Molly Steele leads a life most of wish we had the courage to live. She's traveled around the country, regularly making solo ventures into the great outdoors, and most recently flipped a coin at 2am and hit the road for a the deserts of Mexico. All of this adventuring is accompanied by her sublime knack for capturing these moments with her Nikon F3. Spend a few minutes scrolling through her Instagram feed and you no doubt will find yourself pining for a trip into the woods. We spent some time with Molly in her Beachwood Canyon tree house and got to know a little bit more about what makes her tick.
Story and Interview by Miwa Sakamoto
Tell us a little bit about how you came to to be such an adventurer and naturalist?
It was my parents that brought me into adventure and into nature. Both my mom and dad left home very early to travel and exercise courage. Because they were my closest influencers, their paths in life felt, to me, to be normal. Mom lived for quite some time camping alongside a river in Montana, when she was maybe not even 20; catching fish for her meals and living for long periods of time without electricity. My father was a surveyor in Europe and in the swamps of the South, spending much of his time deep in the wilderness making maps and eating snakes for fun. They raised me on an herb farm cut off from much of the world that I now know, so the foundation of my life came directly from adventure and nature.
What is it about outdoors that you love so much?
As a concept, “the outdoors” is lovely, but it is when I go into wilderness areas that I feel indescribably at home. There is no feeling of aloneness there for me, though it is usually when I am most alone by definition.
How does someone who loves solitude and nature as much you do, end up living in Los Angeles for more than a day?
Being in a metropolitan area feels like stopping at a gas station for fuel. The city is a resource for good food, love, and for me, much social turmoil. I see turmoil and misery as being such beautiful things because my social displacement in the city is what drives me to disappear into the world that I relate most to, which is that which you can see a glimpse of in my work.
How would you suggest someone who doesn't have as intimate a relationship with the wild begin to get to know the natural world?
Go to the woods, go off the path, lay down in the dirt and stay there for some time.
Has photography always been something thats accompanied your love for nature?
Photography is new for me in conjunction with my relationship with nature. I grew up shooting video for punk bands and did not begin to explore nature with a lens until much later when I entered college as a field biology and botany major.
What kind of camera do you use? Do you only shoot film or also digital?
To date, I have only shot film. My primary camera this year has been my NikonF3, in edition to a couple of point-and-shoots I always have on hand. I recently took up shooting medium format on a Mamiya 645 and a Yashica mat124g, which will likely be my go-to for a while.
You are starting to make photographic forays away from nature and into the city, what has inspired this shift?
Frankly, once I started scanning my own negatives, I got sick of going through thousands of photos of nature. I think my time in nature has been immensely valuable in my process of personal growth and discovery. Now I am shifting into a new domain as a woman and an artist, and my creative expression is developing into a more dynamic latitude.
Whats more challenging, a night alone in nature or a night surrounded by millions of fellow city dwellers?
The scariest place for me is alone in nature, actually. I am deeply tormented by a wild imagination. At night in my tent, that imagination in combination with my aversion to interacting with strangers (when I’m alone) leaves me with a barrel of motivation to try to quickly fall asleep once it’s dark. To paraphrase, I’m a scaredy-cat.
What are the challenges of shooting in the city vs shooting in nature?
In nature, my challenges are weather-related, like lighting and seasonal changes. I find them to be nice variables that allow me to get a variety of different shots depending on when I go, which I do usually plan according to the weather and time of year, as I assume most landscape photographers do. In the city, I have a difficult time getting the photos I want of people without effecting the situation. It’s a question of whether or not I want to have a presence in the photograph. For example, shooting a photo of someone either without them knowing, or once they’ve taken note. The two can produce very different images.
Can you talk to us about your relationship to authenticity and when and where you feel like you are your most authentic?
I’d like to think my work has causative impact through it’s honesty and through the integrity that I uphold in my day to day life. I’m not looking to paint a false portrait, but instead to impact people on a personal level by being an open and honest person. As a result, my authenticity remains unadulterated so long as I uphold it on the deepest level with myself. I’m at a point in my life, just as a human being, that I often check in with myself about whether or not I am being authentic. This checking in is with my choice-making across the board, not just with my work.