Moss: Good evening Laurence. Thanks for joining me. Glass of wine?
Laurence: Yes please, cheers. It’s lovely to be here. I’ve missed you!
I’ve missed you too. Welcome back to London. I’d like to ask some questions about your past year - living abroad, cycling the pacific coast, returning home and progressing into photography. But first, why are you interviewing yourself?
I’m writing this Q&A because it’s my alternative to an artist’s statement or cover letter. I find them too formal and impersonal, Q&A’s are more fun to read! I want to communicate some thoughts I’ve had and express my artistic intentions to give my work some context.
What are your artistic intentions?
I want to express and encourage lifestyles that can make a healthy impact on how we live. I want to undo some of the ways we’ve learned to see in the age of social media. I’ve been exploring my artistic identity over the past five years in different mediums and the best way for me to express my ideas has always been through photography.
Why photography, why now?
I believe photographs are the most effective form of emotional communication. Preserving memories is very important to me. I get so much pleasure out of seeing people’s response to my photographs. In many ways, it’s the only way for me to say I want. And when the response is negative, I see a challenge and opportunity. It motivates me. I’ve been studying and practising photography informally since I was a teenager, but over the past two years living abroad, my experiences have brought me to an acceptance, and that the time is now to pursue the craft professionally. Taking photographs lets me see and understand more of what’s happening in the world. A camera is a better tool for me.
Why didn’t you study photography at university?
I studied illustration & animation, as I didn’t want to head into photography directly. I wanted to approach visual communication from a different pathway. I didn’t know this at the time - at that time of I was very happy to sit at a desk drawing and painting all day, and animation was the right choice to combine drawings and motion. I’ve always loved stillness in animation and motion in photography. I’ve been studying photography and film informally for most of my adult life and tried applying that into animation. Since graduating I’ve taught myself a lot in 3D/CG modelling, lighting, rendering, and I’ve produced a series of work and a short animated film that I’m really pleased with. I’m fascinated by sets and backgrounds, rooms lacking a physical character always caught my eye, and so I made a series of imaginary background illustrations. I loved creating these. I stopped seeing them as illustrations, and saw them more as CG photographs. It was my way of being an introverted photographer. I could hide in my studio and virtually create and photograph any scene. But I came to a point during my time living away when I couldn’t sit still at my desk, and I had to go out and about.
What do you see?
I see junk. I see envy. I see insecurities. I see super egos. I don’t like to sound so negative, but I’m displeased with what social media and some bad taste advertising is doing to young people’s minds. Photography makes such an emotional impact on people, and it’s so accessible. It’s so powerful, but that power is being abused, for reasons I disagree with. I don’t want to encourage jealousy or self doubt to contribute to sales of a meaningless product. There are lifestyles and values that can make a positive impact on mental health and a better social society. That’s what I’d like to see.
How would you express these things in a photograph?
My approach in taking photos has been candid, unstaged documentary style for myself and my friends. I’ve never had any intention of representing anything but what is real. I see positive and genuine impacts from this. Honesty is important in my work. I think we can be healthier in living that doesn’t require excessive personal wealth. A lot of photography is used to encourage these things by making people feel inadequate. It’s working well, but I don’t want to be a part of it that way.
Is there anything that inspired you to want to express these things?
Yes, I’m fascinated by people and I’m concerned about mental health issues. I’ve experienced chapters of poor mental health which has set off a desire to better understand it. Photography is constantly growing and adapting, and especially over the past decade I can see the purposes of everyday photography changing, in order to serve a social media ego. It’s a strange way to communicate. I’ve been fortunate to have people around me who accept a candid snap. But I’m seeing people’s fear of it now. More people seem ok with a pose for their front facing phone camera. It made me think about how we can accept the curated version of ourselves, but not an honest one. It’s an unhealthy strive for validation. I’m feeling more uncomfortable taking photographs, and as a means of self expression and creative outlet, it’s being restricted and supressed. It’s an awful feeling.
Why is that an awful feeling?
Because it makes me fear what I love doing, and it suffocates my creativity. When people live in fear, they live with less freedom, less freedom to express themselves. And when you can’t be youself, you become someone else, and live through something accepted. It’s preventing people from reaching out for help. We advertise our thoughts and opinions on social media, but we’re selling things that others can’t buy. Jealousy is encouraged. We’re consuming junk values and it’s making us mentally ill, just like how junk food makes us physically ill. But it seems junk sells. I don’t think that’s good.
Freedom and self expression seems to be important to you.
It is very important. I think it should be for everyone. I think freedom is undervalued and the concept has become distorted. Self expression is warped and creativity is suppressed. The authorities are afraid of it. Anxiety is a sympton of it. It’s uncomfortable to behave accordingly. When I tried to fit in, and it was such an unhealthy way to live, and the anxiety that came with it was so debilitating.
Your cycle trip to L.A. must have something to do with freedom and self exploration. Tell me more about the journey, what was the inspiration?
I’ve wanted to travel down the west coast and through California for as long as I can remember. And I bloody love riding my bike! The movies, the games, the light and the landscapes - Los Angeles has been a spiritual destination for me. I imagined that I’d be driving through the desert in a red open top cadillac, but that wasn’t going to happen just yet. I was working at a pizza place in Vancouver, turning pizzas and squeezing sauce into cups, and I needed a new daydream. So cycling to L.A. was it! It makes the destination so much more phenomenal.
I packed my panniers light and camped with a hammock. Cycling is so euphoric for me - it’s an activity of deep-seeing - you’re not just looking at things, you’re physically working into them, breathing and smelling everything around you, using your body, your strength and all your senses adds up to a spectacular feeling of awareness and enjoyment. A feeling like no other. It’s the interaction with my environment which is also why I love photography. And the landscapes blew my socks off. Riding solo is the only way I would have done it, and by doing so I met some amazing people with wonderful stories. Experiences are best shared, and I’m really glad to have been able to share my journey with friends on Instagram stories. When I was 18 I went on my first solo holiday to Greece, and spent a week on an island cycling around the coastlines and taking photos. It seems not much has changed! (laughs).
You started the journey from Vancouver, Canada, where you lived for the past two years. Why did you move there and what did you learn?
I needed time and space away from London. I hate being rushed, and London rushes you. But that reason why I left is the same reason I wanted to come back. London has phenomenal energy.
I loved Vancouver, but I lost myself at the beginning, but it was a time that made me. Coming out of a comfort zone like that was challenging but it was such a constructive mirror for me. It seems that the self is an illusion. It’s made up of what and who is around you. We’re all influencing each other. And to better yourself is to better your influence on others. People would ask, ‘why did you move here?’ and I always had a different, expanded answer, because I was still trying to figure out the reason myself. My short answer was that I moved there because of the mountains and the marijuana.
Is your short answer a real answer?
Yeah, an easier one! I do love the mountains, and the marijuana there is very different to here in England. When it’s presented as a medicine, it works incredibly well. When it’s presented like a drug, people will mistreat and abuse it. I worked in a dispensary and learned so much about the medicinal benefits of each strain. As a budtender it was also a great alternative customer interaction and I heard lots of stories. I learned valuable communication skills in that job and it built a lot of character. It was amazing to be a part of the culture and the progressive industry.
What have you been doing in London since you’ve been back?
After two years away, everything is new again, and it’s very exciting. My creative direction is changing, and I’ve been making my way into film work. I’ve worked as a runner and camera assistant on some shoots, as well as photographing various events. I’ve been working through my photographs and curating a new portfolio.
What are you doing next?
For personal work, I’m working on portraiture and narrative projects and I’m looking to collaborate with writers and actors, to lead into more work in film. I have ideas and stories that I’ve never felt such a strong desire to tell before.
I have to go now. Ciao for now.
[Laurence leaves the room with his bike and camera]
[Moss finishes the wine and looks through some old photos]