(The Five Elements is a series of short interviews with pagan artists and creators. I am proud to introduce my long time friend Berta Daniels, photographer, writer, and all-around creatrix of things beautiful, delicious and magical, in the first installment of this series.)
On wearing our ancestors’ colors, cookie cutter beauty, Star Wars and being a dragon…
Berta is a fine art photographer whose work often focuses on people and nature. She began shooting a series of outdoor nudes with friends and acquaintances a number of years ago and that exploration recently culminated in her fine art photography book Crossroads. It contains dozens of color and black and white photographs, beautifully curated and with a written introduction detailing her journey through this work and its connection to how crossroads are defined in a pagan context. I was one of many models who took part in the process, and am pleased and honored to have had an image of me chosen for it, along with many friends and community members. It’s a stunning book. I spoke with Berta about it in November while visiting rural western Massachusetts during the annual Franklin County Cider Days.
Cover of CROSSROADS; photo by Berta A. Daniels
Every Five Elements interview is based on this simple five-part question: How do you see the five elements as they relate your work as an artist? Air, fire, water, earth and spirit?
I see the elements of air in my work and in my life as being about concepts, ideas and spoken words. And how words have power, so that when you speak them aloud they take on a life of their own, which is the beginning of manifestation. And with photography, it’s all about vision, which is conceptual. It’s about how people see the world and how I view the world. Photography is a window into the way I view people and beauty, that whole left brain kind of thing.
Fire is the passion that drives my work. It’s what lights you up inside and makes you do shit! (Laughter) Life is the passion in your life, it’s what helps us to get rid of the unnecessary and heats us up and connects us with the life force energy. (nonchalantly) And well, I’m a dragon, so you know that’s all about fire. [Peg: So you wanna expound on that “I’m a dragon” statement? Berta: (evil laughter) No.]
First of all, our physical bodies are made mostly of water, and so we’re ruled by the moon and the tides, even people who are landlocked. And I also see water as reflecting our emotional state and how we relate to beauty in the world. And I feel like a lot of my work is kind of busting the myth of beauty in our culture, because there is a very cookie-cutter aesthetic that commercial society wants us all to have, about being thin and looking a certain way and not being too ethnic, and I think that’s bullshit! (laughs) People should celebrate who they are instead of trying to fit into some norm.
Earth is of course the physical body. It’s about being in nature, how we relate to our planet. and how being in nature helps to heal us as people, being in our natural state. But it’s also where the ancestors live (and it’s that time of year) and how we reflect our ancestors in the way we look, literally, as I sometimes say when I invoke them, we wear their colors, literally, as our skin and our hair, we speak with their voice through us sometimes. And part of celebrating our physical bodies is also celebrating the ancestors, because they have become us, in a way.
Spirit is our connection to what I call the life force energy that runs through us all and everything , which I know is very Star Wars, but oh well, they kind of got it right. But they think it only belongs to some people, but actually it belongs to all of us. The life force energy is sex and creation and spirit, it’s what lives on beyond us, beyond the physical body. And it’s actually what makes people beautiful. Sex and sexuality isn’t just what our society thinks of, being all down and dirty with somebody. Procreation is what makes the world go around, it’s plants and animals and seeds and all of life.