Short bio: Lydia Panas’ images have been exhibited widely in the US and internationally. Her work has garnered many prestigious awards and has been featured in periodicals such as The New York Times Magazine, Photo District News and Popular Photography. Her photographs are held in numerous public and private collections including the Brooklyn Museum; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley; Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego; and Zendai MoMA, Shanghai among others. Panas has degrees from Boston College, School of Visual Arts and from New York University/ International Center of Photography. She is the recipient of a Whitney Museum Independent Study Fellowship and is currently a CFEVA Fellow. Her first monograph “The Mark of Abel” (Kehrer Verlag) was named a Photo District News Book of 2012, a Best Book by Photo Eye Magazine, as well as a best coffee table book by the Daily Beast.
Why do you photograph on film? The main reason I continue to use film is the sense of mystery and excitement that it affords. Using film rather than digital technology allows me to look at my subject without immediate feedback. The process is more intuitive. I do a lot of concentrated watching. As I begin to gain a sense of the model, the photograph starts to take shape. My portraits are based on an instinctive reading of the subject. They describe a convergence between the model and myself. The gift of film is that it allows me to work without knowing what I am actually describing. The sense of mystery that builds when I cannot see what I have captured, inspires me to keep looking with a kind of unrestrained hope. It is the “not knowing” that motivates me to remain focused and attuned to the subtle and delicate nuances that portraits require. The sense of mystery turns to surprise when I see the contacts. The results are often different than what I had imagined during the shoot, and it is this extra gift that film offers that digital technology cannot beat.
What is your work about? Women in Black Inspired by early Italian and Flemish painting, with their simple backgrounds and concentration on expression, the photographs in this series focus on connections. For ten years I have been investigating the notion of closeness. My various projects, photographing families, friendships and individuals, gravitate to matters of intimacy, trust and vulnerability. The photographs in this series depict a longing to be close. By eliminating embellishments, I try to put as little distance between the model and myself as possible. Suspended between a desire to communicate and the fear of being exposed, I describe the ambiguity of connections. Conveying both intensity and restraint, the pictures feel ambivalent. In their emotional complexity, they walk a tightrope between approval and rejection. The process is intimate, intense and very present. For a moment we understand each other perfectly and in the end, I have a record of our connection