[Kelp Journal] Can you talk about why you chose photography? What does this form provide that other media does not?
[Topher Mueller] All artists have a medium that they've found to tell their stories or convey their feelings, and pursue it passionately, or obsessively. I have two—teaching and photography. I really feel that photography allows me to say so much without having to say it at all; it's a way to still teach but not have to speak it. I'm also fascinated by the science of capturing light and revealing things hidden to our naked eyes.
[KJ] What do you look for when framing a shot? What draws you to the pictures you take?
[TM] It depends on the genre. I tend to switch between underwater macrophotography as you see in the images here, and astrophotography. I suppose that I like extremes, or at least the juxtaposition between those two. In both of these cases, I may only see a speck for a target—such as a five-millimeter nudibranch—or just trust that my subject is in the frame, like a reflection nebula in the night sky, one thousand light years away. In both instances, I don't usually have the leisure of composition; I kind of get what's given. What I really enjoy is the flow that I fall into. In the case of these images, I'm in pursuit of these fascinating creatures off the sides of floating docks (a.k.a. dock fouling). Whether it's a type of nudibranch or something else, it's such a joy to know that the next new species is right around the corner.
[KJ] Should photographers be cognizant of the narrative they create of a place or time when exhibiting photos?
[TM] That has to be up to the photographer; not everyone images for agency. And the lack of narrative could be the narrative. While I can understand that, I can't employ it; there's so much I have to say for every image I take. I do hope to leverage these types of pictures to show how fragile and beautiful our marine ecosystems are, even in the most mundane places.
[KJ] How has the digital age affected photography?
[TM] It's become much more approachable, accessible. I appreciate that, because everyone should have an opportunity to share their joy in pictures. But, I do find it has watered down some of the more sincere artistry out there, and the opportunity to process photos to overly augment them is unfortunate, as you've no longer captured what was there. It's an odd threshold, especially in astrophotography, that one has to define, as there are many composite images of varying degrees.
[KJ] Are there any photographers that have influenced your work?
[TM] There are many, but I think that influence happens subconsciously. There are many astro, landscape, and marine photographers I follow, and new ones that I run across daily. If I attribute artists to my work, I can more easily name authors. A passage in Steinbeck's The Log from the Sea of Cortez helped me make sense of my pursuit of sea and sky: “It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again.”
Topher Mueller is a teacher and director at Chartwell School in Seaside, CA. When not in front of a class, he's behind a camera shooting the sky or sea near Monterey Bay. His latest work is a study of the juxtaposition between astrophotography and macrophotography via tidepooling and dock fouling. You can find a portfolio of his work at www.tophermueller.com.