Interview with photographer Leasha Overturf

Charlie's Angels

Charlie’s Angels

Yvette Meltzer: Leasha, how did you first become involved in photography?

Leasha Overturf:  My mom had an SLR camera and multiple lenses that intrigued me. Of course she was hard pressed to let me ever use it. I loved looking at magazines and daydreaming about traveling with my own camera. I grew up in Bluford, a town in the middle of nowhere in Southern Illinois with only 40 students in my high school class. Interestingly enough, at this tiny high school, a photo class was offered. I was on a fast track taking academic classes that would help me get a scholarship to get the heck out of small town America, so fitting the photo class into my schedule was not logistically possible. Still, I was lucky that the teacher, Mr. Adams, recognized that I had a passion for the camera and taught me about photography on my lunch hour. Soon I became the little high school’s “school photographer.” Initially I wanted to go far away to college but my budget did not allow for that. Luckily that same awesome photo teacher turned me on to the fact that Southern Illinois University had an awesome photo program only 1.5 hours away – and I could afford it!

YM: And what drew you to photography as your medium as an artist?

LO: I liked the idea of stopping time and seeing the world from the view of a 35mm lens. And, I loved the confidence the camera gave me. Sure, I would fantasize about being a great painter, but at the end of the day I loved holding a camera in my hands more than a paintbrush. I saw the world in B/W and photography helped me find my voice.

YM: The February/March 2015 issue of F-Stop includes images from your project Family View. Can you tell us about this project and what led you to doing it?

LO: I am always turning the camera on my family. Family View is a combo of two initial projects that merged to make one new one. The first of the two was an ongoing project documenting my mother’s health and her aging process. I documented her until she passed away in December of 2009. The second one was a documentary project I began before my sister’s breast augmentation. Because I had already been photographing her and her relationship with her daughters, when my sister decided to have breast augmentation it was a given that I would photograph that process as well. Not only would I be getting the family aspect, I would also be getting the ultimate view of body image. These two series merged together to become my Family View project. For me, Family View is a project about body image and family dynamics.

YM: How does your family feel about your turning the camera on them?

LO: I feel fortunate that they are so used to it. At times they actually anticipate that I’m going to take pictures of them. My mom was a part-time model in her youth who always loved being in front of the camera (and then behind it too). Sometimes she did not like being photographed in b/w or being photographed in vulnerable situations but in the end she always allowed me to do so because she recognized my passion for it. In our family everybody always merges together. This close dynamic allows for no privacy time no matter the state of dress – or undress. Thus, the camera is always part of my dress and they have come to accept it. As a photographer it’s easy to be the observer, but for me I’m more of an embedded participant that steps in and out of the situation.

The Night Before

The Night Before

YM: Do you have a favorite image in this series? If so, which one and why is it the image that speaks to you most favorably?

LO: This is a really tough question. I love the opener that I call Charlie’s Angels, an image of my mom, my sister and me. The other true favorite image is that of my sister and her youngest daughter lying in the bathtub. I took that image the night before my sister had her surgery. Hannah, my niece, was very stressed out that her mom was having this surgery. I love the innocence of Hannah laying behind her mother with her little hands and feet and how she kind of becomes a crucifix in the image. I absolutely couldn’t fathom my sister changing the lovely breasts that she had – the same breasts that at one time fed her two daughters. In this photo my sister’s breasts are dominant in the image but at the same time, it’s such a “quiet moment” with Hannah’s eyes closed and my sister with somewhat open eyes as she appears to wipe away the old as she prepares for the new.

YM: Can you discuss your process for making these images or your creative process in general?

LO: Part of my process is to always have a camera with me. After years of shooting something as personal as my family in ALL situations, they have to know by now that I may start taking photos at any moment. I just quietly start shooting things as they unfold. After a bit, my camera and I just blend in.

YM: What is the intended end or purpose for the Family View project?

LO: A few years ago I was invited to participate in a 3–person exhibit with a family theme. My long-term goal now is to take this version and add what has transpired in my family over the past 5 years. Grow it if you will. My mom has passed. My niece Hannah is almost grown up. My other niece has a child of her own. My sister has had more plastic surgery…so in essence a new project will unfold by revisiting this project and expanding it.

Look at Me

Look at Me

YM: Tell us a little about your background as a photographer and where you are now with your work.

LO: While in college I initially wanted to be a war photographer. I was a bit obsessed with Robert Capa and the idea that photographers went off to photograph in war. Then I realized I don’t know geography or history well enough to be an informed war photographer, so I switched to a documentary track. While studying documentary photographers I also fell in love with the portrait. I eventually merged together the idea of documentary and portrait photography. In general I have a hard time making time for my personal work because I have a day job working as a producer for the well-regarded photographer Paul Elledge. We travel and work on all kinds of assignments. It’s a time intensive job, but I’m happy to be in a creative environment. And, sometimes I serve as a second photographer on some of the projects. Needless to say I have to be very diligent to carve out time for my own photography. Hence so much self-portraits! I generally have more than 2 projects going at once and I’m literally always years behind on editing and processing my own work. I was very slow to take on digital and I’ve been behind ever since.

YM: What project are you currently working on?

LO: The working title of my new project is 714 Conger. I started a project at the end of summer 2014 that entailed visiting the neighborhood I grew up in as a young child. Some of my formative years (from ages 5 to 8) were spent living in a housing project in Mt. Vernon, IL. Anytime that I return to Mt. Vernon I’m intrigued by the neighborhood and its buildings. It’s much more sparse and smaller than what I remember thinking it was as a kid. It’s more abandoned in a sense as well. It’s familiar and yet not. On one level I can’t even believe that I lived there. My mom provided what she could for my sister and me, and at the time it was great just to have a roof over our heads. But other kids from school would sometimes make fun of us for living there. My mom could not wait to get us to a new place. A dear friend encouraged me to go back to explore and photograph in and around that neighborhood. He drove me there to make sure that I was safe. And the idea of doing a longer-term project came to life.

As I started the project I quickly realized that it was also a statement about making choices. We all have choices…you make the choice for yourself to be happy or to be sad, etc. You can choose to leave or choose to stay. I see so many people in my hometown that continually blame the system rather than choosing to make better choices. I chose to take a different path proving to myself that I am smart and just as good as the kids that had “everything”.

YM: You mean everything that money can buy?

LO: Yes. And, as an adult I now know that the concept of “everything” is not as simple as what money can by. It’s much much greater than that. As I photograph some of the kids that now live in and around the neighborhood of the projects they seem mystified that I even want to come back. They always say I’m way different than they are and I tell them that I used to be them. And I find myself giving a mini-workshop on the message of “you can do whatever your dream is. You just have to work for it.”

I’m in the middle of a lot of transitions and choice has been a key factor. I wanted to go back to my roots and investigate. Speaking of transitions I’m also working on a self-portrait project that has a working title called Transition. No details to share on that yet, but as usual I’ve got more than one thing going on. I’m also photographing my stepdad’s health decline and investigating how to best photograph the demise of dementia.

from the series Fight Night

from the series Fight Night

YM: Leasha, someone has to get up really early to keep up with you and all that you do. I appreciate your making the time to respond to these interview questions, as I am sure that our readers will be as well.

YM: What is your process for photo projects?

LO: As far as my general creative process… Sometimes I have a need to photograph a desired subject without fully understanding why. Then I thread together a theme after having shot for a while. Everything is intentional, just not obvious to me at first. Another way that I work lately is to create lists of phrases or project titles that come to mind. I write them all down to create new ideas. They will either become their own project or the title of an already existing body of work. And of course I always have a camera with me so I’m ready for any situation to unfold.

YM: What or who inspires you as a photographer?

LO: Photographers who inspire me include Danny Lyon, Larry Clark, Bruce Davidson, Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, and Paul Elledge. Also, Nicholas Nixon, Duane Michaels, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Helen Levitt…really there are too many to choose! The list could go on for days.

Artists who inspire me are Picasso, Francis Bacon, Alexander Calder, and Giacometti. And Movie Directors: Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, and Wes Anderson.

Also, I’m completely inspired by a sunny day! On an odd note, I often find that when staying in a hotel, I have the desire to shoot images – particularly my self-portraits. Still sorting out the why in hotel rooms, but I love the implication of the past stories they hold, many mirrors, etc.

YM: Who are your influences?

LO: Oh, I have more than one… One of the most influential early on was my favorite professor, Gary Kolb. He encouraged experimentation but he was also excellent at guiding me in all of the directions that interested me. Gary is the one that let me know it’s okay to have more than one path in photography.

My documentary inspirations are also influencers, such as Danny Lyon and Larry Clark. I have some very creative friends that also influence me.

Paul Elledge is a huge influence and my mentor. You don’t work with someone for 25+ years without being influenced by him or her. He keeps me challenged and he is ever changing and challenging himself so on one level I continue to learn while at my job working as his producer. We also teach workshops together and that experience has also been influential.

YM: Can you say something about the workshops you teach with Paul Elledge?

LO: Paul and I compliment each other. We are opposite in our approach. He is tough and I’m gentle, but direct. He likes to say if he breaks a student down, I’m the one that builds them back up. We don’t teach technical workshops. And, that is really hard for people at times. We are not about f-stops and gear. It’s feelings first. One rule of our workshop critiques is that no technical questions or comments are allowed until after a participant has shared how a photo makes them feel. Teaching gives me the opportunity to share my own work, which I love.

YM: What defines a “good” photograph to you?

LO: It’s a good photograph if it evokes an emotion from me – if I catch my breath or if my heart skips a beat. I’m also a stickler for composition and line – making sure every inch of the frame is really what it needs to be.

YM: What do you hope people see or feel or perhaps learn when they look at your photographs?

LO: My biggest goal for any image that I make is for people to feel an emotion. Whether it’s about their life and my image makes them feel it, or they feel emotional about being allowed into my world. I want people to feel honesty and integrity whether it’s a portrait, a self-portrait or a street scene.

Hannah

Hannah

YM: If you could own one photograph whose would it be and which image?

LO: Diane Arbus’ Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, New York City (1962).

YM: You sure knew immediately!

LO: I’d also love to own any vintage Danny Lyon image. I feel exceptionally grateful to already own one of my all time favorites, Couple Kissing from his “Uptown Chicago” series of 1965.

YM: What is the most challenging work you have ever done?

LO: A bulk of my work is very personal. Making my images is how I escape or step outside of the situation I’m trying to understand. Photography is like therapy in a way. The challenge comes in editing and finishing out my projects and ideas. For instance, my mother was my muse for many, many years. In 2005 I started photographing her decline in health. She was my on-going star in a lot of what I documented. I photographed everything in her final year of life when I was not directly taking care of her: in the hospital, at home, her nurses and doctors, while she was in hospice, all of the moments before her passing and right after. She died in December of 2009. I still have not been able to fully edit that work. So that has probably been my biggest challenge.

I also have a knack of getting in the way of myself. I choose to get involved in projects that are 5 hours away from where I live. Or I do things like declare to do a self-portrait everyday for a year! Those are logistic challenges…but challenges nonetheless.

YM: What is the best career advice you have ever received?

LO: It’s not about the gear you own…it’s about your ideas. Rather than continually buying gear, put money towards experiences that may open your mind’s eye. Look inside of yourself before you go looking for others to solve the issue that may be at hand.

YM: What advice do you have for people who would like to make photography a career?

LO: BE PASSIONATE. Don’t take anything for granted. Be humble and work really hard. These days one has to eat, sleep and breath photography in order to succeed in the digital world where everyone is a photographer simply because they have an iPhone.

YM: Thank you Leasha for reflecting on your work and sharing your thoughts, images and statements so generously. While Family View is the project whose images are in the February/March issue of FStop, I’d like our readers to know that you have other projects of interest: Fight Night, Lost in Mt. Vernon, Another Year, Details of Maintenance. I imagine we’ll be seeing and hearing a lot more about you and your work.

To see more of Leasha’s work: www.leasha.com

 

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London Photo Festival 14th-16th May 2015

unnamed-1London Photo Festival
14th-16th May 2015

Theme: Architecture, including street photography.

This year’s theme is architectural photography from around the world (including street photography which includes the architectural genre), and on the Friday a Click ‘n Clique™ evening will be held, providing a unique platform for visitors to meet the photographers behind the works, and for photographers to network with other photographers and photography industry suppliers.

The eighth London Photo Festival will run from 14-16 May in the Crypt under St George the Martyr Church (opposite Borough Underground station), Borough High Street SE1 2JA
Entry is free for the public to visit and all images are for sale. The Festival will be open from 10.30am on all three days and will remain open late on the Friday, closing at 6pm on Saturday, 16th May.

http://www.londonphotofestival.org

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Ken Schles @ Noorderlicht Photogallery

unnamed
Ken Schles: Invisible City/ Night Walk 1983-1989
4 April – 7 June 2015

Twenty-five years after the printing of his seminal 1988 book, Invisible City, Ken Schles revisits his archive and fashions a narrative of lost youth: a delirious, peripatetic walk in the evening air of an irretrievable downtown New York as he saw and experienced it. Night Walk is a substantive and intimate chronicle of New York’s last pre-Internet bohemian outpost, a stream of consciousness portrayal that peels back layers of petulance and squalor to find the frisson and striving of a life lived amongst the rubble. Here, Schles embodies the flâneur as Susan Sontag defines it, as a “connoisseur of empathy… cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes.” We see in Night Walk a new and revelatory Ulysses for the 21st century: a searching tale of wonder and desire, life and love in the dying hulk of a ruined American city.

Noorderlicht Photogallery
Akerkhof 12, 9711 JB Groningen, The Netherlands

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BARBARA YOSHIDA @ Umbrella Arts

Ring of Brodgar Stone-Moonlight, Orkney, Scotland, 2003

Ring of Brodgar Stone-Moonlight, Orkney, Scotland, 2003

BARBARA YOSHIDA: MEGALITHS BY MOONLIGHT
APRIL 2 – 25, 2015

OPENING RECEPTION WITH THE ARTIST: THURSDAY, APRIL 2, 6-8PM
ARTIST TALK & BOOK SIGNING: SATURDAY, APRIL 11, 4PM

The standing, megalithic stones that populate our Earth have attracted people from the Stone Age to the present. While we do not know who constructed the stones or why, many believe they played an integral role in the religious and spiritual life of early humans. More people every year are interested in megalithic monuments, but most are only aware of Stonehenge, perhaps the world’s most famous example of a prehistoric monument. They have no idea how many thousands of ritual stones pre-date Stonehenge by centuries, how many countries have these stones, and how much the configurations vary from one country to another.

Umbrella Arts
317 East 9th Street, #2, New York, NY 10003

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Grada Djeri @ ERDMANNCONTEMPORARY

Jorge Sierra Rubia, black and white photograph, 2013

Jorge Sierra Rubia, black and white photograph, 2013

Grada Djeri
Opening reception Tuesday 14 April 2015 at 6 pm

Grada Djeri (1956 – 2014) studied painting at the Academy of Fine Art in Belgrade, but it would be in photography and music that he would ultimately leave his mark.

In 1992 Djeri moved from Yugoslavia to South Africa and settled in Cape Town. In his Bohemian Venken Lane studio, just off Long Street, Djeri refined his technique to close the gap between his love for both painting and photography. He transformed the traditional photographic printing process into an opportunity to paint, and by doing so, brought his black and white portraits to the surface in unusual, painterly and unique ways.

ERDMANNCONTEMPORARY & THE PHOTOGRAPHERS GALLERY ZA
84 Kloof Street, Gardens, Cape Town, 8001

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Elliott Erwitt @ Beetles and Huxley

Marilyn Monroe, New York, 1956 © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum. Image courtesy of Beetles + Huxley

Marilyn Monroe, New York, 1956 © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum. Image courtesy of Beetles + Huxley

Elliott Erwitt: Double Platinum
28 April – 27 May 2015

The exhibition will be the first opportunity to view large-format platinum prints of Erwitt’s most celebrated photographs in the UK. Featuring some of the most well known photographs of the twentieth century, the platinum prints are stunning feats of innovation in photographic printing that showcase a rich, subtle tonal range. The platinum collection includes examples of Erwitt’s famous humour, visual puns often underwriting street scenes and portraits. Examples of the more photojournalistic side of Erwitt’s work can be seen in one of his earliest photographs, showing the segregation of ‘White’ and ‘Coloured’ drinking fountains in North Carolina whilst a shot of fellow photographer, Robert Frank, dancing with his wife shows a charming, intimate moment.

Beetles and Huxley, 3-5 Swallow Street, London W1B 4DE

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“Black Manners” pastels @ Arcturus Gallery

unnamed
“Black Manners” pastels
24 March to 25 April 2015

Arcturus Gallery
65, rue de Seine
75006 PARIS

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Emmanuel Coupe Kalomiris @ The Athens House of Photography

unnamed Emmanuel Coupe Kalomiris: FIRE AND ICE
The exhibit will last until April 29th.

opening will take place on Wednesday March 18th 2015, 20:00

This collection of prints presented at AHOP belongs to a series of projects captured in Iceland and Greenland. I travelled across this isolated and often inhospitable land of Iceland initially for a two month period in late autumn, followed with a subsequent trip 6 months later. I captured photographs from the remote inner Highlands and the black volcanic deserts to the massive waterfalls and rugged coastlines. During my visits in Iceland I worked almost simultaneously several projects that reflected my varying visions of this land. This resulted in an aerial series of the river systems of Iceland, a color series as well as a black and white series with a minimalistic approach. In my recent visit to Greenland I hired a private boat and that is how I captured most of photographs, allowing me to maneuver amongst icebergs freely with light and composition only setting the course. The Polar Regions and in particular Greenland have gathered much attention for the environmental impact they represent for the entire world and rightly so. Baring witness up-close to the giant icebergs can be an overwhelming experience and one I will not likely forget; at the same time the feelings at times were overwhelming, conflicting with my task at hand which was to pursue my photographic vision. The ever changing scenery, unlike any other place on earth, drew a parallel in my mind to the ever changing nature of human life that is constantly moving and changing. These subtle nuances became the backbone to my compositions and overall approach to the intense subject matter, resulting in a trilogy as well as couple more projects that are ongoing. From Greenland I will be presenting prints from the first part of the trilogy called “Mountains of Ice” as well as portions from another series titled “69th Parallel North”.

PHOTOTHEATRON & THE ATHENS HOUSE OF PHOTOGRAPHY
Zirini 23 145 61
Kifisia Athens (Greece)

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Jacqueline Hassink @ Benrubi Gallery

Hōsen-in 1, Winter, Northeast Kyoto, 14 February, 2011 (14:00 - 16:30)

Hōsen-in 1, Winter, Northeast Kyoto, 14 February, 2011 (14:00 – 16:30)

Jacqueline Hassink – View, Kyoto
March 26 – May 9, 2015

Opening reception with the artist: Thursday, March 26 6 – 8 PM

Hassink’s images are suffused with the unique appeal of Japanese architecture and landscape even as they create their own aesthetics. Temple design is scaled to the 1:2 ratio of the tatami, itself ordered to the size of a human body. Hassink’s lens brings out this human point of view, her camera positioned as if the viewer were now standing, now seated on a mat; poised at a threshold or located on the veranda between temple and garden. The composition of the photographs is as carefully considered as the sacred spaces they reveal, highlighting the balanced yet never static interplay between interior and exterior spaces in temple design. The rigidity of the temple’s lines and angles is played off against the softer garden forms seen through open doors or unglazed window. The browns and golds and whites of the interiors, with here and there a spot or stripe of bold red, collage with the brown, grays, and greens of the gardens to create a single meshed field. If, initially, the perception is one of division between human and nature or terrestrial and divine, it soon becomes one of continuity between two realms. Neither is wholly constructed or found; neither could exist without the other.

Benrubi Gallery
521 West 26th Street, 2nd floor
New York, NY 10001

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Fullerton College: Explorations @ dnj gallery

Cassidy Rae Tobin, Lissome Sodden

Cassidy Rae Tobin, Lissome Sodden


Fullerton College: Explorations
April 11 – May 9, 2015

Through inquiry, investigation, and reflection the concept of subject is explored through the medium of photography. The exhibition will feature works of photography by students from Fullerton College.

dnj gallery
2525 michigan avenue, suite J1
santa monica, california 90404

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