Written by John Busbee
A self-described nature freak, photographer Cindy Skeie grew up in a Windsor Heights house backed by a creek and expansive woods. The wonders she and her four brothers discovered during their adventurous forays into this Pooh-like wood seeped into her soul, creating a lasting impression that today forms the basis of her fine-art photography.
Skeie focuses on shooting close-up images of nature, ranging from raindrops to flowers, bugs to berries. Full of intricate detail and dramatic color, the captivating photos whisk the viewer into the natural world in unexpected ways: A sap drop, for example, reflects the dreamy depths of its micro-universe, while a spider web reveals the surprising color inherent in its structure and a big-eyed frog (pictured, below) elicits a smile. (Click here to see one of Skeie’s floral images, and go to skeiescapes.com for more photos.)
The vivid colors in her photos “are all natural—no artificial colors added,” says the 51-year-old Skeie. With a zoomed-in, unfiltered perspective, “everything seems so much more colorful. Colors (and) contrasts just explode from the image,” she says. “Besides, I learned early not to muck with nature. People think that because you do digital photography, there’s manipulation. There isn’t with my work.”
“Cindy always seems surprised when she looks in the viewfinder of her camera to see what she’s just shot,” says Chris Gourley, who produced a story on her for Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Outdoors” series. “When she’s out with her camera, it’s as if she’s on an adventure where there’s plenty of treasure to be found.”
A self-taught photographer, Skeie says her “obsession” began with flowers about 15 years ago after she bought a house in Windsor Heights and planted gardens. “Noticing the beauty of the plants and flowers soon expanded to bugs, fungus and even pond scum,” she says. “It spiraled from there.”
Although Skeie’s love of photographing the natural world has taken her to countries such as Nicaragua and Ecuador, it was chance that brought her to Yelapa, Mexico, for the first time in 2011.
“I had a relationship with a biker who was riding from Canada to the southern tip of South America. I would take time off from work to visit him at various places along his journey,” Skeie recalls. “The relationship didn’t last, but through him, I connected with Yelapa, a small Mexican fishing village (south of Puerto Vallarta). I bonded with this wonderful village of colorful characters. It was the beginning of my beautiful relationship with Yelapa and its people.”
Skeie visited Yelapa five times while still working full time. After returning from her fifth visit in the summer of 2014, she gave up her administrative job to pursue photography full time. Within a month of quitting her job, she loaded up her SUV with equipment, supplies and her two shelter dogs—Macy, a German shepherd mix, and Shelby, a golden retriever mix—and was on her way to a three-month full immersion into Yelapa, its landscape and its culture. She felt a new freedom to deeply explore and further hone her eye for imagery. She returned to Des Moines refreshed, inspired and with thousands of new photographs in hand.
Wherever and whatever she’s shooting, Skeie seeks to act as a witness to, and tell a story of, the world’s natural wonders. “I want people to step back and say, ‘Wow, there’s a lot to appreciate out there’ when they look at my photographs,” she says. “If I couldn’t share what I discovered with others, I wouldn’t do it. … Sharing is an essential part of my process.”