by Heather Elder on Nov. 17, 2019
Mark Laita has photographed snakes for years, transforming what most might say are threatening, fear-inciting reptiles into colorful, alluring art. A resurged enthusiasm for Mark’s snake imagery surfaced, along with brands’ desire to pair their product with the beauty and allusion of what ophidians can bring. Curious about Mark’s long history with snakes, we asked him to fill us in on some details worth sharing.
HE: You are known for documenting #naturebylaita in much of your work, going so far as publishing several books of your nature photography. One such book, Serpentine, published in 2013, captures the beauty of snakes from all over the world. Snake imagery continues to show up in your work to this day. From where did you initially draw inspiration for photographing snakes?
ML: The beautiful and sensual shapes and textures of snakes are what attracted me to take on this project from the very beginning. That, along with all the symbolism connected with snakes, makes for a great subject. It’s just another excuse to play with color and form, which is much of what we’re doing as artists. The more I mature, the less I consciously focus on shapes, color, and composition as these have become instinctual.
HE: Have you ever been afraid for your safety when on set with snakes?
ML: No, and that can be a problem. Thank God I’m not a war photographer.
HE: You have said that one of the things you love about photography is the marriage of art and science and that the interplay of timing and movement is limitless in its potential. How do you balance the unpredictability of your snake model with artistic expression and fear?
ML: That’s exactly what makes it effective. When all of these elements click, the viewer’s senses get overwhelmed a bit, which makes art effective in my view. Form, color, texture, and meaning all working at the same time is what makes a viewer stop and process what they’re seeing.
HE: Creating graphically beautiful imagery takes a high level of attention to detail. You explain that it is this that drives you to take creative risks. Do you consider photographing snakes a creative risk?
ML: I don’t think photographing beautiful snakes is a creative risk. Animals are fun to look at. Not much risk there. There’s my questionable common sense in deciding to take on a project like this, that’s worth considering. Most people are pretty risk-averse. I’m attracted to risk.
HE: Legend says that you are one of the only people who survived a snake bite from a black mamba. Even though it happened in 2012, people are still asking about it. What is your takeaway from this experience?
HE: I’m more aware that my focus on getting the shot can lead me into dangerous situations sometimes. I think many photographers have this same character flaw.
HE: How does your approach to photographing snakes change when it is an ingredient or prop in a commercial project?
ML: Not at all, except for the danger aspect. The fundamentals of creating compelling imagery apply no matter what the subject is.
Follow Mark on Instagram or more imagery that displays the duality of art and science — a vision through contradictions.
Heather Elder graduated from Boston University and started her career at an advertising agency on the east coast where she worked as an account person at Leonard Monhan Lubars and Kelly. It was while working on the Polaroid account that she realized her interest in commercial photography. She left the ad agency to become an agent and producer for a Boston based photographer where she used her agency background to develop her own style. 20 something years later, from her offices in San Francisco and New York, she is still representing photographers and directors, producing and recording a podcast, writing a blog and hosting a website for freelance art producers. Mostly though she is always thinking ahead.