Thursday, May 22, 2008

Art Space Talk: Laura Pannack

Laura Pannack is the first place finalist of the Next Perspective photography competition. The Next Perspective competition was sponsored by myartspace and HotShoe International. The winners of the competition-- Laura Pannack, Dana Mueller, and Rebecca Greenberg --were selected by the contest jury which included Henry Horenstein from the Rhode Island School of Design, Dr. Juliet Hacking from Sotheby's Institute of Art in London and Clare Freestone from the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Laura Pannack has been investigating the world of adolescence and it's complexities with her photography. She has worked with young offenders, pupil referral units, schools (including a special needs school) and many young couples. Exploring issues of identity, conformity, love, perception and confusion she strives to represent her subjects without judging them. Her aim is to raise issues of how we perceive young people and how little we understand about their identity and their world.

Brian Sherwin: Laura, you studied at the University of Brighton and Central Saint Martins. Can you tell us about your academic background? Did you have any influential instructors?

Laura Pannack: Central Saint Martins was where I first discovered photography. During my time on the foundation studies course there, we undertook a section dedicated basic photography. It was the first time I’d ever picked up a 35mm camera and I just instantly fell in love. At Brighton on the BA course, the tutors were great. They all have such a range of different photographic methods that there is no danger of simply conforming to one genre or style of photography. In particular, Paul Reas, Esther Tiechmann, Magalie and Mark Power have been helpful to me during crits but that’s not to say that the other tutors were not supportive.

My greatest influence and mentor has been the photographer, Simon Roberts. I’ve been assisting him for about 2 years. He motivates me, inspires me and supports me. His guidance is and has been invaluable.
BS: Laura, you have stated that photography has been your passion for the past 6 years. Can you discuss those early years? Why did you decide to pursue photography?

LP: Whilst attending Central Saint Martins, I purchased a 35mm Pentax camera from a pawn brokers and took a roll out with me every day in London. I commuted from home everyday, taking over 2 hours each way, so I’d often close my eyes on the tube and get off at random stops and spend a good few hours shooting street photography. I shot at least a roll a day, mostly black and white. I then processed them at university the following day. I’ve still got rolls of unprocessed film under my bed somewhere. It was great.

I could just wander freely on my own around places I’d never been. Sometimes I was drawn back to the same places. I guess I never really questioned if photography was what I wanted to do; it was just natural. The Pentax was just constantly dangling around my neck and there would always be at least two rolls of Ilford 100 in my bag. I also developed a passion for the dark room and processed a lot of my film at home.

Coincidentally, my father is a photographer so I was exposed to the world of photography from a very early age. However it didn’t really occur to me to take it up until studying at Central Saint Martins. I do however have very early memories of tipping trays in his dark room and being amazed how the image slowly revealed itself. I spent a lot of time with him in the darkroom at the bottom of his garden.
BS: You have went on to say that your subjects-- and the experiences you have with your subjects-- are imperative to your process. Can you go into further detail about your process and the need for those connections?

LP: The relationship I have with my subject is vital to the ideas behind my imagery. I aim to spend as much time as possible with my subjects really getting to know them. I was fortunate enough to gain the opportunity to attend a camp organised by people who help to rebuild the lives of young offenders and disaffected youths aged 13 – 18. This was what initially inspired my project. I spent a whole week, camping in the woods with the young people. It was so much fun and I was lucky enough to just hang out with them, document them and see the huge change in all of them as time progressed. I began to realise how misunderstood they were.

I often stay in touch with my subjects and continue to photograph them although this is not always possible but when it is I feel there is a bond between us that allows them to feel comfortable and understand the process of my work. I want my subjects to know I want to photograph them. They are essential in the production of the work and I hope they enjoy the experience. I don’t feel I can honestly portray a subject if there is a lack of trust. I want to get to know who my subjects are. As Rineke Dikstra says: “I can’t photograph anyone or anything that I don’t find interesting.”

BS: Tell us more about the thoughts behind your work. For example, is there a specific message behind your images? Any social implications?

LP: I don’t want my work to give a negative impression in any way. I decided to call this series ‘The untitled’ as I don’t want to label or categorize any of the individuals. Today’s society, particularly the media, has a need to pigeonhole young people. Perhaps this is born out of fear or frustration, but either way I find it negative. I hope my audience can engage with my subjects and share the intimacy I aim to create by engaging in a relationship with them/ my subjects. This may hopefully inspire us to view young people as individuals.

BS: Laura, what can you tell us about your influences? Are you influenced by any specific artists?

LP: As earlier mentioned, Simon (Roberts) is a great influence, not just through his support but I also admire his working methods and enjoy his imagery. I have many influences and the more I learn the more influences I gain. A lot of them are photographers I see in journals and can’t remember off hand but in my early education people like Jeff Wall, Enrique Metindes, James Nachtey, Gregory Crewsdon and Phillip de Locia were a huge influence which you wouldn’t necessarily see from my work.

Richard Renaldi, Sarah Jones, and Hannah Starkey I would say are more recent influences but I am constantly inspired. I love looking at imagery and I am encouraged by even just small details within someone’s work. I would say that the imagery of my peers is also a great inspiration.
BS: What are you working on at this time? Will you be involved with any upcoming exhibits?

LP: I am participating in a few group exhibition in both London and Brighton. Myself and 8 other peers have collaborated and produced a journal for the past three years entitled ‘Bystander’. We hope to continue doing this and will be holding an exhibition for 10 days during the Brighton Photo Fringe in November/ October. We will also be selling the publication at the exhibition. The other exhibitions are in London with the Royal Photographic Society and the D&AD.

I am continuing with this project, especially ‘Young love’. I think we often have quite a pessimistic notion of young relationships and forget that sometimes the simplicity of love at a young age can form the strongest relationships. A relationship, free of worry, responsibility and future plans can ultimately mean one of fun and intimacy. The often perceived naievity can be viewed as a brave invincibility into a sharing of emotions and chance to truly reveal oneself to another individual. Perhaps young people rely on relationships to ease the burden of the frightening time of handling adolescence and all it’s uncertainties; finding support in someone who will not judge but share the experience.

I am also veering away from just working with young people as I don’t want to give the impression that young people are my only subjects. I have and I am enjoying this project but portraiture is my area and I will not limit myself with regards to a subject matter.

BS: Do you have an emotional connection to your work? Or are you more connected to the process? Is the finished photograph nothing more than a reflection of the process that interested you... or is it the unification of that process and the emotion, methods, and techniques that you utilized?

LP: Taking pictures removes me from reality. No matter how exhausted, hungry or distressed I am, as soon as I’m behind the lens and I have an interesting subject, I am happy. Photography is not only my passion but my form of escapism. Saying that, the reason I shoot is to produce imagery that pleases aesthetically and produces an emotional response. Whether it be humour, confusion, empathy or any other emotion I aim to intrigue and engage my audience. I need inspiration to motivate my passion and this is often gained throughout the process as the more I learn about my subjects; the more I find them interesting and desire to photograph them.

BS: When you are behind the camera do you view yourself as if you are on the outside looking in or in the inside looking out? I suppose this is a philosophical question... do you have a personal philosophy behind your work?

LP: It’s strange, as I explained I do enter a different world. Sometimes I do feel I am almost looking down on myself completing the process, removing a persona. But ironically, I feel more at one with myself and connected to the situation than I do with reality. My own physicality diminishes and I am solely consumed by the individual and their existence overrides my own.

I don’t really know if this is the closest I can feel to my subjects or if the very act of photographing and the physical barrier of the camera actually separates me from them and the subject. When I look through the view finder all that matters is what I am seeing and the subjects existence.
BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the goals that you have?
LP: I can see myself doing nothing more than continuing my passion and look forward to learning more. I am still at a very early stage of my career and I am so grateful that I have such a strong level of support and influence. I will soon be moving back to London to further pursue my career as a photographer.
You can learn more about Laura Pannack by doing a search for her name on You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

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