Unravel the depth and mystery that lie beyond the psyche in Maggie Steber’s, “The Secret Garden of Lily LaPalma”. Steber’s stunning colored photographs create an irresistible allure that reflects countless influences from her life, dating back to her childhood. “The Secret Garden of Lily LaPalma” represents a complete reinvention for Steber, a striking departure from her extensive documentary photography body of work.
1. Tell us about your body of work, and the meaning behind it.
Over a lifetime, we accumulate experiences that end up being like wallpaper in a house where our subconscious resides. “The Secret Garden of Lily LaPalma” is where the photographs grow on that wallpaper, and this is where I have begun to re-explore a darker side of me that results from life experiences, both from work and from just living. Without meaning to make them so, these photographs reveal my fears and most private memories: my fear of knives, the dark figure that chased and often stabbed me in my dreams from early childhood to middle-age, my spiritual beliefs, my longings and love and all the other things that are wrapped up, not always so neatly, in someone’s life. That sounds really dark, but in fact, there is also great beauty and light. It’s a safe place for me to be creative.
2. What inspired you to make these images?
After a long career and what I think has been a very privileged career, not for lack of working very hard, I decided that without letting go of what made me career—documentary photography—I also needed to reinvent myself. I had this longing for people to see me as more, that I could do more than one thing, but more important than others seeing that, I wanted to stretch my wings and fly in a different part of the sky.
3. What challenges did you encounter during the creation of this series?
None at all. They are spontaneous photographs, coming out of everyday experiences, and also just things that suddenly come to mind. I do think about some of the photos in terms of imagining what some of the subject matter might be or how some of the photos should look but for the most part the photos are spontaneous and that’s what I really love about them. They are mostly effortless and at the same can be profound.
4.Out of all the images from your series, which image speaks to you the most?
Oh, come on. Can you choose your favorite child? I love them all because they are all from different parts of me or my life. And it also depends on the day you ask me. How could I possibly choose? Today, I would say one thing, and tomorrow, I would say another.
5. What camera equipment did you use?
I use my trusted Leica cameras including my M cameras and the S which is the first in that series. I have used the SL2 as well, and I have never said this about a camera, but it is ELEGANT… a very elegant machine and very easy for me to use and I’m not a tech person. I just learn what I need to use but at the same, it was so inviting, I really started to learn the whole camera. I’ve also used the M10 (in truth, the M cameras are my favorite because they are like small sidekicks) and Q2, and I’m really enjoying that in making some new photographs for the Secret Garden. I never talk about the camera systems without mentioning that in the worst case scenario, these cameras, no matter the model, hold their value because they are so well made and I think they have certainly figure in all the successes of my career. Not kidding!
6. What photographers inspire your creative vision?
Far too many to ever name! The list constantly grows, but if I had to say one person who really influenced my ideas about light and shadow as a major tool, it’s Horst P. Horst who was a German photographer who worked for Vogue Magazine in the 1920s-1960s. I guess I have to mention Robert Frank’s “The Americans”, but there are also many many contemporary photographers.
7. What advice do you have for photographers who are in the process (or are interested) of developing their own series or personal project?
Think outside the box. If you see work you like in this genre of projects, think about what is missing from the story or what you might bring to it that’s new, or an angle that you have not seen. Remember that every story has been told, so the challenge is to dare to see the world in a new way and tell the story in that way… in a bold new way. Don’t be afraid to be personal. Absolutely choose to work on something has means something to you, whether it’s about global warming or rising sea levels or memory loss in your mother or the small or quiet heroes we never see. Projects can be about anything and they can also be artistic and told in a way that is not bound by conformity or tradition. I really encourage people to look at paintings including the cubist period to understand how important layering is, learn the history of photography because sometimes what was old is now new again. Care about the people you photograph—they are NOT there just for you to make pictures! Care about them because the better human you are, the better your photographs will be, and you will learn things and have experiences you never expected to have. Photography isn’t just about making a picture. It’s all about life. Be involved, no matter what anyone tells you, be involved. Put your heart and intellect and best self into your work. And always remember it’s not about us, it’s about them.
Maggie Steber’s prints are available for purchase.
Visit Leica Gallery Los Angeles to view her collection as part of its 6×6 Show.
Unravel the depth and mystery that lie beyond the psyche in Maggie Steber’s, “The Secret…
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