I’m thrilled to be posting my first interview with a photographer today, with photographer Laura Plageman regarding her recent project, Response. Doubly so because the series is probably my favorite of the year. A huge thanks is due to Laura herself, who so graciously took the time to respond to my questions.
In my own work I’ve been exploring the artificiality of landscapes, of how impossible it is to find an area that man has not changed. Conceptually Laura is light years beyond me, to the point where her images question, I think, the photographer’s potential to impact not just how we, the audience, is viewing the landscape but perhaps even the landscape itself. There are layers and layers to the work, and I think Laura is succeeding on all of them.
"Response to Print of Trees and Fog, California, 2011.” (c) Laura Plageman
But we’re not here to listen to me blather! Without further delay, here is the interview:
ZD: When you were out shooting the images for the Response series did you already know what you might do to alter them, or did you treat those two steps of the project as distinctly separate: first you shot the images and then after printing them you “responded” to them?
LP: When I first started this series I was responding to images that I’d already shot and printed. The first “response” happened in my studio one day, born somewhere between curiosity and frustration. I was looking at a large print on my wall that for one reason or another, felt like a near miss. It was a bit depressing - my memory of that place, of taking that picture and of what attracted me to that landscape, was falling flat. There were details I wanted to remove and dimension that I wanted to highlight. So I took the print off the wall and started playing around with it as a still life and altering picture elements in front of my camera. It was liberating and fun (especially the crumpling and ripping part)! I was excited to be transforming this print into something that felt more alive to me but that still retained the essence of the original scene.
As I continue working with this series, I both turn to my archive of past images to see if there’s anything I might like to try printing and responding to, but I also continue to shoot new images. It’s nice to be able to return to things that I wrote off at one point or another and find a new use for them. When I’m out shooting new images, the thought does enter my mind to shoot some things in order to “respond” to them, but mostly it still stands that I go out looking for landscapes that interest me - that I want to hold on to and examine more closely.
"Response to Print of Shrub with Doves, Florida, 2006.” (c) Laura Plageman
LP: I’m not really executing a set of steps or following rules, but in general there are two guidelines I follow: First, the original image has to be interesting to me - I have to be attracted to it. Often I see things in a picture that I would like to change or enhance, but the overall image has to be intriguing and strong. I love finding things in pictures that I wasn’t aware of when shooting - hidden details or formal qualities that appear. Sometimes I’ll respond to a print by highlighting some of these details. Second, the response has to transcend the original image and create new points of interest - becoming a strong image in its own right.
I am discovering what works for me and what doesn’t as I continue to experiment. I’m not a stickler for rules.
"Response to Print of Green Hill, Washington, 2010.” (c) Laura Plageman
LP: What I was thinking about was that both the original photograph and the response photograph are captured indexes of real events. For example, one is an image of a landscape, and the other is an image of a crumpled print. In both cases, there is a physical relationship between the object photographed and the resulting image.
Many viewers assume the responses are digitally manipulated versions of the original image - so the idea enters their minds that these are “fake.” I’m thinking about authentic as “based on fact,” which they are. They are accurate visual representations of their subject. In this way, I’m trying to highlight the idea of a photograph as being an object.
"Response to Print of Kudzu, Texas, 2010.” (c) Laura Plageman
LP: The Response series images are more true for me than some of their first generation counterparts. What I remember of a place I photograph is what draws me to it - the feeling of plants interacting or taking over a space, for example. Sometimes the resulting photograph doesn’t go far enough in expressing what I’d like it to based on my impression of that place. So altering the image and rephotographing it helps me to get closer to its true nature, as I experience it. These works are sincere expressions; they are honest. I’m not trying to deceive. I leave clues to my process in the image - there are rips and tears and folds, places where the ink is rubbing off of the paper.
That said, it’s true that they are completely subjective and I believe that’s what Morris is getting at (although I haven’t read the book yet). Because I use the camera to frame my subject, to distort and highlight certain areas with my lens and camera movements, there’s no denying that this truth is personal. I prefer to think of the Response series in terms of this quote from Pablo Picasso - “Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.”
Response #2 to Print of Thicket, 2006.” (c) Laura Plageman
If you aren’t stuck in Chicago like me, you can have the pleasure of seeing Laura’s work in person right now in Oakland, California at the Wendy Daniel Studio (press release here) until January 31st or in New York City in January at Jen Bekman Gallery. The show at Jen Bekman opens on January 6th. You’ll soon be able to buy some of Laura’s work from 20x200, so keep an eye out there.