Interview with photographer Lauren Noelle Oliver
F-Stop Magazine: The current issue of F-Stop Magazine includes images from your project Temple of the Self, can you tell us about this project? What led to this work?
Lauren Noelle Oliver: Temple of the Self began as an exploration of the human form interacting with light, space and nature but has slowly evolved into an investigation of my identity. I subconsciously started working on this body of work at the beginning of quarantine in NYC. I have a history of turning towards my camera during difficult times so it felt natural last March to process my feelings through photography.
F-Stop: Can you discuss your process for making these images or your creative process more generally?
LNO: I work in a few different ways.
I try to consistently surround myself with art whether that’s through photo books, online research or visiting galleries and institutions. I find it extremely important and beneficial to look at all kinds of art (painting, sculpture, filmmaking, performance) historic & contemporary. I always learn about different ways artists work and the techniques they utilize. My own ideas tend to formulate during this research and I try to always record them through writing or sketches. Committing something to paper holds me accountable to making sure I see it through.
The other way in which I work is more spontaneous and driven by my intuition and senses. I like to be thoughtful and intentional but I also like to experiment in the moment. These kinds of pictures are often predicated by feelings (excitement, sadness, curiosity) discoveries out in the world (things I’m seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting).
A process that is essential to my practice is studying light since I work primarily with natural light. Throughout the last year I’ve actively observed the sunlight shifting throughout the seasons and throughout the day. It helped me become more attune to the emotional qualities of all kinds of light and how they work to support what I am trying to communicate photographically.
F-Stop: How do you choose what to photograph, what are you looking to capture?
LNO: When I bring my camera out on walks I photograph whatever catches my eye, whatever I’m excited about. I don’t take time to question why or how I just immediately pick up my camera and start looking through the viewfinder. When I bring objects into the frame to work with they often have some sentimental significance like a piece of clothing that belonged to my mother or the religious statues that adorn my childhood home. Sometimes I’ll bring food or foliage into my pictures but more so in reference to the body to highlight similarities in shape or texture.
I always have some general idea of what I want to do with my body in the frame but working in front of the camera there’s a lot you have to leave to chance. I see it as an open collaboration because some really beautiful and unexpected things can happen in the process.
F-Stop: How would you describe your work to someone viewing it for the first time?
LNO: I’d say that they are photographs dealing with identity, insecurities about my multicultural background, questions on faith, shifts in family dynamics……
But I also like what happens when people are left without context and how they can find their own window to connect to my images.
F-Stop: Are you working on any other projects currently?
LNO: I’ve been working with analog photography for 10 years which has helped strengthen my appreciation for light. I know how important it is in constructing our images but also how sensitive our film and photographic paper are to light. Within the context of darkroom printing light can potentially damage or destroy our photo materials, but I’ve started to think about it differently — how it has the power to transform our images through techniques like solarization. I’ve recently begun experimenting with it in the darkroom and It’s been a very fun challenge for me!
F-Stop: What keeps you inspired at this moment in time?
LNO: My peers– sharing ideas, giving feedback, witnessing others make creative work around me. I’m lucky to be a part of a community darkroom in Gowanus that just keeps me in constant conversation about art & photography.
To see more of Lauren Noelle Oliver’s work, visit her website at www.laurennoelleoliver.com or check out the Self-Portrait 2021 issue of F-Stop!