Noelle McCleaf is a photographer exploring themes of memory, relationship, and identity in the southern landscape. Born and raised in Virginia, Noelle received her BFA from the Ringling College of Art and Design and her MFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, both with a concentration in Photography. Her work has been shown in national and international exhibitions, including at the Camden Image Gallery in London, The Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida, The Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, Colorado, and at the Slow Exposures photography festival in Zebulon, Georgia. Publications that have featured her work include Blink Magazine, Fraction Magazine, Aint-Bad Magazine, Southern Glossary, Accent Magazine, Feature Shoot, Lenscratch and Plates-to-Pixels. She is currently a Visiting Professor of Photography at the Ringling College of Art + Design in Sarasota, Florida, and has been teaching photography professionally for nine years.

Evie Lou and Laura Jane 

2012 – 2016

Evie Lou and Laura Jane chronicles the stories and experiences between my mother (Evie Lou) and her best friend (Laura Jane).

Evie Lou is a healer and a survivalist whose past life visions awoke her to her true calling: a caretaker for the Earth and those who protect it. Laura Jane is a medical intuitive and hospice nurse from the Blackfoot tribe. She is a master storyteller, a way-shower, and a wisdom-keeper. The fundamental connection they share is their love for the Earth and all things of the Earth. 

The Center for New Beginnings is a large plot of land owned by Laura Jane in Myakka City, Florida. This sacred space contains a labyrinth, an organic garden surrounded by fruit trees and Spanish moss, and long pathways that lead to hidden altars and shrines. The property is a source of spirituality for my subjects, as it exudes a sense of wonder for all who walk its woods. 

Evie Lou and Laura Jane signify an under-represented part of the American population: aging women full of wisdom, vibrance, and charisma. In documenting their mutual journey, I wish to share their stories, for they are the voices of the grandmothers, the medicine women, and the storytellers who deserve our attention.

The Earth is our primal mother. We should be guardians of all life on Earth, and nurture it as we do our own children. -Evie Lou

Q&A: Ringling College of Art + Design

Why Ringling College of Art + Design? 

I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts from Ringling College in 2006, and had a wonderful, immersive experience as an undergraduate student. They were one of the photography departments that began working with inkjet printing early on, and this gave me skills I would later specialize in—inkjet printing for fine art photographers. 

After Ringling I went on to get my Master of Fine Arts at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, which was a very transformative experience that trained me to be a professional artist and educator. MCAD offered a teaching practicum that trained artists who were interested in entering the field of higher education, and this was extremely beneficial to developing my career as an educator. 

After working as an adjunct instructor for several years in Minnesota I wanted to return home to the South to continue my fine art work (I was working on my project A Bee in Her Bonnet at the time) and I needed a fresh start. I returned to the small town of Nokomis, Florida, and continued as a Part-time Professor at Ringling College and the State College of Florida. In fall of 2016 I began as a Full Time Visiting Professor. 

Ringling College of Art + Design is an amazing institution, offering 12 creative majors (BFA degrees), small class sizes, and amazing labs and facilities (RCAD ranked #1 as the most "wired" campus in America by US News & World Report), and is nestled alongside the beautiful South Florida coastline. The Photography and Imaging department offers small class sizes and a lot of individual attention for students. Scholarships are offered based on merit and the quality of a student’s portfolio. Our department has a unique affiliation with the International Center of Photography, and students can apply to study for a year in NYC during their junior year. 

What courses do you teach? 

I teach Lens Based Communication (an intro to digital imaging techniques), Art and Science of Color (a sophomore level course that covers color theory, color management, and fine art inkjet printing), and Professional Practices/Portfolio (a junior level business of photography course that prepares students for working in the professional field). 

How does your program bridge the gap between traditional and contemporary photographic practices? 

Our program offers Photographic Techniques in the first year—this is a traditional darkroom course where students learn the fundamentals of film photography. Students can also take Alternative Processes and learn 19th century photographic techniques such as tintypes and cyanotypes. Large Format photography is an elective available for students who want to pursue advanced film photography. 

In addition, our program offers courses in video and moving image techniques in classes such as The Moving Image, Digital Storytelling, and Digital III. We strive to give our students all of the tools they need to succeed in an ever-changing medium. 

Describe the output for photographs. 

In Photographic Techniques, students are required to make traditional darkroom prints.

In Large Format and Alternative processes, traditional prints are also required.

Some courses, such as Art and Science of Color, teach a hybrid approach, where negatives are scanned high resolution for professional quality fine art prints. 

Our digital labs contain wide format Canon inkjet printers, Epson Scanners, and professional mounting and finishing equipment available for students enrolled in photo classes. 

Describe the critique format. 

Critique formats depend on the course and the instructor, until the senior year when students participate in Thesis Exhibitions. Thesis critiques are open to all students and faculty members are invited to give students feedback to improve upon their thesis work. 

The final critique is a thesis defense in which students and faculty are invited to attend. 

In my classroom, I prefer to vary critique methods, from group critiques guided by the instructor, to peer-to-peer critiques, to written critiques and responses. Varying critique methods keeps students engaged with their peers and allows them to practice different ways of responding to photographs. 

Where can we keep up with your department online?

What other photo programs and artists should we be keeping an eye on? 

For MFA programs, I would highly recommend Minneapolis College of Art and Design in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They have an amazing faculty and program, which is mentor-based, in which you choose a mentor to work with during your two years as a graduate student. I was lucky enough to be able to work with Katherine Turczan as my mentor, along with other wonderful faculty such as David Goldes, Stevie Rexroth, and Rik Sferra. The MFA program at MCAD helped me create an extremely valuable career as an educator and an artist. 

For artists to watch, I would highly recommend Tammy Mercure, Ashley Kauschinger, Meg Griffiths, Jen Ervin, Michael McCraw, and Adrian Chesser.