Born in the heat of the summer in Portland, Oregon, Marlee Meghan Banta’s heart has always been firmly rooted in the mystical and untamed parts of her home. The forests and lakes which shape the landscape of the Pacific Northwest, are a rustic playground where she goes to seek solace and reprieve from everyday life. Her work revels in the magic of spontaneity and adventure; often capturing her friends in wild abandon as they explore the terrain. To look through Marlee’s photographs is to go on an adventure, after which you feel reawakened. Throughout, the pith of her work is an unbridled desire to connect and feel ever so deeply.
I get the sense that you’re very much an outdoors person, or at least someone who thrives in that environment. That’s what I really enjoyed about looking through your website; it made me feel like I was going on an adventure and discovering new places. Would this be a fair assumption? Do you travel around a lot?
Oh, that’s so awesome to hear. Thank you! I definitely thrive in the outdoors. I actually feel like I must return to nature for my sanity every now and then, when the brain feels too cluttered or painful. It helps that nature makes sense in that everything has a purpose, a reason, and man hasn’t changed it artificially. I mean, man has changed a lot of natural environments, of course, but I like to go into the back country around Oregon and Washington where it still feels mostly untouched – mountain lakes and glacier fed streams. I also think there has to be some kind of energy in these places that heals. I am honestly always amazed by how much nature heals in me. I don’t think humans are supposed to be separate from nature, honestly. I don’t travel too far, though. Although I would love to, there are still just so many places to explore in my own backyard.
The people in your images look like they’re exploring the landscapes with you, and they are full of life, but you also manage to capture soft, content moments too. To me, there is a clear feeling of comfort created, and trust and familiarity. Do you often work with people you know?
The people in my photographs are definitely quite often out exploring with me. I don’t work with many people that aren’t my friends and I rarely work with them in a way that isn’t a fluid, natural experience. A lot of the images I shoot are during our day trips away from the city, when we are often grappling our souls together or simply allowing our brains to rest for a while. Then there are totally the images I take during my day-to-day life, too. I think my work is either a reprieve from daily life and an emotive translation of deep inner feelings that I often meet in the wilderness or away from society, or it is a reminder of the beauty of the day to day.
I noticed that you shoot self-portraits too. Do you feel differently about the images you make when it’s you in them?
Yeah , I’ve been trying to shoot more and more self-portraits. I guess I do feel like I am able to directly portray my own feelings better when it is myself I am shooting. It feels more honest and ‘achier’ if that makes sense, and I think that’s a good thing. It also is really hard to see yourself in a fixed medium but maybe important. I’m still playing and learning in this realm for sure.
Do you have a particular image or series that is of most importance to you?
That’s a good question. There are so many little photo sets or rolls of film that have been particularly important or significant for me during the time of life I was in. The art just keeps happening and I am so grateful for it. The recent roll I took at the beach with icicles everywhere felt like an important set of images, maybe because it felt like a rebirth of feelings I tried to suppress for the past year. Even that feeling maybe is tied more to my thoughts that day and less to the physical images. It’s hard to know. There is also this set of images I took when I first starting shooting double exposures when I felt the most alive, aware, and in touch with my entire self and existence that mean so much to me it often hurts. I don’t know how to rekindle that part of me again and I can only hope it visits someday but seeing it is sort of bittersweet. I am glad to have felt all of that but sad it was so fleeting. The photo of me, my sister, and our best friend on a log is from this set.
We’re just at the beginning of a new year, and I know a lot of photographers/artists sometimes feel that this is the time to start new projects. Do you have anything planned for 2017? How do you see your work progressing?
As for the new year and new projects, I just hope to keep creating. I don’t think I can stop it actually. I also want to work with more people. Meet new people, hear more stories.. I suppose it’s both a personal goal and a photographic goal. I think that during these times in particular, it is becoming increasingly important to work with everyone, come together, and show all the humans and their feelings as much as possible. I also am reaching a sort of level of distaste with this society and existence that I want to fight for art, even my own, if that makes sense. I want to see how much my art means to others, accept more charity, learn to believe in it more, and sort of let it pull me around wherever it naturally may. We shall see…