“The light it was really does it. Cows are not pink, and people are not blue, but a piece of tinted plastic can change a lot.”
Allyson Anne Lamb (born 1988) is a contemporary conceptual photographer currently based in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania (USA). She studied photography at “The School of Visual Arts”.
In this interview Allyson Anne Lamb talks about her most recent series Beefcakes and the concept of altered perceptions which has always been a defining part of all of her work.
Interview with Allyson Anne Lamb
Allyson, your work is very experimental. What exactly do you do?
I use harsh flash, gels, and with the mirrored images, I just flip them.
I have been asked a lot what I do to them, but it is straight photography for the most part. The light it was really does it. Cows are not pink, and people are not blue, but a piece of tinted plastic can change a lot.
I don’t do much manipulation beyond the gels, crops, curves.
One central theme in your photography is the “ambiguity of flesh”. What intrigued you to choose that subject and how do you use photography and other techniques to express it artistically?
When I was in school, and doing the young artist among artists thing, I was very aware of what got me in the door places. I was a young, pretty girl and so I was assigned a certain role in “the scene.” Once I became aware of how I was being purposed, I could not get my mind away from it. It seemed everything else, specifically my organic interests, were secondary, and were for the most part, irrelevant.
It would have been so easy to use this to my advantage, exploit my personality and become fully integrated into the sexy youth culture, “wild and free,” photographing my friends, my sexy shenanigans, my romantic obsessions, but I am not deeply interested in exploring sex on such a basic level.
I am 100% comfortable with sex, and therefore it does not hold my interest to explore my sexual appetite. Instead, I was now curious of the power of the body, the image of the flesh, and how it can be interpreted, misinterpreted, and abused.
I choose to photograph myself because that is where the problem was. I wanted to see if I could see myself differently, as that same gaze that was put on me, was now stuck on my lenses as well.
I started making abstracted self portraits. Changing the color of my skin, and using paint to alter the texture, while trying to perform how I was feeling. Delirious and man-handled.
My first shoot, I used this blue/green light, about the color of medical scrubs to mimic a medical facility, and I would pretend I was incarcerated, and being prodded by some dominator. It was kind of sci-fi, abduction story in my mind.
The photos we’re hard to look at. Harshly lit and bizarrely composed.
“The multidimensional qualities of the individual have been washed over by a need to define the identity and the purpose of the animal.”
I had to take my body away from vanity, and try to see it differently. The flesh became the icon for all of my issues with representation, and most importantly, my curiosity into why or how we really see each other. The multidimensional qualities of the individual have been washed over by a need to define the identity and the purpose of the animal.
Spirituality has been pushed aside for its purposelessness, and the body has been prioritized as the superior to everything else. I want to inspire curiosity, ambiguity, and lessen such rigid views. I read a comment on my work the other night, that was the best and most connected viewer to date:
“…the human body we so lust after suddenly seems alien. One is left to ponder matters of the body as an exoskeleton for the spirit, the biological curiosity of desire, and just how animal we are.”
Photography is the primary medium you use. What are the others and what does each mean to you? I like to paint and draw. I find it much more therapeutic actually, but I can not stay focused for long with it. When I am sketching, and I turn out with a recognizable figure, I am always curious about why or how I painted that. It’s like with the rochet.
I will begin with gestural lines, and as they lay upon one another, I start to see these figures, and I follow them there. It’s amazing, and I want to start doing more of it. I have been sitting on this computer, telling myself to go upstairs and paint, but instead started in with these interview questions.
How detailed do you go about the planning of a shooting? Can you explain your workflow a little bit please?
Now that I have been shooting with the same style for a while now, it is rather simple. I have the constants, the lights and the color.
The vision I begin with is usually pretty accurately met by the final products.
“I wanted it to look like this: aliens landed in a field, and only cows were there to greet them.”
With the belted Galloways, I knew I wanted it to look like this: If cows are alone in a field, what happens there? Do they have magical powers? Do they have relationships with aliens? I wanted it to look like this: aliens landed in a field, and only cows were there to greet them. I think it was a success! That was not the concept, however, but that is what I dreamed up for the aesthetic.
The brahman have been much harder. It kind of turned out that what I really wanted, is almost impossible with my resources. The series is not finished because of this. I can’t put my finger on it, but I know it is not finished, and I have not seen every angle.
What reaction do you intend to provoke in people looking at your photos?
I am inspired by the things that catch your eye, the phrase that gives you that adrenaline jolt and you know immediately that makes sense, music that makes your whole body warmer (my ears and jaw actually whelm up with heat), but mostly it is a desire to make something that is applicable to all of us.
As I said early on, images can be powerful without any real explanation as to why. Just like there is no rule to why you fall in love with someone, or that we all want someone to understand us other. It is in our nature to want to connect to other people, and I want to make images that in themselves connect to people, for some weird and unknown reason. I want them to be images, “written in the language of the flesh itself”, written in the language of nature.
Everyone has bonded with an animal, and you know that the animal has bonded with you too. You can feel an exchange of love, and it is mysterious but also real. These are the details I am interested in talking about, and they are the things that inspire me to keep working. It is all magic by definition.
What does a single photograph need in your opinion in order to stand out and get noticed? Especially keeping in mind the abundance of visual imagery in today’s media?
I don’t know if each image needs to, but I like each image to be able to stand on its own. But when it comes to installation, I like to crowd the room with every picture, almost laying on top of each other with such quantity.
I want the presentation to be overwhelming, and not be about the individual images. For web viewing, however, I want each image to be captivating enough that you really want to look at it for longer than “click, click, click”.
Susan Sontag once said “The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own”. How has photography changed the way you look at the world and what have you learnt about yourself?
This question is hard for me, because I am not the type of photographer that carries a camera around. When I was first starting, I did, and I would stop and photograph someone who looked like a photo I had already seen. Stopping for the “Picturesque”, but what I learned about myself by doing that, is that I was not really seeing the world around me, and I was certainly not really seeing those people who fit into these pre-made images.
For example, if you go to a concert in this decade, no one is watching or listening. They are videotaping or photographing the performers so that they can say they were there, or so that they can post it and further embed their lives into pop culture, to feel like they are really here, or really a part of “it”.
Unfortunately, for me to be successful, and to hopefully make a living as an image maker, I think I really must become that tourist, but travel my own life, and post it on my twitter, or my instagram, so that the audience feels like they know me enough to care what I have to say.
“…hopefully an audience will want to see what I did to get myself covered in poop, or in a cage with a 2600 pound monster.”
I am not really happy about that, but I am realistic. I won’t compromise too much, and start taking pictures of every dick I’ve ever put in my mouth, so that the audience can feel what its like to live my certain type of sexuality. However, I will post pictures of me hanging with cows, or driving around in my dirty, manure covered pants, so that hopefully an audience will want to see what I did to get myself covered in poop, or in a cage with a 2600 pound monster.
Every photographer is going through different stages in his formation. Which “landmarks” do you recall that have marked you and brought you to the place where you are today as a photographer?
It is small, but getting my picture on the promo card for the mentor show at SVA was great for me. I am competitive, and I did not feel successful in school. Before I turned 21, I was very “imagine it and it will happen”, but things just were not working out like that anymore. So, instead, I just started working harder.
When I saw that little promo card, it was the little reinforcement I needed at the time. I had one or two discouraging teachers, one of which told me that my making self portraiture would be vain, words that kept me from doing it until I met Elektra KB.
Secondly, it was finding my second subject after the nude self portraits.
I was scared that I had run out of juice, and I would end up back pointing my camera at some catalog of things.
I was going to sleep one night, almost asleep, and I popped up with what felt like a stroke of genius. I grabbed my bedside pen, and wrote down “COWS!” After I had begun shooting the belted Galloway cows, I was listening to a lecture, and the guy started talking about how much domesticated cattle has done for human society.
The meat, the milk, their hides, psilocybin mushrooms sprouting in their dung and giving the community fantastic visions, all which allowed humans to live in pastoral societies. It was the second reinforcement that the cows were where I wanted to be. Just as I felt that I was being rigidly purposed, I could relate to the cattle in the same way. And more so, that they were not appreciated for all of their gifts.