Self/Other: Getting to Know Lauren Renner and Her Photographs

Interview by Kate Nemeth

Lauren Renner studied acting and performance in tandem with the start of her photography career. During our interview, she said performance has always been something that interests her deeply. The artist’s body of work “In Others’ Words”, presented by Salon Ciel at Gallery Bar, is a testament to this fascination. Nude models are pictured in fields, on bridges and in forests with words, some slurs, scribbled over their bodies in black marker. The models stand tall- literally, the photographs are nearly life-size- as these handpicked descriptions intersect them, drawing comparisons and marking differences between themselves and the viewer. Ms. Renner’s project is confronting and delicate, displaying the intricacies of human interaction with the self and with the other. See it at Gallery Bar from February 21st – March 6th, and join Salon Ciel and the artist for the opening reception on February 28th at 7PM.Image

When did you start this project?

This body of work originated in 2011, but it’s ongoing. As I continue to work on it, I’m looking to broaden the demographic by including people of different abilities, ages, ethnicities and gender identities.

Where did you go to school?

I went to SUNY New Paltz and it was wonderful. This project started as my BFA thesis project, so that’s why when you look at the photographs on my website you see a lot of shots in the country. There will be a lot of new photographs at the Salon Ciel show; some from the urban streets of New York, and others from more open spaces. There will be more variety than what exists now.

You’ve been working on this project for a long time.

I want the body of work to grow. The people who participate end up seeing the experience as a liberating action. It’s important to me that the experience belongs to them and, in that sense, it means as much to them as it means to me.

How did you get the idea to start photographing people in this way?

Before this project, I used to organize a photo shoot based on an image in my head, not attached to any concept. Whatever happened along the way would be the end result.

I remember the first image I had for this project. I remember very clearly seeing a group of people who are all nude walking down a foggy street, and there was some intervention across their bodies. I didn’t know what it was and I couldn’t see it, but I thought they might be words. I didn’t know what the words said.

This vision happened early in art school, so it sat with me for a long time. I recognized it was a big idea, and waited for the right time to pursue it. One semester I started taking a combination of classes that allowed me to begin this project. In a photography class I started using a large format camera, and in another class I was studying social issues. Between the two, I learned how to address social concepts through photography, specifically through using the large format camera.

What’s the large format camera like? How did it help determine the project?

My first two times using the large format camera I was completely knocked off course. It was as if I had never picked up a camera before in my life. But I felt something working before I really figured out what I was doing. I had to stop and be present with what was going on in the moment, in front of my camera, whether I liked it or not. This was the first time I created a project primarily from the technical side of it. My approach to the project was very much about the image and how I was going to make it. I knew that I wanted the end result to feel palpable. I wanted people to feel the presence of the work and I didn’t feel like I could achieve that with a DSLR. With the large format camera, I could blow up the image large enough to show the weight of the models’ presence.

There are so many small details in your photographs that seem very deliberate, is that something that runs throughout this body of work?

I do feel that way, and I’m curious to know what the details signify to viewers. I’m sure there are many things the viewer sees that I don’t, and that’s always really cool. When I’m making the images set in nature, I want there to be something that signifies the presence of society. It could be something as subtle as the lawn that the models are standing on is mowed. It can be anything.

Who decides what words will be on the models’ bodies?

They do, and the word selection itself is very broad. The words don’t have to be stereotypes or cliches; they can be personal, or ways that the models feel. I leave a lot of room for people to do what they want and I give very little direction on these shoots. It’s important to me that the process is organic. I see the finalized photograph as a document of the process for these people. It’s important to note that the models are strangers. Their first interaction is stripping down in front of each other and physically writing these words on each other’s bodies.

That said, I am always looking for people to photograph for this project. If anyone wants to contact me about participating and being photographed, please email me at lauren@laurenrenner.com!

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