Monday, February 4, 2013

Lara Shipley

Lara Shipley is from rural Missouri and currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona. She is an artist who primarily makes work about people and their relationships with the out-of-the-way places they call home. Lara has credits at newspapers and magazines in the United States and abroad, such as The Atlantic Monthly, The Washington Post, Mother Jones Magazine, Costa Rica’s national paper La Nacion, GOOD Magazine, Gatopardo Magazine, The Miami Herald and Fraction Magazine. Before moving to Arizona she was a photography producer for National Geographic and a freelance photographer in Washington D.C. She received a Bachelors degree in Photojournalism from the University of Missouri in 2004. She is currently a Masters of Fine Art candidate studying photography at the Arizona State University Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

View more of Lara's work

Ashley Kauschinger: How did your series Coming, Going and Staying begin and evolve? What are some of your influences in creating your fictional world?

Lara Shipley: The series began when I moved to Arizona two and a half years ago. I had been working on a project in the midwest exploring ideas of identity related to place, particularly rural places similar to the small town where I grew up. I was attracted to isolated communities I found in Southern Arizona because they reminded me of my home town while also feeling very new for me, steeped in the issues and cultures unique to this region. I found that I was meeting people who felt very familiar. I was interested in how people from small towns seem to have a lot in common no matter where they are located, but also how aspects of this region; it's proximity to the Mexican border and the Tohono O'odham reservation, the extreme desert climate and isolation, the politics of the state of Arizona, and many other things, affect the people who live there. 

My background is in journalism, but I am heavily influenced by short stories and narrative non-fiction. I would like my work to exist somewhere in between, where I am being both inspired by the world I find and inventing images based on my memories and imaginings. It's more important to me to try to evoke an emotional response from my viewer by describing the way a place feels than documenting what I think it is (which I think is impossible anyway). I think I would get bored if my images were all staged or all from found situations. I enjoy using photography as an excuse to get out of my own life a little bit, but I also believe my interaction and interpretation is an important part of the work. One example of the way I'm working is Gabriel Garcia Marquez's fictional city MacondoIt is a place of Marquez's invention, but it is heavily inspired by his childhood town. I am also very inspired by tv shows about small towns such as Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure. I love how in both of these shows the town is a character that feels both real and fantastical. It's a world based on real places and it feels like you could step into it, but it's all fiction. 

AK: What is your attraction to the Borderlands? Does your own identity relate to this location (or emotion)? 

LS: I am very interested in how people are fixed or untethered to place. While working on this project I began to notice how much the borderlands are about movement and migration. There is the obvious example of the migrants coming from Mexico and Latin America, who pass through this area in high numbers but go mainly unseen. But there are many other migrants here as well: border agents frequently come in 45 day stints and then are transferred elsewhere, snow birds (Midwestern and Canadian retirees) come every winter and leave as soon as it gets warm, even the mining industry that helped create many of these communities was relatively short lived. When the mines got all they could from the ground they closed and people moved on. Besides for the Tohono O'odham, who have lived in this region for no one knows how long, it's been a place that people come for a period of time to get what they need and then leave again, whether that be passage to a different country or a more comfortable winter, it all felt related to me. At some point after spending so much time in this region I began to consider my own involvement and to realize that I was a migrant here as well. 

At the same time like all small towns there are attractive aspects to growing up there but also a reality of limited opportunity. I felt my own conflicted emotions when faced with young people deciding whether to stay in their hometowns or to move on to less isolated towns with more options. So even in this region that feels marked by movement some people felt stuck to me. 

AK: This work complexly moves through different landscapes, scenes, portraits, etc. What is your process of shooting, editing and sequencing a series? 

LS: When I'm shooting I sometimes have plans, like a portrait session or an event, but usually I'm either just driving or walking around or I'm spending time with people I meet and seeing where that leads. Some of my portraits result from spending a lot of time with a subject, creating different scenes, while others result from people I have met where I meet them. So there is a lot of variety in my working style. 

I'm very interested in the editing and sequencing stages. I first fell in love with fine art photography while working at Photo-eye, the photography book store in Santa Fe. So sequencing and image relationships are something that I am always thinking about. I also enjoy experimenting with combining photographs with writing. I am currently working on a series of books that I think of as short stories related to this project. They are artists books that combine sets of photographs with poems or essays. I plan to release three of them this spring. 

AK: How do you promote your work? How do you work on creating balance between making work and promoting it? 

LS: I don't like to promote work before I've had a chance to develop it fully. I have been working on this project for a few years now, and for the first year and a half I didn't try to promote it at all, but now that I am wrapping up making the work I will put more of my efforts in sharing it with others. This project has been published in GOOD Magazine and Fraction Magazine. Images from the project have been exhibited at the University of Arizona Art Museum in Tucson, AZ, Project Basho in Philadelphia, PA and Newspace for Contemporary Photography in Portland, OR. I am currently planning an exhibition of the work at the Norhtlight Gallery in Arizona this March. 

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