Archive for the ‘Photo Essay’ Category

The To-Do List Book

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

To-Do: Read Sasha Cagen’s To-Do List Book.

I need to start writing more, going to bed before 5 am, and making it to dance class. I need to stop biting my nails, procrastinating, and forgiving people who lie to me.

This time of year, almost everyone is composing a wish list. What I want from Santa gives way to what I want from myself, as yellow pads amass promises of diets begun and workout regimens adhered to.

But for most of us, all the time is list time. I’m a disorganized person, but I write groceries on my fridge, deadlines above my desk, and every man I’ve ever kissed in the same spiral notebook I began at 14.

Sasha Cagen, the author/blogger/magazine editor/pop culture genius who conceived Quirkyalone has turned her attention to the humble To-Do List. Her new book To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us is both sociologically illuminating and voyeuristically thrilling.

“Our lists reveal our secret selves,” she writes in the introduction. “They show us as the hilariously imperfect works-in-progress that we are every single day.”

Each list is reproduced on the original page in the original handwriting, and the effect is visceral enough to give a full image of the writer (or post-traumatic stress syndrome if one happens to be your old boss). Health lists, sex lists, things to do before you die…each is intimate and kind of inspiring. Read some below and then grab a post it to start your own—or post it in the comments. Need more inspiration? You know what to do. -Rachel Fershleiser
Listen to Sasha Cagen talking about to-do lists on NPR’s Talk of the Nation.

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Full On With Leonard Nimoy

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

Leonard Nimoy—famous for portraying the Spock character in the Star Trek universe—did not set out to photograph naked fat women. He got lucky.

A talented and passionate photographer who built his own darkroom out of found parts as a teen, Nimoy has been creating black-and-white art photography since the early 1970s. As Houston Museum of Fine Arts photography curator Anne Wilkes Tucker explains, Nimoy’s work explores deep themes such as “his Jewish heritage, a concern for human dignity and the concept of Shekhina, a Talmudic term for the manifestation of God on earth.” Shekhina is the title of Nimoy’s first book of photographs.

His most recent book of fine art photographs is called The Full Body Project, an exploration of proud fat women. Although I am not one of Nimoy’s models, I too am a proud fat women; this project resonates with in a very personal way.

I have always been fat. I wasn’t always proud. Then, in the mid-1990s, I started a ‘zine and then wrote a book, both called FAT!SO?, to express what might be called fat pride. In the process of being the proudest possible fat woman, I got lucky. I met another proud fat woman named Heather MacAllister, who founded Big Burlesque & the Fat Bottom Revue, “the world’s first exclusively plush-size, gender-inclusive burlesque ensemble.” Before her recent death, Heather fought fiercely to expand the world’s definition of beauty and sexuality and humanity to include all of us. In one of her proudest pieces of work, Heather and her dancers posed for Leonard Nimoy.

The Full Body Project is a near-perfect book of images, with an elegant introduction by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Natalie Angier. It’s also an ongoing project for each one of us, the project of living fully in our bodies. It was with a great pleasure that this proud fat woman (six-word memoir: “This body, this fat, this life!”) spoke with Leonard Nimoy about the story behind these luscious, liberating, loving photographs.

Marilyn Wann: I’m curious about the story of how this book, The Full Body Project, came to happen. I’d love to hear how you met your first fat model.
Leonard Nimoy: The story of this book begins with a lady on a black background, lying on a black cloth in the back of the book. My wife and I have a house in Lake Tahoe. A camera shop owner in the area, in Carson City, heard I was in the area and contacted me to do an exhibit, which I did. I was showing some of the earlier work from a book that I published called Shekhina, about the feminine aspect of God. There were a number of people who showed up and one woman approached me and she said, “I’m a model. I’m a different body type than what you’re working with. I wonder whether you’re interested in working with me.” And we did. She came to our home in Lake Tahoe.

I’m trying to picture the conversation you and your wife had, driving home from the gallery show.
I said, “What do you think?” And she said, “You ought to try it, break some boundaries and do something different.” I was concerned about it because I wanted to make sure I did her justice. I wanted to find an appropriate way to photograph her. I’d never photographed that body shape or size. I wasn’t sure how to do it. But I found a way, in black and white photography, to make a kind of sculptural look. I told her that I wouldn’t publish the pictures unless she approved and she said she would show them to her husband. I had paid her, like any model. So she showed them to her husband, and she said that he said, “That’s my girl.” So I said, “Okay then, we’re on.”

This sounds like a different level of caution than you use with average-body models.
Yes. I think, too, that she had not done a lot of figure modeling. Although she called herself a model, her work had come in advertising modeling and so it was not fine art work.

What happened next in the story of this book?
We subsequently showed some of those images in other exhibitions of my work. These got a lot of attention. I realized that there’s a difference between making artwork and making documentation in photography. A lot of my previous work would be described as fine art or art photography. It was all based on a concept that I had developed, or some other subject, and I was using models to help express that idea. In this case the work was a crossover between artwork and documentation. It was about a concept but it was also about her story.

So you were telling her story in addition to telling your own story about the subject.
I was telling a story about this particular person. As a result, it was a different kind of photography. When people saw the picture, they wanted to know about her. They had the same questions you’re asking. So I became curious about this question of body image in our culture. I contacted a model here in Los Angeles who is not a fat body activist or a fat model, but she’s a model activist and works with a lot of different kinds of models. I asked her if she knew of anybody who might fall in that category and she put me in touch with Heather MacAllister.

Whose troupe, Big Burlesque, were revolutionary in bringing fat people to burlesque and bringing fat visibility to the public.
I contacted Heather and I sent her a couple of images that I wanted to replicate. It was the image that is on the cover of the book, which was originally done by Herb Ritts of high fashion models Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell. I said to Heather, “I’d like to replicate this with you.” I also wanted to do a diptych, two pictures of four women walking toward the camera, one of them clothed and the other one nude, and that was based on a diptych by a very famous fashion photographer named Helmut Newton. So I sent her Helmut’s pictures and that’s how we began.

We went to San Francisco and we photographed Heather and her group there. Then a year later, they were coming to Los Angeles to perform and we agreed to photograph them again at the Hammer Museum in Westwood. That’s the whole story.

I wasn’t sure that I had enough pictures for a book. I think that’s when I contacted you. I was looking for more models. But Garrett White, an editor from Fiveties Publishing, which later published the book, contacted me. He had seen some of the pictures—and said, “Do you have more?” I gave Fiveties my contact sheets and they went through and found the book.

I think it’s a strong book because of the group of models, and then the single model at the end who’s so powerful. What was it like for you, who perhaps had not come across fat pride activists before?
Very educational.

What did you learn?
I learned a lot about body image in our culture. Heather said to me, “Beauty is culture driven.” I realized that we are swamped with advertising that tells women in our culture—95 percent or maybe 99 percent of them—-that they don’t look right. That they should be buying these pills or buying this diet program or buying these exercises or buying this surgery to try to get closer to what the culture says they should look like. It’s a gigantic amount of pressure on an enormous number of people who are not going to look like what this culture says is required.

I actually have a feeling of concern for the models who are perceived as beautiful and then their stories aren’t a point of curiosity. When we look at, say, a Herb Ritts photograph of a typically beautiful woman, by our cultural definition of beauty, why don’t we wonder what her story is? Is it because her beauty somehow erases her story?
I think you’re right. I think they’re objectified. It’s not the story or the person we’re looking at, it’s the image. We’re not even looking at the person; we’re looking at the image of her.

And that image is somehow a different thing from the person.
Quite different. I think the photographs in this book tell us that we’re looking at some quite specific people. These are very real people. Their exuberance and their sense of life comes off the page.

Do you have a feeling of points of contact from your own life experience and the fat models that you worked with and their life experience?
Anybody who has ever felt alienated knows what this is all about. To me, it’s a question of being marginalized and alienated. When I first came to Los Angeles looking for work as an actor, there was a particular kind of look that Hollywood was buying in those days—and it wasn’t me. They wanted the typical, blond-haired, blue-eyed guy. Tab Hunter was hot stuff. So my agent took me and we made the rounds of the studios and nobody was interested because I was just wrong. I wasn’t what you would call a pretty guy.

Has that feeling of being an outsider affected your work?
I had to rely on a belief that if I was good enough, I could overcome the visual. If I learned my craft and worked hard and became valuable as a performer rather than as a look, then I would find my way to a career. I concentrated on being able to do the work better than the next person.

Well, it all worked out. And aren’t you making a new movie soon?
Yes, I’m going to be acting in a new Star Trek movie.

Do you mind if I ask you about the reaction to your comment in The New York Times feature on you about the sexual attractiveness of your models and whether you found them beautiful or sexually attractive. I find it a funny kind of a question, but evidently that was something The New York Times asked you and it stirred up a bit of a controversy.
I’ll tell you, the writer of the Times article, Abby Ellin, has said that the editor insisted that the question had to be asked because people would be curious about it, my sexual reaction to these women. I understand that and I have no problem with it. I think Abby did a terrific job and a very honest job in reporting what my photographs were about. My answer is that I don’t have any sexual intent or interest in any of these models that I work with.

In all of your work?
Yes. There may be sexual suggestions and there may be people who find the models sexy in one way or another or who are interested sexually in the models, whatever type they may be. When I’m doing the work, I’m not thinking sex, I’m thinking image. I’m thinking about a look, I’m thinking about an idea, I’m thinking about a concept. I’m totally preoccupied with that. I don’t get aroused doing these photographs with any of the models I work with. So it’s not an issue for me.

I find it curious that The New York Times, the great, Gray Lady, found it so necessary to ask that question when you photograph fat women.
I think it’s a question a lot of people think. “Why is Nimoy photographing these fat women? What is his interest in these women?” A lot of people wonder. My answer is that I’m interested in these women as human beings.


BUY The Full Body Project..
VISIT Leonard Nimoy’s site.
LISTEN to a fascinating interview with Nimoy on NPR’s Weekend Edition.

Inside, Out: The Self-Portraits of Guillermo Riveros

Monday, November 12th, 2007

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Guillermo Riveros isn’t afraid of a little T and A—especially if it’s his A. His series Corrupta is an examination of gender identity with Guillermo as the star of every shot. The images are jarring, even disturbing—seemingly shot with zero hesitation. Images of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ can be found in Corrupta and throughout his other work, which is often intensely sexual and occasionally quite violent. But don’t get the wrong idea. Guillermo, a 25-year-old illustration student at Manhattan’s Parsons The New School for Design and transplant from Bogota, Columbia, isn’t some sexually repressed kid who was raised by his overly strict Catholic mother (though he does concede that his time at a parochial high school might have pushed him to work in more aggressive ways, and that may explain his interpretation of these beloved childhood characters). What fascinates this rising star is the relationships and perceptions that exist between what he calls subcultures (a la drag queens) and the more “moderate” culture.

Corrupta is currently on display at Bogota’s Museum of Modern Art and the Santa Fe Gallery, which is part of the Bogota Planetarium. Guillermo talked to SMITH about body fluids, changing perceptions, and his mini-celeb status back home. —Kathy Ritchie

When did you start taking pictures?
I began taking pictures when I was in my second year in college—that was back in 2001. I graduated from an art school in Bogota and then I came here to study illustration.

What kind of camera are you using?

I use a Kodak P880. It’s a professional digital camera.

How’s photography going so far as a career?
I think its very interesting. I have a very specific subject mater, which limits me in terms of commercial work. But I think it’s great. I walk through the city looking for more opportunities to show my work. I’ve done well in my city, but there’s not a lot of public for this kind of work, this subject matter.

What is Corrupta all about?

The series was made for an event that is currently going on in Bogota. I was invited to participate in this event at the beginning of year, and began working on the series in March. It’s a take on a previous work—I was working with body fluids. I tried to take some of those ideas and [incorporate them into] the photographs.

The series is quite jarring. It’s very sexual, very violent—what’s the reaction you’re trying to elicit?
I’m always looking for various reactions. I like when people are shocked by my work, then discovering the aesthetic values in an image they see, and hopefully they change their mind. It has happened before, and I really love when they have that kind of reaction. At first, they might feel threatened by the image; when they get closer to it, they start liking it.

You call yourself the “protagonist” in your own photographs. So what story are you trying to tell?
I’m putting myself in these photographs as an anonymous body and every time I recreate these kind of characters, I’m making myself the star of each story—it resembles in a miniature way how this whole dynamic of gender identity construction happens; so it’s about the conflicts, what’s going on around [the characters], the way they are dressed. In Corrupta, especially, I constructed symbols around them because I wanted to use the body fluid as the symbol.

What are the fluids symbolic of?
They’re symbolic of what the body rejects. The body fluids are symbolic of what the body needs to release, what’s disposable. They also become a metaphor for people who feel outside of society, who are kind of disposable—or not quite disposable, but rejected outsiders.

Since you’re the star of your own photographs, who’s taking the pictures?
For most pictures, I set up camera and use the timer.

Wow, you’re good.
I’ve been practicing for a long time. I’ve been working on a series of self-portraits, just building up everything so far for sometime; I trained myself to do it. But in some cases it’s too difficult, like for example the vomit pictures; I needed help, so my boyfriend helped me take the picture. That one, and the one on the grass (Orines).

What’s the funniest or strangest thing that’s happened to you while you were working?

Orines is the first exterior I had ever done. I always shot inside a house or a room or a set that I built. This one I was outside in the field and it was really hard because I was just wearing a thong and high heels and wig, and my boyfriend was helping me take the pictures and there were people moving around us, there were people staring, and the grass was filled with ants and they were biting my feet. And every time my boyfriend was taking the picture, I still have to go back to the camera and see how it’s looking—I have full control of everything. It was funny, I got my heels stuck on the grass, almost fell. I had to run back and forth and we had very strict time restriction because I wanted a very high yellow sunset sun, it gives you less than an hour to work. We were laughing the whole time.

What makes a good image to you?
I would say something that makes you have a reaction and gives you thoughts after. I think that’s basically what you want in an image.

Your work is incredibly provocative. That being said, what do you consider off-limits?
I don’t think I have anything that’s off limits. I tend not to be politically correct in that sense. I don’t censor myself at all.

Who are some of your favorite artists?
Pierre et Gilles; David LaChapelle; John Waters; Pedro Almodovar; James Bidgood; Cindy Sherman; Yasumasa Morimura; Anthony Goicolea; Austin Young

What’s your six-word memoir?
Quiero ser el rey de todo. Which translates to: I want to be the king of everything.

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Lost and Found: The Libertines of Folsom Street

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

by Rebecca Woolf

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I have always been fascinated by outsiders, feeling quietly like one myself, hiding behind high fashion and well-manicured hair. Laughing out loud with friends, sometimes unaware of what we’re laughing about. What’s so funny?

I grew up in the suburbs where we all dressed like twins and drove matching cars with the same Fly Girls stickers on our bumpers. We lived in homes with the same floor plan and pools in the backyard and wore our hair identically: long and blond.

A group of kids at my high school called themselves “thespians,” but we referred to them as “Goths.” They were involved in theater and wore more makeup than allowed on the stage. Dressed in black, they looked like ghosts in trench coats. They thought of themselves as non-conformists but in reality they all looked the same: same blue and black hair, same Nine Inch Nails stickers on their car windows, same combat boots.

We weren’t that different from each other. We just hid behind different costumes.

Several years ago, I took a trip with some friends to the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco, an annual gathering notorious for its exhibitionists: a parade of freaks and outsiders and misfits and the people who enjoy watching them expose themselves.

I was intrigued to learn that many of the Folsom libertines lead normal lives on the weekdays but enjoyed Folsom for its openness and community of similarly outfitted peers. Just like nudists might go to a nudist colony or Emo kids to a Morrissey convention, every year Folsom Street Fair opens its gum-stained arms to thousands of social pirates and their booty. One such married couple, donning head to toe leather, admitted they were a doctor and lawyer by day. They agreed to let me take their photo in exchange for a couple of cigarettes and told me they made the trek every year to hold hands, half naked, and watch other couples do the same.

“These are our people,” they said, puffing on my Parliaments.

It is a strange conundrum to go on a portrait safari in quest of misfits and outcasts in a place where they all look alike, fitted in disguises, faces covered, cocks on display. Or breasts. Their eyes hidden behind glasses and masks.

What I found more interesting than the groups of men and women who came to find camaraderie, were the people I found alone. The man dressed up like a nurse with a Barbie backpack and a leopard print suitcase, trying to find his way home. The boy who looked like an angel, crouching amidst the rush of the crowd, a human sundial—his shadow growing across the pavement as the sun moved across the sky. A man in the executioner’s mask, holding his own camera as he offered me his flaccid penis like some kind of sacrifice. And the boy with the spiky Mohawk who stopped to light a cigarette under the “No Stopping” sign.

“Take my picture,” moaned a transvestite in high-heeled shoes, her blond hair whipping about her face in the wind. She posed awkwardly like a queen on The Island of Misfit Toys. “Show the world how beautiful I am.”

I took her picture and she thanked me, kindly asking if I could mail her a copy of the photo. I agreed and took down her address. But after getting my film back and finding her frowning face amidst the dozens of Folsom characters on my proof sheets, I knew I wouldn’t be sending her the print. I was afraid she would see her sadness, that maybe without photographic proof she could maintain her place as queen of the costumed.

What is an outcast and when does one stop being one? Who are the lost boys and girls and what does it take to find them? A couple of cigarettes? A friend? A camera? A mob of people who dress the same? Twins and triplets in matching leather with the same cock rings and sexual deviancy?

And suddenly, the normal girl is the one on the outside, appearing lost amidst the found.

Maybe I should have sent the print to the transvestite in the black dress. Or maybe I saw something in her that I was able to identify in myself. Something private and freakish. Something that reminded me of my own two faces and an underbelly I was afraid to expose.

I do believe that there is a place for everyone in the parade: The performers and the clowns and the marching band and the crowd that loves to watch, searching for answers to questions we are still trying to find the guts to ask ourselves. Trying to find a way to tell our personal stories with the faces of strangers, or better understand our fetishes and oddities, all the while hiding behind cameras or pristine suburban lawns.

There is a story in every face and body piercing and stroke of makeup. There is joy and sadness in the collective lost and found, in the liberated smiles of people finding one another and the frowns of those who arrive at a party, only to feel even more isolated than before. And then there are the libertines, who, when gathered up in a large group, become ordinary. The same.

And maybe that’s the point. Maybe we’re all wandering around trying to find a place to belong, digging through the lost and found bins in search of missing pieces, marching to the beat of someone else’s drum if we haven’t the rhythm to pound our own set of bongos, finding people we can laugh with for all the right reasons—liberating our inner-freak while at the same time, trying to fit in.

Rebecca Woolf is the storied Girl’s Gone Child blogger and author of the forthcoming memoir, Rockabye.

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An interview with Jessica Bruder, author of Burning Book

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

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Thomas K. PendergastJessica BruderJessica Bruder

“Maybe you’re walking around the festival and a gaggle of motorized cupcakes whizzes past, while a troupe of French maids is trying, ineffectually, to tidy up the desert with feather dusters, all in the shadow of a barn-sized rubber duck with a jazz club in its belly. Then things will probably get weirder.”

On the eve of her book tour, and just weeks before the 2007 Burning Man festival (this year’s theme: green), SMITH’s Kathy Ritchie talked to Jessica Bruder, a 29-year-old staff writer for The Oregonian and author of Burning Book: A Visual History of Burning Man.


SMITH: Tell us your favorite Burning Man story.
Jessica Bruder: The wildest Burning Man story is the event’s own history. Two guys torched a hastily assembled, eight-foot-tall wooden effigy on a San Francisco beach in 1986… and ka-boom! That impulsive gesture exploded into the center of an enormous celebratory metropolis built each summer by tens of thousands of people–more than 39,000 folks in 2006.

Win this book!
Burning BookSend SMITH your Burning Man story in 100 to 1000 words. Five storytellers will win a copy of Jessica Bruder’s brilliant and beautiful Burning Book.

But my favorite Burning Man story is a quieter one.

It began in 1998, when an Oregon fisherman showed up in the desert with 1,300 pounds of tuna loins. That was a bad year for fishermen in the Pacific Northwest; a global glut made tuna all but worthless. So 63-year-old “Cap’n” Jim Peterson from Coos Bay packed his entire catch in a U-Haul with ice and drove it out to Nevada. He figured he’d sell it to the revelers at Burning Man.

Jim had seen some pictures from the festival the year before. These were wild scenes, folks slathered from head to toe in mud, cavorting gleefully as if they’d never been in the middle of such a delightful mess. He figured all that running around must work up an appetite. Even mud-people have to eat. Maybe they would buy his tuna?

Jim drove 450 miles to Burning Man, only to learn that vending is against the rules there (and bad etiquette, too). So he started a marathon barbecue session. He served his tuna to everyone in sight. He ended up giving it all away.

Now, every year at Burning Man, Jim and his friends—nicknamed “The Tuna Guys”—bring hundreds of pounds of fish to cook and share with everyone. And it’s not easy for them; they’ve had their share of misadventures. Their rattletrap pickups and Volkswagens always seem to break down on the long drive to the festival. And the Nevada health department has hounded them so much, their camp has practically become a seafood speakeasy.

I love his story, because it offers insight about the kind of dedication and generosity the festival seems to bring out in some people. These days, the mere mention of Burning Man conjures up visions of tech-savvy hipsters baying at the moon and gyrating around the desert in hot pink fake-fur loincloths. That stuff bores me. And that’s why I love the Tuna Guys’ story—it’s less about the Burning Man stereotype, more about the potluck style of participation that makes the event so fascinating.

What can Burning Man newbies expect?
Jessica BruderExpect sensory bombardment. Just when you’ve decided the scene is strange—maybe you’re walking around the festival and a gaggle of motorized cupcakes whizzes past, while a troupe of French maids is trying, ineffectually, to tidy up the desert with feather dusters, all in the shadow of a barn-sized rubber duck with a jazz club in its belly. Then things will probably get weirder.

Remember and repeat: you can’t see everything at Burning Man. Finding a specific niche during the event is a great way to get your bearings. Black Rock City—the name of Burning Man’s temporary metropolis—can feel amorphous and alienating to first-timers. But if you’re hammering nails on an art installation, greeting people at the front gate, DJ’ing at a local low-wattage radio station, or lending your hands to any one of hundreds of projects, that’s a great way to feel like you’re a part of things and get oriented.

And don’t forget to drink water. Plenty of water.

Best way to attend Burning Man: Naked or clothed—and why?
In my personal opinion? Clothed. Particularly if you’re as pale as I am, which means the desert sun will leave you about as comfortable and attractive as a well-boiled lobster.

I don’t have a problem with most of the naked people at Burning Man. For some of them, I think going naked probably feels like wearing any other kind of costume (apart from the ventilation factor).

Only one kind of nudity makes my eyes bleed: men wearing T-shirts and no pants. Those guys look awful. They’re prime targets for one of my favorite Burning Man inventions: the pants cannon, which uses air pressure to sling slacks over great distances. I consider the pants cannon a public service.

How has the story of Burning Man changed from the first year you went to the last year?
For the better part of two decades, the festival’s survival from one year to the next was precarious. But in 2006, the federal Bureau of Land Management—essentially Burning Man’s landlord—granted the event a five-year permit to operate in the Black Rock Desert.

Now people are wondering just how far the game can go. They’re debating whether Burning Man should be a self-contained escape from routine, or if festival-goers share enough common desires and values to work together towards some kind of progress—social, political, environmental—during the rest of the year.

After Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, a group of festival-goers (later named “Burners Without Borders”) went down to Mississippi to help clean up. They found some of their desert skills—building a base camp in a hostile environment, working with heavy machinery on colossal, daunting projects—came in handy as they rebuilt a devastated Buddhist monastery and demolished 60 ruined houses.

Now that Burning Man has proved it’s not a passing fancy, how does the whole thing evolve? That’s where the narrative tension is today. People weren’t thinking in quite those terms back in 2002, when I started attending the festival.

On top of that, the event keeps growing. In 2002, the population hit about 29,000 people; there were more than 39,000 people at Burning Man in 2006.

If the Burning Man festival itself had a six-word memoir, what might it be?
Dusty wide kaleidoscope, where’s my chapstick?

And your own personal six-word memoir?
Talk to me. Write it. Repeat.

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Thomas K. Pendergast Tim Timmermans Tomas Loewy-Lansky Jessica Bruder Rick Egan Rick Egan Rick Egan Jessica Bruder Thomas K. Pendergast Jessica Bruder Michael Christian Fabian Mohr Caroline Miller Caroline Miller Stewart Harvey Stewart Harvey Stewart Harvey Stewart Harvey Stewart Harvey Stewart Harvey Stewart Harvey Rick Egan Jessica Bruder Dan Adams Rick Egan

Iraqi Graffiti: The Photos of Todd Bowers

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

By Michael Slenske

SMITH contributing editor Michael Slenske's last story was a "Back Home from Iraq" feature on MoveOn's VideoVet winner John Bruhns.

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As far as Iraq war vets go, Marine reservist Todd Bowers might be the luckiest. During a routine patrol on the outskirts of Fallujah in the fall of 2004, his civil affairs unit was called to a firefight. There, amidst heavy fighting with insurgents, they spotted three civilians caught in the crossfire. Bowers’ unit attempted to rescue them, but the skirmish was too intense. “There was some gunshots kicking up around me, I saw where they were coming from, so I dropped to my knee, fired back a couple times, then BOOM!,” recalls Bowers. “A bullet literally missed my head by an eighth of an inch. It hit the scope [an advanced combat optical gunsight, or ACOG, which Bowers' father bought for him with his own money]. I’ve still got a bunch of chunks of metal in the left side of my face.” Although he had blood pouring from his head, Bowers refused to be medivaced from the site without the civilians. “I threw them in the back of a Humvee,” he says. “Then jumped in the driver’s seat with my eye all bandaged up and drove over to Bravo Surgical to get them treated.”

Amazing? Sure. But Bowers returned home with much more than a crazy souvenir and a wild story. Knowing he’d face these kinds of indescribable experiences in Iraq, before deploying he planned to mirror a project his uncle Kendall undertook as an Army surgeon in Vietnam. When Kendall wasn’t saving lives, he was taking photos—graphic snapshots of wounded soldiers and close-call incidents in the MASH—that he later turned into a slideshow, dubbed Vietnam Graffiti. To offer context to the slides for the vets who viewed them back home, Bowers’ uncle added quotes he’d heard during his tour. “He felt the time you hear the most honesty from people is when they do graffiti on bathroom walls or port-o-johns and they write it anonymously,” says Bowers. “When I took a picture I knew that moment would be the one time I would hear what people really felt.” During his two tours Bowers snapped some 1,400 photos. His images offer an intimate view of the war: from immediate pics of Jessica Lynch’s convoy after it was attacked to ironic shots of the Fallujah Career Retention Center to panoramas of the Straits of Gibraltor sailing to Kuwait for the initial invasion.

“We deployed so quickly I was using little disposables at first. They actually worked pretty well. My favorite pictures are from the Ziggurat of Ur, the birthplace of Abraham. You can tell someone what it’s like on top of it, but unless you can actually show them it’s hard to imagine,” says Bowers. “I even got pictures of when they delivered Thighmasters [to Fallujah]. We were getting humanitarian aid sent and we got in a bunch of Thighmasters—official, Made in Taiwan, Suzanne Somers Thighmasters.”

Two months after his second deployment, he made his own slideshow while he was living in Los Angeles, “sofa-surfing” at friends’ homes. Although he showed his project, Iraqi Graffiti, to a dozen or so people, and later to a couple Washington, D.C. art galleries, Bowers wasn’t comfortable taking the project public. “I got the vibe from people where they were like, ‘Oh this is so awful, the war is so wrong’ and I just didn’t want to get into that debate at all,” notes Bowers, who says the salve of time has helped him get comfortable with letting people into his world. “Things are not going well in Iraq. Everybody knows that. But all we see are the guns, bombs, and explosions. It’s hard to get a feel for what the dynamic is—where one second you’re playing soccer with kids and the next second your vehicle is blown up. I want someone to be able to watch this and say, ‘Okay, I have a much better understanding of what it’s like to be in Iraq now.’ No politics, just being able to understand what soldiers and Marines experience when they come home.”

Click on photos to enlarge; mouseover for previous and next.

Fallujah, August 2004 "How the hell did I get here?" - Marine Jolan Park, Fallujah, January 2005 "Playgrounds can also be battlegrounds." - Iraqi Interpreter Fallujah, November 2004 "There goes the neighborhood." -Marine Outskirts of Fallujah, September 2004 "The smiles make this all worthwhile." -Marine Fallujah, December 2004 "We destroyed the enemy and someones home. Hard to say who wins." -Marine Outskirts of Fallujah, October 2004 "Think there is any hope for these little ones?" - Eritrean Interpreter North of Fallujah, November 2004 "Books, Pencils, RPGs, AK-47s. All the basic school supplies." -Marine Fallujah, February 2005 "Does the "V" stand for peace or victory? Or just Bugs Bunny ears." -Sgt. Bowers Fallujah Career Retention Center, September 2004 "I bet business is slow." -Marine Jolan, Fallujah, November 2004 "We are going to need more brooms." -Marine Outskirts of Fallujah, October 2004 "I think he is scared of us?" -Iraqi Interpreter The Infamous bridge in Fallujah, November 2004 "This is where it all started." -Sgt. Bowers Fallujah, February 2005 "Sir, can we take this one home?" -Marine Fallujah, November 2004 "This place is like a ghost town but the ghosts are real people." -Marine Fallujah, January 2005 "Hi. I am here to help rebuild your school. Do not mind the rifle and grenade launcher." -Sgt. Bowers Jolan, Fallujah, November 2004 Fallujah, January 2005 "I hope these kids have it better than their parents did." -Iraqi Civilian Fallujah, November 2004 Fallujah, January 2005 "These kids are eleven going on forty." -State Department Employee Fallujah, December 2004 "This book is more powerful than we will ever be." -Marine Outskirts of Fallujah, August 2004 "Some of these kids do not smile very much. I guess I would not either." -Marine Fallujah, December 2004 "I hope the owner is doing better than her doll is." -Sgt. Bowers North of Fallujah, November 2004 "Sorry we destroyed your city. Here, have a bag lunch and twenty bucks." -Marine Marine Camp outside Fallujah, September 2004 "I have got to make it home." -Marine Fallujah, November 2004 "How will I tell anyone about days like this?" -Marine Fallujah, January 2005 "These people hate us but they love our money." -Marine Jolan Park Election Site, January 2005 "I have seen polling lines before but never any wrapped in razor wire." -Marine Fallujah, February 2005 "There will never be enough soccer balls to hand out." -Iraqi Interpreter Fallujah, March 2005 "I am going to miss this place, and the people." -Sgt. Bowers Fallujah, March 2005 "I am not sure where home is anymore." -Iraqi Civilian Jolan Park, Fallujah, December 2004 "Suzanne Somers is hot and all but why the fuck is she sending Thighmasters to Fallujah?" -Marine Nasiriyah Iraq, June 2003 "Abraham was here. Not Lincoln you shit pants." -Marine Southern Iraq, July 2003 Nasiriyah Iraq, June 2003 "Abraham was here. Not Lincoln you shit pants." -Marine Baghdad, May 2003 "All Donne Go Home. They could have at least have spelled done correctly." -Sgt. Bowers

Back of the House: A Photo Essay By Michael Harlan Turkell

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

It’s easy to like Michael Harlan Turkell. When the New York City-based photographer walks into Public (voted Best Brunch by TimeOut New York, by the way) he warmly greets the staff, already hard at work prepping for the long night ahead. It’s a little after 10 in the morning. Turkell apologizes for running late (he’s not that late). He was at the Greenmarket in Union Square and walks into the eatery carrying bags stuffed with baby Chioggia beets, green garlic, baby fennel, sugar snap peas, and French breakfast radishes.

Turkell sits down, sips on his coffee, and smiles, totally at ease. After this interview, he’s going to photograph pickles for Wheelhouse Pickles in Long Island City.

Talk about a cool gig.

At 26, Turkell has done something that most of us only dream of doing. He’s managed to combine his two loves, food and photography, and create a job for himself that actually pays the bills. He’s a self-described “culinary photojournalist.” And he’s happy.

Turkell’s latest project, Back of the House, is a tribute to the men and women who work behind the scenes in some of New York City’s restaurants—the folks most of us rarely consider as we’re inhaling pan-seared, sesame-encrusted Ahi Tuna steak. He’s shot in more than 100 restaurants so far, including Public, Butter, WD-50, Masa, and Daniel. “I want to illuminate the back of the house, I don’t care to illuminate myself,” says Turkell. “I’m not doing the hardest part of the work; I’m just lucky enough to be around it. I’m trying to open up lines of communication.”

Previously selected for the upcoming 25 Under 25: Up-and-Coming American Photographers to be published next spring, Turkell talks to SMITH about his series, a fish’s head, and life as a culinary photojournalist.

What kind of camera are you using?
The Nikon D200. It keeps the overhead low because it’s digital and you can shoot as much as you want.

When did you start taking pictures?
I didn’t even own camera until I was 21. I dropped out of the first school I went to. I went to [Boston University] for math and science and came back to New York and went to community college. It happened to be an elective that filled a spot. And I enjoyed it.

You used to work in kitchens, now you’re behind the camera full time, why the switch?
It was a combination of things. I had fallen and hurt my knee. I’ve had two ACL surgeries, so that constant pivot put that strain. The hours. It’s hard to hold on to not just relationships, but even friendships and acquaintances. All the people you hang out with are part of that counterculture. And I love the morning. I love being able to see the light of day. So I think the combination of those, and the fact that I was getting my BFA in photography, I thought, I might as well pursue this… And the way I wanted to learn, I didn’t necessarily want to be in one place. I was always looking for new opportunities, so it wasn’t hard leaving it because I know I can so readily come back to it.

How’s it going so far?
I’m still trying to get in magazines. It’s the steepest learning curve I’ve ever had. Cooking comes naturally to me, sometimes photography does as well, but the business doesn’t necessarily. I’m just trying to please the people. And I’ll bend over backwards for little or no pay sometimes just to make sure somebody is happy, and that isn’t necessarily the industry that thrives [in New York City]. But I like that I’ve been able to incorporate that hospitality that I learned in restaurants into photography.

Sounds like you’ve found yourself a dream job.
I’m still so interested in food and restaurants, and I didn’t want to stop learning. I pick kitchens and chefs and subjects because I’m interested in them. And I always wanted to have that as the defining drive behind my photography, that I’m actually interested in the subject that I’m photographing, that there’s some kind of deeper connection rather than a superficiality of the image.

It’s nice that I am able to get paid and also be in these kitchens that I wanted to cook in and learn from. It’s odd to say that I’ve actually made a job for myself. It’s still a struggle month to month, [but] I’m bombarded with work right now, which is a great thing.

Why did you want to capture the drama behind the scenes?
After having worked in restaurants myself, I know [the back of the house] sees little light of day, and also few accolades from diners. Not that I needed a pat on the back. It was just something that was never really shown or illuminated to people outside of the kitchen. It was easy to talk to people that I worked with, there was a comradery, there was a common ground, and understanding, but to tell someone what you did… there was very little illumination as to what went on. I thought it was an important thing to show and preserve. You always see food writers, but I didn’t see many—well, this is another self-proclaimed term—culinary photojournalists.

What’s the response been like?
I still shoot primarily shoot for the chef and for the people in the kitchen. And I’ll show them the photos, ask them what they think, if they think it’s a true depiction, and shows them in the right light. I will not show anything defamatory. There’s a true honesty in the industry, and I’m trying to keep that integrity so I only seek out places that I think have those values.

What makes a good image to you?
I think all of those values: honesty, integrity. I don’t think [the image] should have to be explained necessarily—that there’s a very distinct caption to it, that everyone comes to a common understanding of what is there, and something the people I took it with, among, and for agree upon. Not to say that an image has to represent some kind of majority. But I’m trying to create more archetypes, things that represent very specific points.

What do you consider off-limits to shoot?
It depends on the kitchen. If they say its off limits, I don’t photograph it. Once they feel comfortable with me, I don’t know if there’s much that’s off limits. There isn’t one specific thing across the board that everyone says don’t take a picture of. There are points in service where they’re like, “Can you stop,” and I’m like, “Of course.”

What’s the funniest or strangest thing you’ve seen through the viewfinder?
Once was actually right here [in Public]—it was around 9pm, which is usually a pretty intense time during service. It was busy, but a guy comes in the kitchen with a big black garbage bag—they call him Jersey Dan or just Dan, he’s a friend of the restaurant. He opens up the bag and in it is the head itself, of a yellowfin tuna, as big as my torso. I think it was a yellowfin tuna. But in the middle of service they just put it on table. I think they made a quick tartare. That was awesome. I think he’s brought in venison before—the whole deer. I think that was during the middle of service, too.

Ever miss the money shot?
No. I’ll just come back and try to get it another day. People are always going to eat. There have been plenty of times where I know I just missed it by a second, but that’s why I revisit and haven’t stopped shooting.

From whom, what, or where do you derive inspiration?
Like everybody else, I love to travel. And I’m inspired by simple, little things—like a neighborhood in Brooklyn that I’ve never been to. One of my greatest passions is being a pedestrian sometimes, strolling about and looking at minutiae. Just constantly learning. Right now I’m trying to get a wine palate. My girlfriend works for Food & Wine, and I’ve always been a beer guy, so just understanding wines is overwhelming. But I know what I like now. And I love factoids and little interesting quips and phrases; I just like little idiosyncrasies.

What’s the picture you’d most like to take?
I don’t know yet. I don’t think I ever want a single image to represent me. I shoot in series and try to release them as such. And though you look to have one picture that encapsulates it all—it’s great to have that single raw ingredient—I like putting them all together. That’s what I like about this project, it’s completely amendable and malleable, and it has so much flex to it that it’s not defined yet, which is really nice. I like it all. I like the combination.

If anyone could take a picture of you, who would it be?
I’m addicted to this guy Erwin Wurm. He’s very conceptual. He does these one-minute portraits. And I love all of the minuteness of it. The images speak to how quickly art can be made—and how long it can last afterwards.

What are the sites, photocentric or not, that you most love online? This guy Matt Bites he’s not only very fun to read, but he’s also an art director/photographer, and his images are just outstanding. But I hate saying web site this, web site that. I’d rather tell people where to go.

Where should they go?
In New York City, the Greenmarket, go to the Greenmarket, and rather than see something and buy it because you think its hot and fresh, taste it too. There are amazing specialty food stores. There’s a place called Sahadi’s, which is a spice trader on Atlantic Avenue. Awesome. Kalustyans, which is here in the City in Murray Hill. JB Prince for kitchen supplies. Kitchen Arts and Letters in the Upper East Side, it’s not just an antiquarian cookbook store, but they have some of the best international cookbooks. The James Beard House. They do dinners. Visiting chefs come from around the world, and you can go have dinner and taste an amazing array of foods.

Catastrophe, Crisis, and Other Family Traditions: The Photos of Jessamyn Lovell

Sunday, July 1st, 2007

Jessamyn Lovell’s series, Catastrophe, Crisis, and Other Family Traditions, is a family portrait that is sure to strike a nerve with almost everyone. The Oakland, CA-based photographer’s work takes an honest look at her family, flaws and all. Lovell, a professor at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, CA, began photographing her family as a way of coping with the “stress, frustration, anxiety, and guilt” she felt due in part to her home life. Lovell has created 10 different photo albums—albums dedicated to a family member, their home in upstate New York, animals, landscapes, or even Lovell herself. “When I recognized that I was part of them, and therefore partly my own subject, I started to turn the camera upon myself more and more,” she says.

Each of the 30-year-old photographer’s frames evokes something different from the common (Klare ready to eat) to the intense (Mommy taking insulin) to the off-beat (Allsun with chef knife). Lovell’s work is reminiscent of Sherwood Anderson’s wonderful book, Winesburg, OH: both allow outsiders to enter a world that’s incredibly complex, compelling, tragic, and touching.

SMITH talked to Lovell about Catastrophe, Crisis, and Other Family Traditions—and her mother’s gun, too. —Kathy Ritchie

What camera do you work with?
I use a variety of cameras. My mother gave me a Pentax K1000 when I graduated from high school because I had been using a loaner throughout my senior year. At the start of grad school, I got a Calumet 4×5 and use that a great deal still. I also use Holgas and a Diana, but I primarily use my Mamiya 7 and Contax G2 now.

Why did you decide to capture your family on film the way you did?
I began photographing my family not as subjects, but as sort of way to survive the pain I was experiencing. I used my camera as a journal of sorts to negotiate a relationship with them. [Eventually] I stopped seeing my family members so much as one entity and considering each individual more separately. I also stopped looking at them from the other side of my lens and started to record the relationship that exists between all of us, as well as the stories that have unfolded throughout our history.

This project has shifted to become a way to explore and record our collective history, as well as the choices and paths we take as individuals.

There are sets of photos of various family members, which is your favorite?
I love each set for different reasons. At times, I think the ones of my brother are the strongest because it clearly shows him growing and changing over time. My all-time favorite image has got to be “Mommy with gun” because it shows her defiance and independence, while still showing her vulnerability.

What’s the message here?
I see my work as a personal documentation of an American family struggling with class, religion, and disability. Although I deal directly with these issues, a wide variety of viewers can relate to family tragedy and crisis. The essay also looks at the daily lives of my sisters, adopted brother, mother, and my relationships with each of them. I am investigating the relationships within the family, as well as each member’s ability to transcend the circumstances we were given. I feel that by allowing the world access to this self-examination, viewers are able to gain a better understanding of disability and poverty.

Your site is very personal and very intense. How have strangers responded to your words and images?
I’ve recently realized just how vulnerable a body of work like this makes me, especially with such detailed information so publicly accessible. Many people have responded with stories of their own and want to make a connection or hear more stories. Overall, most folks who respond to my site seem to enjoy reading about the stories and relating them to the images. This is exactly what I hope to do with the book I am working on.

And how has your family reacted to your work?
My whole family—especially my mother—has been very supportive of my project and genuinely seems to understand why I’m driven to make and show the work. It’s my version of our story, but I include their words and collaborate with them to get a fuller sense of the stories and histories, even as they unfold. My sister Allsun was most against my photographing, and even stayed out of the images for a period of several years. As the project has unfolded, and she has really examined what I am doing. She has said that she is proud that I’ve taken our experiences and turned them into something positive. I can honestly say that this project has brought me closer to my family, especially my mother.

What makes a good image to you?
Content and concepts that are important to the photographer is crucial for a strong photograph. An image that that stands out and creates a reaction in the viewer. It can be ever so subtle or dramatic and jarring. Either way, a good image usually serves as a window into another world or way of thinking.

What do you consider off-limits to shoot?
When someone asks me to put the camera away or not to include [him or her] in the frame.

What’s the funniest or strangest thing you’ve seen through your viewfinder?
My sister Klare pumping up the tires of my mother’s wheelchair in Wal-Mart with a borrowed tire pump.

What’s the one fish that got away?
It was spring when Mommy first decided to finally sell all of the animals. A local farmer came with a big truck to take the 25 plus goats, one donkey, and Don Jose, our pet llama. My brother, AJ, helped round them up and herd them into the truck. Everyone got in except for Don Jose. They tried really hard—they even tried shooting him with a tranquilizer gun. The farmers got tired and finally said they would come back soon to get the remaining llama. Weeks went by and the farmer never came, so Don Jose remained in the yard.

It was around that time that Don Jose first started getting out. We could see him leap very high into the air, clearing the wire fence again and again. He was just too quick and too large to catch. A neighborhood farmer became impatient with our family for allowing the llama to roam the neighborhood. Don Jose was apparently caught several times wandering into this farmer’s bean field. The farmer told us that the next time he caught Don Jose in his bean field he would shoot him.

Sure enough, we were driving home and we caught a glimpse of the farmer chasing our llama with a shotgun at the ready! We all paused and Mommy started to cry. Shots rang out, and suddenly out of nowhere, Don Jose came running up to our house. I quickly corralled him into the fence and shut the gate. The farmer came up the road and into our yard yelling. He was obviously drunk and really pissed off, not to mention waving his shotgun around at us.

From whom, what, or where do you derive inspiration?
The works of photo greats like Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Eggleston, August Sander, as well as many of my peers, friends, family, and the struggle people go through day to day just to survive. My students.

What’s the picture you’d most like to take?
My brother in his true element—away from the family.

If anyone could take a picture of you, who would you want it to be?
August Sander or Diane Arbus.

Where are you happiest taking photographs?
Cheesy places like in the woods or on the beach.

Is photography your only full-time gig?
I consider myself to be both a photographer and an educator. I just finished my first year in a full-time tenure track teaching position at Diablo Valley College in the San Francisco Bay Area. My position at DVC feeds my career, as a photographer and vice versa.

What are the sites, photocentric or not, that you most love online?
Boingboing; Magnum Photos; Alec Soth; Salon; Conceptual Art; We Make Money No Art;; Banksy; No One Belongs Here More Than You; Wooster;

Beyond the Hoods: The Abu Ghraib Images of Daniel Heyman

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

The hooded figure. That’s the image of Abu Ghraib that began living in our heads when The New Yorker published photographs taken by American soldiers along with Seymour Hersh’s historic Torture at Abu Ghraib article three years ago. By this point, the image has been significantly deadened—flattened and stylized into angry, well-intentioned iconography, the stuff of editorial cartoons and T-shirts. In becoming a symbol, it’s been detached from the gut-wrenching detail of its own origin story.

“I tried to use that image as a shorthand to comment on torture,” recalls artist Daniel Heyman , who began working on renderings of the hooded figure into silkscreen prints and etchings shortly after The New Yorker publication in spring 2004. “But it started to become ubiquitous, and I think it lost its ability to have much impact.”

Click on photos to enlarge; mouseover for previous and next.

The above portfolio includes drypoint prints from Heyman’s work in Amman and Istanbul, as well as watercolors from Istanbul. For more information on Heyman and his Abu Ghraib work, visit

Its initial impact, however, was never lost on Heyman, who became fervently engaged in anti-war political debate. And then came an opportunity to throw back the hood of symbolism in his artwork and bring the stories of Abu Ghraib front and center.

A serendipitous meeting with Susan Burke, lead attorney in a reparations lawsuit against civilian interrogators and translators at Abu Ghraib, led to an invitation for Heyman to join Burke’s legal team on a trip to Amman, Jordan. There they would take depositions from former prisoners, and Heyman’s work could move beyond symbol and into story.

Heyman spent six days in hotel rooms in Amman during March 2006 listening to a dozen men and one woman recount abuse and humiliation. He also joined Burke’s legal team for a second set of depositions in Istanbul that August. Working quickly onto copper plates from which he would later make prints, Heyman captured words as well as images.

“I began drawing their faces as the interviews got under way, listening to the reporting of biographical information through the translator, the number of children they had, where they lived, but mostly concentrating on getting a good start on the portrait. They were often in prison many months, and the nature of these interviews was a recitation of the entirety—as much as they could remember—of all that time. So I had to listen, and wait and pick a moment to start writing that might capture the essence of their experience. As soon as I started writing, often with just a few lines established in the portrait, I focused completely on the words.”

“When I have made portraits of people in the past, I was never as concerned with the inner history of the sitter,” says Heyman. “I used the sitter’s image to convey a separate aesthetic idea. Years ago, I made larger narrative paintings that had particular stories attached to them, the sitters in front of me inhabited characters much the way an actor becomes someone else for the duration of a play.”

“But these particular people’s human identities had already been removed twice: first as wrongly accused and brutally tortured prisoners, second in the photos their captors took of them, hooded and faceless, where they became global icons but lost their individuality. I wanted the Iraqis to regain their humanity, to regain their faces and their voices.”

Nonetheless, says Heyman, his own perspective is embedded in the work: In drypoint etching the copper plates to make the prints featured in this portfolio, he had to transcribe his subjects’ words in reverse so they would be readable when pressed onto paper. The stories Heyman shares were written as if in a mirror. —Jim Gladstone

My Ex: A Photo Essay By Lauren Fleishman

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

A New Yorker to the core, Lauren Fleishman’s work has appeared in The Fader, New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, The Sunday Times, Time, and ELLE. But it was her incredibly personal photo essay, You Would Have Loved Him Too, that caught SMITH’s eye. “The series is about the loss of a relationship with a person that I met when I was very young,” says the Brooklyn-based photographer. “He was very attractive and charismatic—everyone loved him and wanted to be around him. That’s where the title comes from.” Using her own photographs and letters he had written her, Lauren created a book which contained images and collages chronicling the affair. “I’ve always kept journals and this gallery started in that style when the relationship ended.”

Named one of the Photo District News’ 30 young photographers to watch in 2003, Lauren is now a finalist for the American Photography 23 and an award recipient in the 2007 PDN Annual for her series, Sixteen Candles, which appeared in Time.

Lauren talked to SMITH about her craft.

Can you tell me your name, the brand of camera you’re using, and how long you’ve been taking pictures?

I have been taking pictures since my sophomore year in high school. We had a photography program that started us in black and white and then moved into color. It was fantastic because we could develop our own color film.

I use a lot of different cameras depending on the job, but I started with 35mm. Now, I mostly use the Hasselblad H1 and the Contax 645. For digital, I like the Canon 5D.

You Would Have Loved Him Too is a very personal and compelling photo essay. Why did you decide to capture this moment in your life?

I had been in a small town in France with him and I left for Paris alone, which is when I started to put the images together. I did it because I thought it was an important point in my life. I used my own photographs with his handwriting. I would work in this hotel room where I was staying and paste everything together in a book and make pages. The original consists of a combination of 60 images and collages.

What has the response been like from friends and colleagues to the series?

The series was first edited and published by Whitney Lawson at Nerve. She was the one that came up with the name for the gallery. There was a comments page and most people thanked me for being honest. Someone wrote something about how the work was mediocre and self-obsessed and I can respect that opinion. I work mostly as a magazine photographer and I would probably be really hurt if someone said that about my editorial work. But these pictures came from a different place, so they will always hold something for me. I continue to show the story because people seem to respond to it, but it is so much harder for me to show personal work.

What makes a good image to you?

Any image that makes you connect with the subject or the place.

What do you consider off-limits to shoot?

I don’t think anything specific is off limits to shoot, but you have to respect boundaries.

What’s one fish that got away?

I was sitting in a one-room Amish schoolhouse with about 10 older members of the community. It was 8 o’clock at night in the middle of winter with nothing but the gas lamps for light. I felt like I had stepped back in time. The Amish typically don’t allow themselves to be photographed, and on that night I was asked not to take pictures.

From whom, what, or where do you derive inspiration?

People inspire me. My job allows me access into so many peoples homes, so many different lives. The best way I can describe it would be like when a friend introduces you to something new that turns out to be fantastic. Except in my case, this person is someone you’d probably otherwise never meet, which maybe even makes it more extraordinary. Being a freelancer can be really lonely and I need those moments to make me feel normal and connected.

What’s the picture you’d most like to take?

I hope I know it when I see it.

If anyone could take a picture of you, who would it be?

This is a tough question, but strangely enough it would probably be my father. I remember when he would photograph the family and he would step back and insist on always taking a vertical [shot], but the pictures would always be crooked.

Where are you happiest taking photographs?

In Northern Indiana.

More from Lauren Fleishman.

Also check out more “My Ex” stories.

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