Raised in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, Marissa Marino has a profound understanding of how natural beauty can still be superseded by a consumer-driven need for natural resources. By working with a range of sustainable fashion brands, her photos highlight how things don’t have to be this way.
From her family’s ranch in Longmont, Colorado, Marissa Marino can see along the whole of the Rocky Mountains range. But this scenic upbringing provided her with much more than just a pretty view. She received an early education on the complicated relationship that exists between environmentalism and the rural communities that profit from the consumption of natural resources. Describing Longmont as having “a stark contrast between industry and conservation,” Marino considers the abundant surrounding region – both in terms of biodiversity and minerals – as an essential catalyst for her future studies and photographic focus on sustainability.
After completing a degree in Environmental Science and Media, Marino established a lens-based practice that allowed her to address a range of perspectives on climate change, sustainability and consumerism. By using her work to creatively present many of these complex topics, she evolved her interest in photography from a simple hobby into “an impulse to record everything.” This thriving passion has seen her capture a variety of environmentally-conscious series, ranging from the ‘geological continuum’ of the Painted Hills to a sequence of fashion editorials that seamlessly combine contemporary design with serene landscapes.
Through her work, Marino advocates for a rethink on manufacturing, consumption and how we value products. In doing so, she partners with sustainable brands who she believes are pushing fashion and consumerism in the right direction, helping a broad audience recalibrate their expectations and desires involving this traditionally wasteful industry. Here, we discuss Marino’s creative inspiration, environmental justice and how to develop your own photographic perspective.
Having grown up around the Rocky Mountains, how do you think this upbringing influenced your view on nature?
In Longmont, there’s always been tension in the area between developers, farmers and open space. Everybody has a different view on what’s best. Growing up around these kinds of stakeholders made me aware of the differing takes on nature and what that means for establishing limits on resource extraction. Parks and open space are always pushing back on any kind of development that alters the landscape. Farmers see the land from a utilitarian perspective, something that can be worked and moulded into whatever needs arise. That doesn’t mean people don’t care about preservation, but rather that the land is more resilient than people realise.
Where do you look for inspiration when it comes to developing your fashion shoots?
A lot of the time I’ll look at family photos from the ’60s and ‘70s when I need ideas for a project. It’s fun to look back and see how people dressed for family picnics and camping trips.
“I want the people I photograph to look like an extension of the landscape, rather than something completely separate.”
How do you try to incorporate elements of nature into your work?
Hayao Miyazaki’s films have been influential for me. I appreciate his work because of how he centres environmentalism in his narratives and connects his characters to their respective landscapes. By the end of the movies, the characters feel more like an extension of the natural world when they have to overcome the challenges facing their habitat. I aim to have a similar perspective on photography. I want the people I photograph to look like an extension of the landscape, rather than something completely separate.
What can photographers do to develop their own perspective?
One of the most important things you can do for yourself is start writing on a consistent basis. It’s daunting but it’s an essential part of the process. Most of the time when I’m writing, it feels like I’m walking into a hoarder’s house, tripping over holiday decorations and garden gnomes trying to find the right words. But once you get into the rhythm, that perspective will inevitably be drawn out.
How has your relationship with the environment evolved since you began taking photography more seriously?
The best way to describe it would be that everything feels more tactile. I have a better understanding of what it means to pay attention to my surroundings. A sentence from Ripples on the Surface by Gary Snyder sums up this feeling for me:
“Ripples on the surface of water
were silver salmon passing under — different
from the sorts of ripples caused by breezes”
From a neurological perspective, when we immerse ourselves outside, we trigger the part of our brain that coincides with that of our forager ancestors. It makes sense that our senses sharpen once we focus our attention on a swinging tree branch or on microscopic organisms in a tidepool. That kind of clarity is what draws me back to making photographs.
My project Canyon Gaze outlines the specific and nuanced way in which we interact with landscapes. I used the character Ms. Frizzle from Magic School Bus for inspiration because she executes this connection so well through her topic material and apparel choices.
“If we can show people that progress is feasible, that’s where we can mitigate the fear and doubt.”
How do you think photography – or the arts in general – can help raise awareness about the benefits of a sustainable lifestyle? Are there any ideas or issues that you’d like to see explored more?
I think we need to focus on capturing and documenting the progress we’ve made so far. Cities like Greensburg, Kansas is one example of this. After a deadly tornado hit the town, the city built back their power grid using 100% renewable resources. If the art world can highlight more communities like that and show people that this is what life could look like, that’s a powerful way to show progress.
When we’re faced with a big issue like climate change, it’s tempting to get bogged down by the enormity of the problem. But if we can show people that progress is feasible, that’s where we can mitigate the fear and doubt that most people understandably feel when they think about a warming climate. Cities like Greensburg are proof that we have the technology and infrastructure to retrofit our cities.
The last thing I’ll say is that we need to have environmental justice at the centrefold of the conversation. Once we do that we can lift up the people who have historically been cut out of these movements of rapid technological advancement. The people most at risk should have a seat at the table for shaping environmental policy.
“I hope that more people start to realise the inextricable connection between the environment and clothing.”
How do you see people’s relationship with fashion and clothing changing in a more consumption conscious future?
It’s important for people to first start asking questions about where and how their products come from. Because of public education efforts, you can see that public opinion is slowly shifting to wanting more sustainable products from companies.
I see a lot of similarities between the beverage and the fashion industry. When bottles were primarily being produced from glass, companies had an incentive to collect and recycle the bottles themselves because glass was expensive to manufacture. Since plastic is a much cheaper material to source from, beverage companies have virtually no incentive to get their products back. It’s a system designed to fail.
Similarly with the fast fashion industry, the default setting is to make products that are disposable. There’s definitely a need to design goods that hold more intrinsic value and have the ability to transform into something else once it’s disposed of. I hope that more people start to realise the inextricable connection between the environment and clothing.
Ultimately I hope shopping habits become less passive and more attentive over the next few decades.