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A Life’s Work: Natural Booty

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Poor Mother Nature, always getting caught with her pants down, exposed by the leering lens of “Earth erotica” photographer Heather Firth. Since her 1981 trip to the Sinai desert, Firth has been photographing nature in all its splendor: butt cracks in a quarry, glory holes in quicksand, thighs in the trees. She owes a debt to Adams, O’Keefe, Goldsworthy and Tunick, but I had to meet for myself the woman who’s redefining the term “hard rock.”
Ross Martin

No state park is safe from you, is it?

I feel like I was chosen for this. It’s been a real challenge to pull it all together in a way that says something. It’s like, come and find the treasures here.

Do you do clouds too?

I haven’t seen erotic forms and shapes yet. I’ll include them as I see them.

Does anyone ever call you up and say, “Heather, get over here! There’s a vagina in my front lawn!”

Someone suggested Goblin Valley in southwest Utah. It took me two-and-a-half years to get there, and it feels like you’re standing in a forest of circumcised penises. The guy I was staying with called it Circumcision Valley. But I couldn’t eroticize those forms because the tree bark was almost the color of cadavers. Through the lens, it looked like dead flesh, not soft and sensual.

So you really want to turn people on?

Yes.

It must be so difficult for you to go outside, with Mother Nature waving her genitals in your face all the time.

She doesn’t, that’s the problem. Many times I’ve gone out into the desert and she’s shy. I can spend all day in a canyon and not find a single one. On one ten-day trip, I didn’t get a single image I could use. Some images are almost microscopic. I can walk through the floor of a canyon with eight-hundred-foot cliffs, and I’ve got my lens on a five-by-five-inch spot all the way down at the bottom: a rock that hints at labia and a clitoris peeking through the outer lips. It can be smaller than the size of a baby’s fingernail.

People must walk by nature’s genitalia all the time and not notice.

Definitely. No. 002 for example, the maiden breast [second photo from top]. She’s only three-and-a-half inches high by one-and-a-half inches wide. She’s at an Anasazi ruin in Sedona, right near Enchantment Resort. Thousands of people go there all the time and don’t see it.

Where did you find the first image in the series?

In the high mountain region of the Sinai, in 1981. Right beside that one was No. 002; they were like a couple.

So you were zoning out on a hole in a rock one day in the Sinai and you thought, “Whoa, vagina!”

It was all Israelis, a German, an Australian and me, right after a morning trek. I looked over to my left and said, Oh my God. I was on my back, upside down, holding my breath to get this shot. Everyone was wondering, what’s she doing? After lunch, I showed them the formation, and everybody wanted to take their own picture of it.

Let’s look at No. 001 [top photo in series]. What are we seeing?

Well, it’s sort of androgynous.

No way! It’s so obviously labia and thighs.

That’s what most heterosexual men see. Gay men don’t see it as feminine, they see it as a butthole and maybe another butt or knees right up against it — an alluring orifice, someplace to go inside. Some anuses can be labial in appearance. One lesbian who saw this said that one of her favorite things to do was to rub her pussy up against the butt of her lover. So she saw two women making love.

People see what they want to see, as if these are Rorschach tests.

People always think I photographed their interpretation. Another example is No. 007 [eighth photo from top].

Bond, James Bond.

Exactly! No, the image itself is almost a total reflection in water of a small pothole just after a rainstorm in Sedona. The interpretations include a woman with her legs spread open, with trees for pubic hair, the rock in the center suggesting a clitoris and, streaming down the middle, the wetness of sex. Then, two women interpreted this as a birth scene, the baby’s head crowning, the mother’s legs spread open, the breaking of the mother’s water, and the blue sky arc suggesting the mother’s pregnant belly. Heterosexual men see the shiny water coming down, the view they get after ejaculating inside their lover, seeing their own semen coming out of her.

Are you married? Do you have children?

My partner has five kids. They think it’s fantastic. People of all ages recognize certain body parts, and it starts a conversation about sexuality in a way that gives parents a bridge. Because it’s earth, there’s a level of acceptance you wouldn’t get from images of human parts.

Looking at your website, there’s a real political motivation here.

I’m trying to increase mainstream sexual intelligence.

Were you ever shy about portraying nature as you do?

This whole thing evolved very slowly. A friend helped me design a brochure, but I said, “There’s no way I can go out and show that to people as my life’s work!” You opened it up and all you saw were earth genitals. I felt embarrassed, like a flasher. I was shy about it because I’m not into shocking people about sexuality.

Have men assumed from your work that you’re more inclined to, you know . . .

Yes. They interpret that I must want my brains fucked out all the time. It’s a natural response. They’re not bad for thinking that. Maybe slightly inept.

Has your work been censored?

In the beginning, I got comments like, “You must really have a dirty mind.” Not from women, from men! In my first outdoor show, a woman stood between my art and her husband and wouldn’t let him look. She said it was disgusting.

Maybe she thought you were perverting nature.

How can that be done? I’m just illuminating what exists: 530 million years of natural geologic events have sculpted these images.

You use only available light, right?

Ambient light only.

Do you ever alter the images in the darkroom?

In no way whatsoever. It’s important in this collection to portray earth exactly as it is. I’m creating socially acceptable art.

This whole endeavor is kind of funny, though, right?

Oh yeah! How can you be totally serious with this?

Your ideal sexual world looks like . . .

Everything is sexual.

I say Georgia O’Keefe, you say . . .

She said she wasn’t trying to create sexual impressions. I am.

What part of the world has the most natural booty?

So far, in my limited travels, the American Southwest. But that’s only because it’s where I really started.

You couldn’t possibly find anything sexy to shoot in, say, New Jersey.

I don’t know much about New Jersey.

Take my word for it.

Well, the East Coast doesn’t hold much for me.

Which of your photos turn you on?

Numbers 007, 023 [second-to-last photo]. No. 004 [fourth from top] because she’s so charming. I really love No. 002, that little maiden breast. Wait, are those all female images?

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ross Martin’s recent work appears in magazines such as Agni, Bomb, Boulevard, Denver Quarterly, Fence, Kenyon Review, Poetry Daily, Prairie Schooner, Verse, Witness and others. He has taught at Rhode Island School of Design, The New School University and Washington University in St. Louis, where he received his MFA. His first book, ‘The Cop Who Rides Alone,’ is published by Zoo Press (www.zoopress.org).

©2002
Ross Martin and Nerve.com