We humans tend to think of ourselves as separate from nature. We’ve created and refined built environments that silo us off from our natural surroundings and all the things we think of as wild and perhaps frightening: insects, predators, bacteria, dirt, and decay. But the truth is that our activities aren’t so different from those of other living creatures with complex societies, like bees. Nothing is truly synthetic — it all comes from the Earth and our own creativity as residents of this planet.
Artist Jeanne Simmons reminds us of this simple truth with her stunning works of art rooted in nature. Based in Port Townsend, a picturesque town full of Victorian architecture on the northeast tip of Washington state’s wild Olympic Peninsula, Simmons takes inspiration from her locale and makes the most of the raw materials she’s able to find there. She (sometimes literally) weaves her human subjects together with their natural settings and composes photographs that capture this relationship in all its startling beauty.
“My goal is to express, as beautifully and as compellingly as I can, the contents of my inner world and imagination, as well as my preoccupation with the relationship between humans and nature,” Simmons explains. “With my work, I attempt to describe a connectedness between us and our environment that seems to have been all but forsaken. I hope to nurture this dynamic relationship, which is our birthright and obligation, and to perhaps even rekindle and reawaken a yearning for it in others. Simultaneously, I hope to satisfy my own need to embed myself in nature.”
“Women, for me, express the feeling of connectedness to nature in a way that I find poetic. And, since my models are, in a sense, my surrogates (as I wish that I could braid myself to the ground and document myself in that state, but cannot), it only makes sense that they should be women.”
The piece Simmons refers to here is entitled “Grass Cocoon,” in which her model, naturalist and bakes-maker Nicole Larson, is seen tucked into a french-braided cocoon of long grasses, her own braided hair weaving its way into the surrounding field. Another, “Lace Skirt,” shows the artist herself adorned in a skirt made of Queen Anne’s lace flowers.
“Womanscape” depicts a model laying at the base of a tree covered in English Ivy, wearing nothing more than a little moss and lichen. The piece came about when Simmons wondered “what would happen if I planted a seed in my belly button.”
Set on a famous hillside in Port Townsend, “Womanfall” reinterprets the natural phenomenon of the waterfall by cascading ribbons of a pale blue garment over 20 feet to the rocky shore below. “Katrina” sees a model of the same name dressed in a gown of kelp, which billows out all around her in the waters of the Puget Sound.