FILM TALKS #12: Lauren Semivan | Photographer (Detroit MI, USA)

FILM TALKS #12: Lauren Semivan | Photographer (Detroit MI, USA)
October 21, 2013 FotoFilmic

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© Lauren Semivan | Mirrors, 2013.

1. A graduate (MFA) of the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2006, your education has involved working on film from the start of your career as a fine art photographer: have your film-based artistic practices changed since then, and if yes how?
When I began photographing with a view camera as a student, it became immediately clear to me that I had discovered something that changed my perception of photographic space and time entirely.  I think this was because the view camera itself on a stand is so much more body-sized and present in the room. In the beginning it was very awkward and I made many mistakes, but those taught me about being invested in process and risk-taking as an artist.

2. For most people, the recurring question on the topic of the film medium is “why”? Why photographing on film in 2013? What essential pros and cons do you feel come with shooting celluloid today?
Many people consider photographing on film at this moment, and specifically in black-and-white, to be deliberate- if not contrary, way to make images. In context of so many available digital technologies large format seems to be a nearly extinct practice and those who hold on to film are doing so maybe less out of sentimentality or nostalgia than for specific conceptual reasons.  I think many people look at black and white and see only the process or the container rather than the whole experience of the image itself.  Maybe the rise in popularity of big color prints shown and collected in the beginning of the 2000s encouraged a kind of pendulum swing. Photographing in black-and-white now can almost be seen as a radical gesture.

Photographing using large format film now is, in a sense, a slow and inefficient way of getting an idea out there, and the ability to deliberately, slowly and meditatively make an image could almost be seen as a retro skill set.  I am really interested in these ideas, and am conscious of the fact that my work needs to be made on film.

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© Lauren Semivan | Wind, 2012.

3. Do you photograph digitally as well? If yes, what’s your rationale for it?
When I do photograph digitally it is always for documentation or record keeping – to make a note of something I see in the world that seems important to remember.  What usually ends up happening is that I just take the thing itself with me (if possible) or I will make a written note or drawing rather than photographing it.

4. Let’s focus on your work now: most of your past and present series involve photographing staged narratives on large pieces of black-and-white film using a turn of the century 8×10 camera. It’s always interesting to consider how the choice of a particular photographic apparatus can help inform a photographer’s vision as much before a project is done as once it is completed. Looking at the fluid transitions you arranged from Pataphysics through Observatory – akin successive book chapters in a first-person fiction – one can only admire how purposeful, deliberate and poetically striking your work process is in relation to the world of meanings it brings forth. Do you think photographing on film -especially on its largest available format – owes a special role and responsibility in the carrying of your work’s meaning?
Absolutely.  I don’t think that I would make the same work if film no longer existed. Excitement builds out of the “decisive moment”. I am conscious of the precariousness of all of the variables at once coming together to create an event.  I am interested in the uniqueness of that event that comes from a slower and more human process.

5. FOTOFILMIC is dedicated to promoting the new generations of photographers attached to film today: what essential advice/recommendation do you have for them?
I was given good advice as a student to “make all you think of.” I think that research is very important, but too much self-editing before you begin can get in the way of important discoveries. Don’t be afraid to risk something. Accidents and mistakes are great opportunities to learn. Travel, read, see and do as much as possible and keep record through your work.  Ben Shahn wrote, “If you want to be an artist dig potatoes…”
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@ Lauren Semivan | Branches, 2012 | Wishbones, 2012.

6. You live and teach in Detroit, Michigan: the city is experiencing what many view as an artistic rebirth, becoming something of a safe haven for artists from all corners of the nation. How is it to be a film photographer there? More importantly, how’s life there?
I was born in Detroit and have spent more time there than in any other place, so I may have a lot of emotional attachment to it as an idea.  The obvious practical point is that Detroit draws artists from other cities because cost of living is low.  Artists can feel free to work and not struggle with some of the same problems they might have living in other cities and having three jobs. There is also a sense of an open forum. Some people may see it as a desolate place where nothing happens, but that same openness and romantic potential for something new draws others in.  I feel nourished by Detroit emotionally and creatively and find myself going back if I am away for too long. Patti Smith said that for her it was a place of pilgrimage…

7. What have you been up to recently? Any recent achievements, projects, news?
I have a solo exhibition, Observatory, at Bonni Benrubi Gallery in New York through October 26, and will also be exhibiting at Paris Photo this November.

8. If anything was possible, what would be your next ultimate project photography-wise (or else)?
Eventually, I will make a book. It’s difficult to say what I would do if anything were possible. I think I’m working in the way that best suits my ideas at the moment.  I plan to continue working on small contact-printed cyanotypes and platinum prints as well as the larger black and white ink prints…

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© Lauren Semivan | Three Loves, 2012.

 

Lauren Semivan’s website

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FotoFilmic’s new FILM TALKS series is all about sharing experienced views, artistic endeavors, industry outlooks and how to reshape the contemporary practices at the center of the film photography medium today. FILM TALKS invite advanced artists, independent publishers, photo editors and art dealers, as well as the broad creative crowd of visual arts to engage in insightful dialogues with FotoFilmic about film photography in all aspects.