Known for her scenic landscapes and captivating portraits, photographer Molly Steele didn’t set out to be Instagram famous—but she quickly developed a following anyway. We featured Molly’s work in the Minimalism Issue and asked her to share her journey from botany student to artist.
What got you started as a photographer?
I was traveling on research trips for my botany studies. A lot of people like to illustrate what they see, but I take a lot of time with my illustrations so it was just easier to take a photo and then draw it later. I was shooting a lot on these research trips, and I was able to go places that were really special and maybe not accessible to the general public. I just ended up taking a lot of photos while being out and that developed into more landscape photography. Now it’s taking a whole new turn where I’m integrating subjects with landscape or nature. I guess that has a lot to do with why I started doing photography, because of botany.
Your Instagram is very successful. How do you feel about that? Did you know what you were trying to do when you started it?
Glad, I guess. No, I never knew. If you look at the early entries of my Instagram, they were just dumb pictures like everybody else’s.
From your huge following, it seems like you’re doing what many people wish they could do.
It’s an escape. For me and for somebody to think and dream about doing. I just made my career my escape. Money, bills, expectations, schedules, other people. Life is set up really poorly. We are born and we have to work for the rest of our lives. We pay money for things or pay rent every month or a mortgage and bills and go to work every day. Who likes going to work? We learn to love our jobs or we find a job that we love, but why do we have to have a job? Who am I living for if I’m going to work every day for somebody else?
But what I’m doing isn’t easy either. I’m not going on vacation to Tahiti and sailing on this boat in the sunshine. It’s all a challenge, I just chose a different set of challenges. To me this is “going to work.”
Especially in New York or LA, we’re pressured to always be “on,” to fill up every second of our day while still embodying the composed woman. But sometimes silently observing our surrounding has much more value.
I don’t know if I could live without solitude. I don’t know if I would still be alive without having found that for myself. It’s just what I need to exist. I appreciate intimacy, whether it’s an object, or in nature, or following somebody walking around alone when they’re having an intimate experience—I think they call it stalking. [Laughs] I really appreciate observing minimalism in this way. I find joy and purity in being quiet with someone in that way.
Read the rest of the interview, plus more women’s stories in our Minimalism Issue.
Interview: Jessica Marvin, Georgette Maniatis, Saskia Ketz
Photography: Featured photo of Molly Steele by Frances F. Denny, other photos by Molly Steele