Adrienne Lojeck: “I think that RESTRICTION can bring great CREATIVITY, impose a limit on your work, and you force yourself to work ‘outside the box'”
It is very rare to witness the birth of an artist, their first steps and the subsequent development. Starting with a self portrait a day to join the @captureyour365 daily photo project and now working as a photographer with your own website and portfolio (www.adriennelaurenphotography.com). And all that done in one and a half years. What was the trigger for all this action?
For me, the power of doing a 365 daily photo project lies in the discipline of CONSTANT practice. A friend had done 5 or 6 consecutive “365 Self-Portrait Projects”, and I always thought the concept was very interesting. I tried a few times to do my own 365 using an early-2000s digital point-and-shoot, but never made it past about 30 or 40 days. Funny enough, the turning point that finally helped me succeed was getting a phone with a built-in camera. A year and a half ago, I got my first i-Phone. Suddenly, I could take a daily photo and post that photo to Instagram and Facebook in a matter of minutes. Efficiency and ease of taking/sharing images from the same device removed the excuse of “I’m too busy to do a 365”. For the first time, I knew I could complete the whole year. What I did NOT yet know was how my life was about to change: what started as a 365 project of simple selfies became anything but. Eventually I became more creative and selective in my iPhone shots after discovering daily prompts. I began pushing myself. Then, I decided to get a “real” camera: a used entry-level Canon DSLR for $150. Then, I taught myself to shoot in Manual. Basically, a humble iPhone and some lazy selfies (which you can still see if you go far enough back in my IG) turned into a passion for the art of photography. Even now, I have a total “beginner’s mind”. The more I learn, the more I WANT to learn, the more I realize that I still do not know. I think this attitude is the key to success in any art form.
We met at the 365 daily photo project , we had to post a photo of the day according to a prompt. The prompts were thematically based, repeating on some level every month. Your work had always pushed the boundaries. Can you describe the process of your self learning?
I think that RESTRICTION can bring great CREATIVITY: impose a limit on your work, and you force yourself to work “outside the box”. I think the fact that I imposed the “self-portraits ONLY” rule on my daily project is one of the reasons some of my interpretation of the prompts became very inventive. Basically, I said to myself from the outset: “some part of, or representation of, me physical body will be in every shot”. So whether it was my face, my torso, my limbs or extremities, my shadow, or even other photos or drawings of myself…I had this rule as a constraint, and the constraint forced me to go beyond the obvious. So not only did I ask myself, “okay, how do I interpret the prompt ‘Sparkly’?” now it also became, “how do I put MYSELF into the frame?”. Suddenly I would be tearing up my house, hanging backdrops, covering my body and face in sparkly make-up, improvising DIY studio lights, and making a real portrait each day. And when YOU are the model in the shot, it also makes you want to work HARDER to make the best shot you can make because, let’s be honest, you want to make yourself look GOOD. Even if you are playing with ugliness, as I often like to do, deep down you still want to look good. So never underestimate the power of VANITY.
The majority of your photos is indoors. You have been playing with lights, reflectors, light-painting and other props. Most beginners start shooting outside, landscape, streets etc. Why did you choose this hard path?
Funny enough, I think this was sort of an accidental blessing because of the TIMING of my 365: I began my project in the summer, using my iPhone to take simple, non-artistic selfies for the first 60 days or so. By the time I discovered daily prompts and became more effortful in my work, it was early autumn. Then, by the time I got my first DSLR, it was WINTER. Living in New York, this meant that the cold weather often made outside shooting impractical or unpleasant. So there’s that. But I also think that working indoors appealed to me because of the element of privacy, isolation, and the ability to be alone with my camera and just sort of play. If I wanted to wear wigs or pose in my underwear or make strange faces or pinch at my stomach, that felt much easier to do alone in my apartment than in a public space. And studio lighting also had to do with TIME of DAY (I often did my photo early before work, or late at night after work). And finally, I also really love the CONTROL of studio work: the ability to create blank space with a backdrop, and have total control of everything in the frame. As I have grown as a photographer, though, I have come to also love outdoor, on-location, natural-light work. Natural light is my favorite to work with, but for all the reasons above, it was not always available.
My favourite shots of yours are the self portrait ones. They are a window into your psyche, showing your thoughts, emotions and sometimes anguish. Is photography a tool of liberation? Do you self analyze through this medium?
I do think that self-portrait photography is a tool of liberation and a way to know one’s self better. This aspect of photography is hard to explain unless one has experienced it, and is very linked to the PROCESS itself. What I mean is: every step of my process brought me to a “flow state” and became a kind of therapy. Setting the camera on a tripod, arranging my “studio” (corner of my living room), costuming myself or applying make-up, or going before the camera naked and undecorated, setting my camera, setting my remote timer, making the shots, reviewing the shots, shooting more, making adjustments, exploring and changing myself and my setting in a feedback loop…there really is no way to describe how powerful the experience is until you do it for yourself. And you are ALONE. It is totally impractical, and kind of deranged. You are alone, maybe screaming or laughing at the camera, moving your body, staring straight into the lens or away from it. The sound of the shutter becomes like a sort of metronome that you just zone out to. It really is a spiritual, or maybe existential, experience. I also think that to enjoy this “power” of photography, one has to be a certain type a person, have a certain type of personality: it’s almost this unique blend of vanity mixed with self-criticism, or self-deprecation. I would describe it as being “an ego-maniac with low self-esteem” to borrow a phrase I once heard. You have to be brave and a little twisted to enjoy this process, I think. Your issues, fears, quirks and conceits are all revealed by the camera. There is no hiding anything when you are both behind and in-front of your own lens.
You are a Cindy Sherman lover as stated in one of my favourite self portrait of yours. Who else influences you and how?
I do love Cindy Sherman. Some of my other favorite well-known photographers include: Man Ray, Weegee, Francesca Woodman, Damon Winter, Eric Pare, Sue Bryce, and many more. I feel that no matter the time-period or genre of a photographer’s work, what makes them stand out for me is a passion that borders on obsession, a discipline of constant practice/mastery, and an inventive eye that constantly seeks new ways to tell stories through image. I also have to give a shout out to the Connecticut-based photographer Lindsay Comer (@lindzcomer) who has been a photography mentor to me and has taught me so much about exposure and mastering the technical aspects of cameras, lenses, and more.
Your editing process is minimal, sometimes the result is straight out of camera. Don’t you find this a bit limiting?
Oh, absolutely it’s limiting. 🙂 I think that limit can be both helpful and unhelpful. On one hand, not having/knowing how to use software such as Photoshop forced me to be more disciplined with my shooting and to be a “better” photographer: if you know that you have to “get it right” in camera, you make that extra effort to move your feet until you get distracting objects out of the frame, pose your models better so that their figure is flattered instead of altering their appearance later, create cool lens flares or distortions in an analog way, using real-life objects, instead of relying on some filter or fake bokeh you add later on. That being said, it can also be limiting in a bad way. Basically, I know that at some point I need to learn Adobe tools so that I will be capable of MORE: composites, multiple exposures, better clone tools, ability to use presets for color correction, etc. I also need to learn these programs if I wish to work with a studio or other photographers. Currently, I work in the free Canon Digital Photo Pro software to do all my post-processing. Really though, being a good photographer is about more than gear and tech. If you can make an impactful image with a simple camera and minimal edits, that is the real test, I think. Upgrading to better gear and learning to use powerful editing tools: I think these should come later after a foundation of skill has been built. That’s been my approach, partly out of wanting to do it that way, and partly out of being broke and intimidated by complex computer stuff. But ultimately I think this approach has helped me.
Sometimes you like to stir controversy through your work, reminding me of the radical feminism movement in the 70’s. Is it a way of protest? Do you think art can change things?
I never thought of my work specifically as a form of protest (though after the recent US Presidential Election, I would like to use my talents more to protest sexism, racism, and discrimination), but I do think of my art as feminist. I have a theory that women are indoctrinated by culture to feel that the one thing that must be avoided at all costs, the worst thing a woman can be, is to be unattractive…especially, we must never be deliberately or willfully unattractive. Some of my more surreal self-portraits, or even a recent still life photograph I made using actual menstrual blood, interest me because they seem to violate this taboo: we women must never be repulsive, must always strive to look our best. I think photography by its nature is a truthful art form, and that photography has a way of revealing the hidden beauty in ugliness, or even the hidden ugliness under an attractive facade. I do think that photography has the power to change our perceptions and our society, for better or worse. Certainly the preponderance of idealized, impossible, Photoshopped models has “changed things”, would you not agree? So if the photography of IDEALS can change our perceptions, it follows that a more truthful photography of REALITIES can hold the same power.
Do you have plans about the future? Is there a target to be reached?
Right now I am wrestling with that most-hated of all questions: the MONEY question. I am trying to sort out what exactly I want my photography to be, and what place it will inhabit in my life: Will I remain an amateur photographer, shooting whatever I want, working by myself or with close friends, using photography as a creative outlet to express my experience of the world? Or do I want to make money, leverage my talent into a career, go down that rabbit hole of marketing and clients and liability insurance? And then there are other paths to choose from: do I want to do commercial stuff or fine art gallery stuff? Am I selling prints or discs of images? What exactly is my style or target demographic? What happens when I want to do weird avant garde studio portraiture, but all the money to be made is in family portraits and Christmas card photos? Bottom line: I want photography to be a large part of my life, for the rest of my life, but I am still figuring out what that looks like in a practical sense. If money and fear and scheduling demands were no object, here’s what my ideal photo practice would look like: buy a huge old house with peeling wallpaper, unfinished wood floors, and tons of natural light streaming through handmade glass window panes. Clear out multiple rooms to use as studios: gather antique furniture, claw-foot baths tubs, vintage clothes, masks and props. Hang a shingle by the side of our road: “Creative and Fine Art Portraits. Open daily. Walk-ins welcome.” And then I could just shoot, all day, every day. On busy days, I would have a client or two, mostly women of a certain sensibility: clients who would not object to being smeared with paint, or posing with broken porcelain dolls, or standing naked beside a disused fireplace for a formal, elegant full-body portrait. On slow days, I could just model for myself, climbing around that old house, learning which corners get the best light. Alone with my camera, doing what I love, just because I love it. I would make something new every day, seek new challenges, play with old broken cameras, maybe enter a few art shows. Or maybe turn some rooms in my house into a gallery and host some art shows for other photographers in my community. If I ever win the lottery, I would make this dream into a reality. Until then, I will just keep shooting and figuring things out as I go along.
I ‘ve had so much fun with our interview Andrienne,some of these questions i have been meaning to ask you for some time now.wish you get that house of yours and always stay true to your vision!