Photography instructor finds beauty in “Fatal” flowers

Molly Wood stands in front of one of her “Fatal Flora” photographs in Ritual Cafe. Wood teaches History of Photography and manages photo shoots at Meredith.

Molly Wood, 54, works for the Meredith Corporation where she manages photo shoots; she also teaches History of Photography at DMACC, and has held numerous solo exhibitions, but her path was anything but ordinary.

Molly’s grandmother passed when her mother was very young. Her grandfather didn’t have many photos of her to show Molly’s mother.  This is when her grandfather started taking a lot of photos.

While on vacation, she remembers her grandfather was “really cool” to be around.  The two would take walks and snap photographs of many things, such as trees and flowers. Photography became a love for Molly, and her face lights up as she talks about it.

She completed her bachelor’s degree in Photojournalism at Texas Christian University, but afterward, her goals changed. She realized she couldn’t take images of tragic scenes. This was when she started following the art history side of things.

As her interest in art photography grew, she became unsure if she could ever be an art photographer. Maybe she could teach, or perhaps land a job working at an art museum. She went to Southern Methodist University and got a master’s in Art History, specializing in the history of photography.

Imogen Cunningham became her favorite artist. Cunningham was a botanical and portrait photographer, who had a lifetime of work starting around 1900.  She was also friends with famous landscape photographer Ansel Adams.

Molly shares a story of their relationship: Imogen sent a pot plant to Ansel for his achievements, and joked that he was being a “tight-ass” and needed to lighten up. 

Molly moved around after college with her English ex-husband which took her to Vienna, Austria, where they had their daughter Emma. After a couple of years, her family moved to Vancouver, Canada. This is where she lived for five years before returning to the States with her daughter. Molly and Emma moved to Iowa to live closer to family. 

Becoming single came with a lot of uncertainties. Learning to be on her own was scary, but after facing her fears, Molly learned that she didn’t have to know everything.

With friends and family to help her pursue her dreams, Molly started to find herself by letting go of pent-up pain, and expressing her feelings through art photography.

Molly used two different grants to create the first showing of “Fatal Flora,” a gallery show that took place at Viaduct Gallery in Des Moines. Molly explained that women healers were called witches because they used herbs and flowers to heal people. This is why she called the collection “Fatal Flora.”

Molly’s “Fatal Flora” piece is moving to her because of its backstory.

After her divorce, she stopped shooting. No one even knew Molly took photographs when she moved to Iowa until one day some friends found a few of her old images. They asked why she stopped shooting. She started to cry, which was a response that spoke to her.

When Molly started shooting again, “Fatal Flora” was the first in a series of exhibits.  One image in it is a photograph of a toxic flower called Ricinus.  Ricinus is one of the most poisonous flowers there is. Ricinus is rested on a vintage, worn-out, tarnished book. Molly used natural lighting to show its poisonous, pink, prickly bud.

Molly’s message was clear: “I lost  my self-confidence; I didn’t want to put my heart on the wall.” It represented her damaged relationship.

As she was making art, she also dreamed of teaching it. “I really love art history. I would outline a class in my available time. It was my little fantasy to teach a class,” Molly said.

“David Purdy was a photographer for Meredith for a while, and that is how I met him. Some time had passed, when I saw him at a party. I joked with him about teaching history of photography, and David said ‘I am seriously looking for someone to do that.’” 

When the time to teach her first class came, she was nervous; she wasn’t really organized. The class had five students, but the discussions were good. “It gets better with each class; you find ways to improve,” Molly said.

“There are things I am doing in my fifties that I was too scared to do in my thirties and forties,” she said. She added she “ would like to revisit the old schoolhouse where her Grandfather went to school as a boy.”  There are many places she remembers from her grandfather’s small farm that she would like to revisit with her camera.

Molly said she is happier and cares for herself by doing what she loves doing. “I feel better when I am shooting.”

She adds, “Take the time to focus on yourself. Bad relationships take up too much time and energy. Figure out who you are before you get in a relationship; find yourself before adding someone else to your life.”

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