Friday Focus: Laura Lillie – a girl with a camera

By Christopher Osborne,

Silvergrain Classics – the analogue photography magazine.

In this week’s Friday Focus we talk to Texan photographer Laura Lillie.

“When I was really little, I wanted to be a National Geographic photographer, recalls Texan mother and photographer Laura Lillie. “I took photojournalism at high school. I borrowed equipment from everyone. My Mom was a single parent, and owning expensive cameras was something that rich kids got to do”.

“I carried on tinkering with photography in my early twenties. Then life took over. I lived on a farm and had kids”.

“I moved to San Antonio with my partner David in September 2019. That was when my desire to shoot all the time was rekindled. My kids were older, and city life changed me. My time requirements had changed since I wasn’t home-schooling my kids anymore and they were more independent. I had more time to find out who I am as a person and a photographer”.

Digital image

When I was living on the farm, I made a lot of macro images of what I imagined to be ‘tiny universes’ with seeds germinating and fungus growing”, says Laura. “I like my tiny universes. Even when shooting people I want to capture their tiny universes. The fragments that make up the person. Without tiny drops of water, we would never have raging rivers”.

“David, even though he’s up close and personal, he sees the whole person and produces these massive images. So in that aspect, he and I are polar opposites. He’s primarily black & white, I’m a color person. He’s big prints, I’m tiny universes. For a while he was film and I was digital, but he’s really loving his Fuji and I’m almost exclusively shooting film. Ebb and flow….”.

We talked more about her macro photography, and I asked Laura if these images represented an escape. She thought about this for a while and replied: “oh, an escape and an imaginary world”.

“For example, I will zoom in on someone reading a book”, Laura explains. “I will photograph their hands, and the dirt under their nails. It is a tiny part of who they are. A part that says how they got there, and what they do”.Laura laughs, “Perhaps I love dirty hands because mine has been in the dirt so long. I think it shows a grit, a kind of wherewithal”.

“But, I could never photograph people the way that David does. It feels weird and awkward for me to photograph people. And shoving a camera in their face makes would make it feel even weirder. It’s a feeling I’m trying to slowly overcome. Very slowly. It’s not talking to them, I love talking to them and hearing their stories, but for some reason taking their picture is just super weird for me. Like I feel like it’s such an intimate thing to photograph a person so it’s kind of an invasion of their privacy. I like to work up to photographing them, where David’s like “hey I love your (fill in whatever interests him), let me get a shot of that…” and gets all up in their space. On the other hand, I am like “hey, what’s your name, where are you from…” I’m meeting them in a different way. I am just trying to discover who I am, and what I like”.

Digital image

Laura explains, “I don’t understand a lot of the photo lingo and technical terms. I don’t fit in with the artistic crowd because they’re dissecting images and breaking it down and making it a huge deal about space and composition or whatever meanwhile, I’m thinking “oh what a pretty flower let me shoot it…” just because I like it. Photography is just what I love. As I said, I am just a girl with a camera, capturing moments in time, tiny pieces of the big picture”.

“I shoot a lot more colour than David. I like trying different kinds of film. David tries to encourage me to settle down and work with one type”. I asked Laura if she had a favourite film stock. “Oh, definitely Ektar, but I still like trying different things”.

“It is really hard for me to shoot in black and white. I can feel the emotion when I see the results, but I just can’t see it when I am shooting. Perhaps it goes back to my National Geographic dream. I still imagine myself shooting a world of exotic animals and places in color. On the farm, I grew a lot of rare plants and flowers, and I just can’t imagine myself shooting those beautiful colors in black & white”.

These days Laura shoots on both analog and digital and uses a Nikon F100 and a Nikon D750. But the Lomography Sprocket Rocket is my favourite. “I love the panoramic perspective, I love the light leaks” Laura explains. “But using such a basic camera also takes the pressure off too. I am really hard on myself. I always feel a lot of pressure to do it right”.

“David never pressures me or makes me feel like I have some standard to meet. He’s always very supportive and tries to encourage me. He does get antsy because he knows a better way or that a certain film isn’t that great. But sometimes I just want to experience it myself or try the hard way, so that I know. I end up telling him he’s right a lot. But, to be fair, he tells me I’m right a lot too, in different areas. Polar opposites, but two peas in a pod. Don’t ask me how it works, but it does”.

All images © Laura Lillie 2020

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