Shuttered: For Maggie Steber, Self-Isolation Is a Secret Garden

This is the first installment in a continuing project in which WIRED’s photo editors speak with photographers about their experiences during Covid-19 self-isolation. The following interview has been edited for clarity.

Maggie Steber’s career has spanned 40 years and taken her to 70 countries. Her portfolio includes photographs covering everything from war to fashion to science. This coronavirus pandemic, though, has her self-isolated in her Miami, Florida home (along with two feline roommates) where she’s focusing on a long-term project titled The Secret Garden of Lily LaPalma. Lily is Steber’s alter ego—and the photo series is her story of self-isolation. Lily leads a very secret life in her garden, Steber says, so this moment of keeping to oneself gives her great joy. Three years ago, the photographer received a very generous grant from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation in support of this project, but, Steber notes, Lily doesn’t care if anyone likes her work. She makes art for herself.

Anna Alexander: What are you doing these days to nourish your photo soul?

Maggie Steber: Two things: Making new photographs for my Guggenheim project, and looking through photo books from my collection. Oh, and also editing a lot of work still in slides that I never had the time to edit! So three things, really. The editing of older material is thrilling, but also sometimes depressing because some of it is so bad. The making of new photos for the secret garden project, though, is always thrilling.

Have you been organizing your archive or is it already super put-together?

Organized is not in my vocabulary. One personal silver lining that has emerged from this moment—for which I am terribly grateful—is that, for the first time in years, I have had time to look at contact sheets and select slides. It’s rather wonderful, sort of like a mini-slide show that takes me back to the earlier years of my career.

“During self-isolation, I find that exercising some way every day keeps my spirits up” Steber says. “And because I’m at home and eating more, it also helps me not gain weight.”Photograph: Maggie Steber

Do you find yourself more involved with the art community now that you’re sheltered in place?

I find myself more involved with friends in general, from both within and beyond the art community. I am, perhaps, most involved with my own art community, so to speak, which is my imagination. Believe me, it’s a very lively one.

With regard to keeping up with people, how are you feeling toward social media now, as compared to before the pandemic?



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