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Nativen is an American heritage workwear brand, for hands-on women with know how. 

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Filtering by Tag: photography

The Ladies of Desert & Denim - Lindsey Ross: The Alcemistress

Lily Hetzler

They say nice women rarely make history... In the case of Lindsey Ross, aka The Alchemistress, I would beg to differ.  She's clearly a woman who has forged her own path, but done so with great honor and homage to the processes of days passed.  An historical wet-plate photographer, she's not afraid to get her hands dirty, but above all, Lindsey is a storyteller.  Using meticulous care to capture a single moment with the perfect mix of stoicism and candid spontaneity.  I had the pleasure of sitting with her, not only for a personal portrait, but to chat about the long line of trailblazing women before her, that helped craft her work.

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Lindsey:    My name is Lindsey Ross, I'm a photographer. I specialize in historical processes, particularly wet plate collodion process, which is a 19th century photographic process.

Nativen:     What's your favorite stress-relieving hobby?

Lindsey:    Oh, wow. I am an avid runner, so I do that almost every day, and then, I guess, if I'm not running, I really enjoy skiing. That is maybe the ultimate in stress relieving for me.

Nativen:    Who's the woman who's inspired you most?

Lindsey:    That's funny, I think that it's changed with every phase in my career, but probably over the course of my life, my aunt, who is an artist also, and a career illustrator for Hallmark.
She’s been there for 35 years, and she was the first one that I knew who really, her work was making art, and she's the first one that made me feel like that was a possibility.

Nativen:    That’s good inspiration. 
Three women you'd love to sit around the campfire with, dead or alive.

Lindsey:    Oh my goodness, wow... Marsha Resnik is one of my favorite photographers of all time, and she was really in the mix of the underground Soho new wave movement, and I know she has really good stories, because I have met her, and I think she's amazing. So she's one person. Oh man, this is a really hard one. Susan Sontag, Deborah Turbeville… There's so many good ones, I know I'm not thinking of all the people that I want to. 

Nativen:    So words of wisdom, or maybe a nugget of advice that you'd give to anyone who's kind of looking to pursue their creative art?

Lindsey:    I think that, one of the things that has been hard learned over the last ten or fifteen years, was learning to protect my time. Because every other field, there is structure to it, and as an independent artist, making your work, and going on a path that's not really clearly cut, there's a lot of risk of people borrowing your time, wanting to, I don't know, assert influence on how you do things. I just think that I've become really skeptical, and hyper independent about protecting my time, and my intentions with what I'm doing, and making sure that, even though I'm an artist, and I am looking for some type of security at times, whether it's someone who can help me with business, or someone who can help me with getting more work, it's like, in the end, you're your own best advocate.

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Nativen:    That's really good advice. If you could spend a day in someone else's jeans, who would it be?

Lindsey:    Also a really hard question. I think, oh man. There’s so many directions I feel like I could go with. I think that it's never a bad idea to spend time in someone else's shoes who has a lot less resources than you do.
I feel like, if I could put myself in the place of someone who is an artist, but didn't have the privileges that I did growing up, whether it's getting a college education, or… I guess I would love to see how I would handle having to create my work with far fewer privileges than I have.

Nativen:    Yeah, that's an interesting exercise. I love that.
So last question, three things you can't live without?

Lindsey:    Let's see. I cannot live without spending time in nature, on a pretty regular basis. Not just for a week, twice a year. I need to spend time in nature every other day. That really recharges me. 
I drink a lot of yerba mate, and that is kind of something that I definitely cannot live without. It's just something that, when I'm in my studio, I'm always drinking mate throughout the day, and having tea is this type of ritual that, if I'm stuck on something, I'm like, "Whatever, it's tea time, I'm gonna make some mate." 
I think that being surrounded by lots of very thoughtful people that I could have good conversations with, about either work or life or whatever. Whether it's my boyfriend, who is a really good listener, and has a lot of really good perspective, or my friends. I guess I wouldn't be able to survive, at least it seems, without the support of a lot of people who look out for me. 

Nativen:    Yeah, I mean, we live in an interdependent world. It's basically impossible to have that sort of Jeremiah Johnson kind of reality. 

Lindsey:    I have the fantasy of that in my head, but it's totally not reality at all.

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Interview by: Lily Hetzler

Photography by: Ashley Turner

This interview has been condensed & edited

all images copyright of Nativen

Leeta Harding: Photographer

Lily Hetzler

Exploring the rolling green landscape of Murfreesboro, replete with miles of decaying early American estates, gave us a unique window into small-town life, it's charm and mystery. Photographer Leeta Harding's most recent work, is deeply rooted in the south and the history of America, which is what inspired our latest editorial collaboration.  We spent a few days exploring the area and discussing the benefits and challenges of life there, and the development of her work.  Read on...

Nativen: First tell me a little bit about where you're from, where you grew up. 

Leeta:    I grew up on the west coast of Canada in a fishing town called Campbell River. My roots were based in the land and I grew up riding a horse. My dad was a logger and my mom was a dressmaker. Growing up in the late '70s, photography, music, and nature were really the fundamentals. So when I moved to Vancouver in 1983, it was because of a David Bowie concert. My parents were free to let me go, they thought that I could handle life on my own. I was 15 and I did. And I really never looked back after that. 

Nativen: Was there a moment in your life, an “aha” moment which made you realize that you want to pursue photography? 

Leeta:     At 20 I was backpacking in Europe and learning about European culture, going to Turkey and Greece and thinking, "God, this is such a huge world." It was the quest of the traveler; you're searching, you're looking and you're discovering. I was most comfortable behind the camera, because I was shy, I was able to observe people and I found out pretty quickly that I was good at photographing people because I was very easygoing and I put them at ease.

Then, after spending a month in Turkey, my girlfriends and I moved to London and got jobs illegally. I remember I was walking through Hyde Park and someone said, "What do you want to do?" And I was like, "Huh? I want to be in New York and be a photographer." I just said it matter of fact. I guess it was in my brain by that point that that's what I wanted to do. 

Nativen: So when did you move to New York?

Leeta: I was 22 when I landed in New York and I knew that that was a place I could live because it was a melting pot of people just like me, searching, looking for an identity. I went to SVA for a little, and I knew that my background had to be art. I chose my education a la carte and I paid for all my classes on waitressing tips. 

Straight out of art school I ended up working for Harper's Bazaar and then Index Magazine and then all the other glossies and downtown magazines. That was complete fluke in a weird way, but it was a time in the '90s that there weren't a whole lot of women out there doing that. 

Nativen: What made you decide to leave New York in the end?

Leeta:    After 20 years living in New York working for magazines and having a diagnosis of cancer and living through that, I knew I had reached an endpoint in my career that I didn't need to explore any further. I felt like I had done a lot of what I'd set out to do there, and that was a great feeling. I was just looking for change. I was tired, and I wanted quiet. It was 2008, and people were leaving in an exodus looking for life outside the city, and I knew I needed to be out in New York State. I wanted to try something completely different and my then boyfriend (who is now my husband) and I went on two trips across America photographing old abandoned theaters and diners and ghost towns, and I thought, "This is something I love to do, I love taking photographs but I don't need to be a commercial photographer, a magazine photographer anymore." I had reached my saturation point and I was just, again, that point of searching and wanting something new. 

Nativen: How did you wind up in Murfreesboro?

Leeta: Serendipity brought us down here and we happened to find this house. It was the story of the house and the renovation project that enchanted us. We both had money, we were able to do it, so we spent two years in another world learning about the South. Looking back now, it was about the love of an old home, saving this home in a weird way. Maybe it was like saving myself or saving my soul, and wanting to be connected to land again, to have property, to have animals and let my dog run free and not walk her to Tompkins Square Park. I really wanted a quiet, simple life away from the art world and the fashion world.

Nativen: What effect did the move down south have on your work?

Leeta:    It wasn't, I think, until I moved here that I was able to take all of my published work and put it aside and start again. Here I was able to work in isolation without any outside influence and strip myself of what I knew. All of a sudden, I didn't have a deadline. I didn't have to produce images for anyone or anything as a way of survival. I dug deep and then dug deeper, trying to find that voice. When you commercialize yourself and you measure something, it changes. The freedom of not having to make money was a wonderful feeling to start again, to begin again. 

In my search for solitude, a happenstance encounter with an old dilapidated plantation called, Myrick Plantation, in a very rural little farming community propelled me to pick up the camera out of sheer joy. It was me and bats in a room, just me being alone with the wind and the creatures of this antebellum home, and feeling this ultimate sense of timelessness, of peace, and my breathing and the sound of my shutter.

After that came more old plantations and an old home called Smith Farmhouse in Milwaukee, North Carolina, another rural town. Soon it occurred to me that I didn't have to be me alone in these places, I could bring new life to these homes, and I decided to do a search for models who would sit for a portrait for me in these places. It’s a great explanation or a great definition of rebirth, really, isn't it? Recycling things that are existing but forgotten and no one cares about anymore. 

By creating this work, for me, I wasn't really conscious I was creating a body of work. I just said, "Well, we'll see what happens." I didn't know it was really going to turn into something over a period of a couple of years, but I was working mostly with Africa-American girls and it was very important to me to connect with the black community because it's not by nature my experience. Before, I’d photographed mostly white girls, models in New York. I really had to strip myself of what I knew in order to experience something completely different in portraiture, and even skin tone, for instance. 

Nativen: How did this kind of creative process go down locally? 

Leeta:    There's no getting away from it; I'm not an activist. I didn't start out thinking I was going to draw attention to racism at all. It was more about my own love of creating beauty, finding some of these girls that were living in these tiny little towns, and to approach them. 

At first, I was like, "Oh, how am I going to find models?" But then driving in town, going home, and I saw this girl walking down the street, who was absolutely perfect, and I pulled over, jumped out of the car, went running up to her, and was like, "Please don't think I'm crazy. I'm a photographer but I'm doing a project for an exhibition, and I really think you would be perfect for my project, my photo series." 

She looked at me and she laughed, she said, "I've been praying for somebody to come along and take my photo because I really want to be a model." Her name was Shea and she went on to become a model in Miami. She's very successful now.

Nativen: What part of your process, your photography process in general, brings you the most joy? 

Leeta:    For me the joy comes after or before. I like the research and the collecting of imagery or clothing, it's like wrapping Christmas gifts. It's like the time you have alone, steaming the clothes or choosing the lipstick color or the search for the right shoes to create the story with creating your props, building your collection of things to choose from. That is exciting. 

Then once you're behind the lens and then you get everything into place and you get the image, and you know you've gotten the image, that's the joy, but then it's the editing afterwards that I end up getting excited, really excited because it's fresh, it's new. 

Nativen: What part is the biggest struggle for you, do you think? 

Leeta:    I'm a one-woman show. I art direct, I style, I do makeup, hair, I edit, I write, I have to be all these things or do all these things.

Nativen: What's one thing you've always wanted to do but haven't done yet? 

Leeta:    Go to India. When I was four years old, my babysitters were Indian and I loved the food and the smells coming out of the kitchen. I love the colors and the saris and the gold jewelry. I just think Indian women are just extremely beautiful. And then there’s…the light. 

Nativen: I don't know if you listen to music in any part of your process of inspiration or editing, but are there any songs or musicians that you listen to regularly?  

Leeta:    I was watching the Grammys a couple of years ago and there was an amazing performance by Jack White, and Ruby Amanfu. They did this song called Love Interruption. The styling of both of them and their lyrics and their performance was so charismatic, it stopped me in my tracks and so I downloaded Blunderbuss. I listen to that album over and over and over, driving the back roads of North Carolina.

Nativen: Your work is very much about engaging in what's happening around you in the community here, but is there anything through your work that you do to really try and specifically connect with the community here? 

Leeta:    I keep in contact with the girls that I photograph and have a dialogue with them. I became a mentor to one of the girls who interviewed me for her 12th grade project. Feeling like I made some difference in their lives, whether it's just through an image that they will have of themselves documented at this age that's a beautiful, iconic image is kind of a heartfelt feeling. But also just having personal relationships with a community of women who I wouldn't have gotten to know.

Nativen: What's the most helpful advice you've received or what's advice that you'd give to someone who's looking to build a career out of their creative interest? 

Leeta:    Have faith in yourself, first and foremost. You don't have to justify creative process to anyone. Keep trusting what you do, if you love what you do, and continue, hopefully, to work on that relationship with trust and respect with people, but then, ultimately, with moving forward if you feel stuck. Because in those places, those in between places of waiting for something to happen or self-doubt, those are the times that you need to hang on to because when the going gets good, that's not necessarily going to be your best true work. 

Nativen: Is there someone who's really a hero to you or maybe someone who's really helped influence your work that's been a vehicle through all of this? 

Leeta:    I was in my 20s in New York and I happened to be walking along Broadway and I was feeling very alone and not knowing how I was going to do what I wanted to do. I saw this sign, and two girls were sitting at a table with a sign that said, "Free Advice." I sat down and we just started talking. They said to me, "What is it you really want to do?" I said, "I really just want to take photographs and travel the world." 

They asked me, "If you could do that, what would you do right now?" I said, "Well, I'd probably go up to Central Park and photograph people, but I have to go to work." They said, "That's what you should be doing," and it was just that simple.  It was one of those things; it just occurred to me, if that's really what I think about all the time, then that's what I really should be doing. It was that simple anonymous advice from two girls I don't even know.

Nativen: What are three words that sum up your work for you? 

Leeta:    Finding personal truth.

Check out the editorial Leeta shot for us here!

Interview and Photos By: Lily Hetzler

Edited by: Kristin Knox (This interview has been condensed & edited)

all images are copyright of Nativen