Cig Harvey and her husband Doug Stradley at their home in Rockport, Maine
Walking into Cig Harvey’s home is like stepping into one of her pictures. Every wall is painted a different bold color, each surface covered with vintage treasures and each chair adorned with whimsical pillows. There is always something slow cooking on her stove, filling her light-filled home with spice. She has several closets packed tight with her vintage dress collection, which she and others have worn in many of her images. She hopes that someday she will have a gallery show where she can display the dresses and the pictures side-by-side.
Cig exudes a radiating grace, she is instantly enchanting, from her calm and welcoming demeanor to her delightful British accent. In less than a decade, Cig has accomplished what most fine-art photographers strive to achieve in a lifetime. She has shown at galleries and taught workshops all over the world. Her work hangs in the permanent collection of many respected museums. She has photographed international fashion and product campaigns. In 2012, she published her first award-winning book, You Look at Me Like an Emergency, her second book Gardening at Night released to much fanfare in 2015 and her latest book You an Orchestra, You a Bomb launched in 2017. Her prolific career can be attributed to her tireless work ethic, her extreme passion for photography, and lots of long nights, travel and perseverance. While many artists stay in the city to establish and maintain their professional careers, Cig has managed to build her illustrious career from her farmhouse in Maine, located in a town of 2,000 people on the coast.
I saw Cig speak at the 2014 PhotoExpo in New York and she said one thing that really stuck with me. She went through a slide show of many of her incredible images and then came to one image, shot from above, of her husband watering a tiny green space and said, “This is the only photograph I took during the many years we lived in Boston. All of the rest of my photos were taken in Maine. So I ask you, are you inspired to take pictures every day? If not, are you living in the right place? This is something definitely worth considering if you want to make photography your life.”
Cig has certainly made photography her life and lives an inspired and peaceful existence in Maine with her husband Doug, their beautiful daughter Scout and their rescued show-worthy Golden Retriever, Scarlet. If you love taking photos, whether professionally or just for fun, I would highly recommend taking one of her workshops. Cig has a unique ability to inspire people and everyone who leaves her workshops say that they have never worked so hard or taken so many wonderful pictures. Cig’s story demonstrates that you don’t need to live in a city in order to achieve professional acclaim. (Click here to jump to her interview)
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Q & A
What inspired you to move to the country?
I grew up on the moors in the south west of England, a rural and extremely beautiful landscape steeped in storytelling and tradition. I moved from the city to the country many times in my 20s and 30s. So moving to mid coast Maine felt familiar, almost like a homecoming. For me, living in the city always felt temporary even though I was there for over ten years. It was just a matter of time. When I got pregnant and we had Scout, Doug and I both knew we didn't want to raise her in the city. I wanted her to have a similar childhood to my own.
What do you appreciate the most about life in the country?
Space. Time and space to think.
It was only recently I realized that in all the years I had spent living in an urban environment, I'd only ever made ONE portfolio-worthy photograph from the city, and that was a picture of Doug watering the plants in a small allotment. Essentially a county picture, right? I love the city for many reasons but I need to live in the county for my pictures.
I also love how doing small chores, like going to the post office, is a pleasant experience in the country. Alane, who works behind the counter always has questions about how my books are doing and someone behind me has an idea of location that might be perfect for a photograph. Whereas in Boston, going to the post office was always an ordeal that took an hour, a few gray hairs and a parking ticket.
What surprised you most about country living? Did it meet your expectations?
I don't really miss anything. I have to travel a fair amount, for shoots and speaking and teaching engagements, so I get my fixes for galleries, museums, and shops on those trips. I'm non-stop from morning until night, so by the time I am heading back to Rockport, I am desperate to be back home and walking around my garden in my slippers holding a cup of tea.
Would you ever go back to an urban existence?
Yes but for a finite period.
When you go back to visit the city, what are the first three things on your to-do list?
A cheap mani/pedi, gallery shows, and at least an hour or two wandering around stores touching and smelling things.
Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?
Daily life. The landscape, the light, and my family and friends.
Have you noticed a change in yourself and/or your work since moving away
from the city?
Everyday life is less stressful. There's so much more time to dedicate to thinking and making things instead of dealing with the every day business of living. I have zero commute, which instantly gives me an extra hour in the day to walk my dog or do yoga. I have also been known to nap. Sometimes your job as an artist is to stare at the sky thinking for an hour. It is harder to do that in the city. You would look like you had lost it.
Walk us through a typical day in your country existence? How does it compare to the day to day in the city?
I love mornings and tend to get up first. I feed Scarlet, my delicious dog, put the coffee on and get to work. I love that quiet uninterrupted morning time before Doug and Scout wake up. I reckon I can do four hours worth of work in those 90 minutes of magical focused time when it's just getting light.
Then it's breakfast and Doug or I, take Scout to school and it's straight back to work moving through my to-do list. I might be printing for a show, or making images, or in promotional mode for the book, someone might need jpgs and there's always also a ton of emails to write. I have a part-time assistant who works on and off depending on what is going on, but typically I am a one-woman show.
I work from home, which is very important for me. I get tempted all the time by cool studio spaces but always end up not using them. I forget things a lot and there's nothing more irritating than realizing I've left the charger at home or my favorite indigo writing pen. It is not for everyone, but I also really love the seamless art and life integration that happens working from home. When I get stuck on something creative, I'll often do a load of laundry or make a stew or curry something that cooks slowly and smells a lot. Somehow it helps unstick me.
I normally walk my dog with a bunch of girlfriends around 3.30, earlier in the winter and then I pick up Scout and go do something cool with her. Then, it's home, bath and dinner. Doug and I might watch a show in the evening. We just finished The Jinx. Loved it! I go to bed early.
Are there things that you are able to do here that you wouldn’t have dared to try before moving from the city?
It is cheaper to live in the country and having a smaller mortgage allows more time and freedom to experiment with art and writing rather than having to take on more commercial jobs to cover all the bills. We bought a farmhouse and land for a faction of the cost of a city mortgage. I have always thought that there is nothing more damaging to the creative process then worrying about money.
Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired?
Definitely the house and land we live on.
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities?
I think there is a misconception that you might be lonely or bored. For everyone I know, country living is busier and more social than their previous life in the city. It seems by having fewer options you do more and actually see your friends way more often. It is much harder to plan things and stick to them in the city.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
I want to have an amazing summer. I plan to start jumping in the lake very early this year. You can't have an endless summer if you start in August. I also just released my second book, Gardening at Night, so I have exhibitions and openings to celebrate the release of it in Boston, Los Angeles, Rockland and New York.