KT: How did you get into photography? You being a professor of photography at Ohio University when/what was your first encounter with photography?
LL: I was an English major in college and took my first photography class in my sophomore year. I didn’t own a camera so I borrowed a friend’s Pentax K-1000.
The feminist practice has shaped my work from the very beginning and continues to be a source of inspiration for me. I want my photographs to telegraph the complex experiences of women. My earliest works that focused on domestic space emerged from this question: what does a feminist practice look like without depicting female bodies? With the dollhouses, the dolls are removed to focus on these miniature spaces and the stories suggested by these tiny rooms. With the hotel rooms, there’s a narrative aspect as well. Who was in this room? What happened? With this work, I also wanted to raise the subject of who cleans these rooms. How can the absence of a body be used strategically to raise a subject, that is, the manual labour of women, immigrant women? With Hidden Mother, I made this question—the absent body—quite literal.
KT: Your work is a brilliant mix of documentary and poetic practices, ranging from dollhouses to dirty hotel rooms to adoptive motherhood. On what basis do you select your subjects? How do you decide to get so intimate with your subject?
LL: I’m interested in why photographs are still so intimately linked to belief, their singular hold on the truth in visual art. I don’t believe in a strict partitioning of the truth and its presumed opposite, fiction. Rather, I’m interested in both the politics and poetics of photography.
KT: “The assumption of objectivity that continues to haunt photography—the desire to trust our eyes—is a central concern of my work”. Please comment
LL: I was introduced to hidden mother photographs while I was in the legal process of adopting my daughter. They appealed to my sensibilities: their macabre character, their dark humour. I immediately recognized in these photographs something of my experience of waiting to become a mother. These obscured women inhabit a strange space of being both close to and distanced from their child. This was how I felt about my daughter long before I met her. This feeling of attachment came through photographs, the very few I received of her during the seven-month wait for the adoption to be finalized. I was heartsick with longing during this time; it felt like a form of loss. I wanted to use the hidden mother images as a way to reflect the sense of attachment and loss that is at the very heart of mothering.
KT: Your recent book ”Hiden Mother’ is about using late-19th century equivalent of self-photographing: a Victorian photographic trend as a metaphor with your personal narrative of adopting your now nine-year-old daughter ‘Gadisse’. What was your fascination with the concept of ‘Hidden Mother’? In 2013, Italian artist Linda Fregni Nagler published a book with the same title ‘Hidden Mother’ published by MACK books. Why was it important to share such an intimate personal story in the photobook format? And how is your book different than Linda Fregni Nagler in approach?
LL: I think the very nature of the photobook is intimate so in that sense, the project was well-suited to the format. The original hidden mother photographs are very small and I wanted to keep the scale of the book congruent with the scale of the photographs. There’s a connection here between the intimacy of the materials and the intimacy of my story.
I love Nagler’s book and I especially like that the book is an exhaustive representation of her archive. Her book reflects the obsessive character of the collector and it’s a rich document of this practice, sequenced with nuance and sensitivity. I see my book first and foremost as the story of becoming a mother through adoption, told from the perspective of a photographer. The book makes connections between the distance and intimacy of my experience with the distance and intimacy of making photographs.
KT: In one of your previous interview, you quoted, ” I know the physical demands of making a photograph, that it’s a form of emotional exchange, and the ethical and political questions around representation, and the pleasures of experimenting with shooting and printing.” What do you mean by ‘Ethical and political questions around representation”?
LL: I believe when you make a photograph of a person, another human being, that it’s a form of exchange. This exchange requires the photographer to be honest in their approach and in their claims for the work and how it’s presented in the world.
KT: With your multi-layered artistic approach, what do you do you want to achieve with your photography in the end?
LL: A sense of questioning. A sense of mystery.