This is Nina Fuller’s favorite time of year to photograph her current subjects—the 35 Scottish Mountain sheep that live on her Hollis farm. “If it’s snowing I’m out there,” she says. A recent piece captures two members of her flock—named Perdernales and Bettye Ridge—standing against a barn doorway with the snow falling softly around them. One sheep is looking directly at the camera, while the other is facing sideways, with just its head and shoulders in the frame. They seem to be studying the snow, perhaps wondering if they should stay outside or retreat into the barn. Their sweet faces are somehow taciturn and revealing at the same time.
Like many of Fuller’s sheep photographs, the shot appears to be black and white, but it may not be. “I love color pictures that hardly look like they’re color,” she says. “Of course you can take the color out of anything nowadays, but I like them to be that way to begin with, where the world is monochromatic. That’s where winter comes in with the snow, and the black and white sheep, and the white barn, so you can actually take a color picture that looks black and white.”
Fuller has been a photographer for her entire working life; she did catalog shoots for LL Bean and Lands End to pay the bills, and more recently photographed horses and riders for stories on equestrian vacations, which she also wrote. “I did that because I wanted to go on those vacations, so that was a wash—not a money maker,” she says, laughing. She began photographing sheep 11 or 12 years ago, when they came into her life by happenstance. “Before I got the sheep I didn’t know anything about sheep.” A friend knew a man who wanted sheep, but didn’t have the necessary land; if Fuller would keep them on her farm, he would pay for the grain and hay to feed them. “I said, ‘Are you crazy? I don’t need that,’” Fuller told her friend. Eventually, in “a weak moment,” Fuller relented, “so up comes this stock trailer with 12 sheep and nine or 10 of them were pregnant,” she says. “The sheep farmer was getting a divorce so he needed to sell them. Now, I would never do that; you can’t move sheep three weeks before they’re going to have babies!” After the sheep started lambing, she photographed them to keep track of which lambs belonged to which ewes, and fell in love. “I got fascinated by the way they look in photographs, and in real life,” Fuller says.
Three years later when the man who wanted sheep decided to move on, Fuller kept the flock, but downsized from 59 sheep to her current number, which now includes a few Cormo sheep—renowned for their wool—in addition to the “Scotties.” She has become attuned to their habits and rhythms, and is drawn to their expressive faces. “They smile, especially the lambs,” she says.
She doesn’t always photograph the sheep in snow. “Bella in the Woods” was shot on August 31, Fuller’s birthday. In the 36” x 36” archival pigment print, Bella, a rare black “Scottie” with three white stripes on her neck, stands with her head turned and a shaft of sunlight illuminating her front right hoof. “I took that photo at noon, which is not something you usually do,” Fuller says. “But in the woods, with the light coming straight down on her hoof—I just love that photograph.”
While she thinks it might soon be time for another equestrian vacation, Fuller is happy at home with her animals, which include a donkey, a mule, a mini horse, a pony, a full-sized horse, two border collies, a livestock guardian dog, a few goats and the sheep. “I’m very content with the sheep. I feel like I can get more great shots. That’s what keeps an artist going anyway, is searching for the really beautiful shot.”
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