soulful, dreamy, surreal, organic and vintage. It wasn’t something I just came up with, it just sort of happened over time.
Have you experienced a “pinch me” moment in your career?
Yes! I had been working as a professional portrait photographer for over 15 years and was burnt out. I had been shooting to make money for so long, that I lost myself. When I made the decision to lay down my life for God, I was then able to see my work differently. Suddenly, I could see into my own soul and had the vision to express it on film. This was something I could not do before.
Which is your favourite piece and why?
That’s so hard to answer because I truly love them all! But if I had to pick a favourite, I would choose “Keeper.” The girl’s eyes really speak to the viewer in the same manner as the coyote. She also happens to be my daughter!
As an artist, what legacy do you hope to leave behind?
I hope to leave behind the message of following your dreams. Do what you are good at, do what you love, and it will blossom into your calling. I believe that when you are following your calling and using your gifts, you will find peace, joy and contentment in your life. Here’s a quote from CS Lewis:
It was when I was happiest that I longed most…The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing…to find the place where all the beauty came from.
See Erika Masterson’s full collection of work on Citizen Atelier.
This interview has been edited and condensed.