Lauren Wuornos Q&A

April 6, 2020
Lauren Wuornos is a photographer with a cinematic and surrealist sensibility.

“In my late teens I trained myself to go outside and find at least one thing I thought was beautiful. This has helped me to see the world not only as a whole but in small pieces.”

You’re a self-taught photographer. Who did you study when you were learning to shoot?

This is a tough question since I never really felt connected to any sole body of work or anything, but I used to spend a lot of time at the beginning looking at documentary photos from around the world through “This Week in Pictures” on MSN.com and online art sharing sites like DeviantArt. When I was about 13 or 14 I was obsessed with Philippe Halsman’s “Dali Atomicus” and Man Ray’s “Glass Tears.”

You’ve said that your work is influenced by your vivid dreams and how you aspire to capture that aesthetic in your work. When did you realize that your dreams could play such a valuable role in your art? 

Great question. I didn’t start remembering my dreams until maybe 10 years ago. I can recall things like lighting, emotional mood, weather, time of day, wardrobe, dialogue etc. They’re usually surreal and symbolic and are sometimes influenced by recent waking life conversations or films I’ve seen. Flowers, fabric, and people tend to show up a lot. So if I go out and shoot and had a recent vivid dream, I’ll try to use that information like a map.

Your work is so cinematic and you’ve said you watch films for inspiration. When I look at your work it reminds me of Tarkovsky. Which filmmakers have influenced you?

Thank you, I love Tarkovsky! Depending on the project and physical environment I try to imagine how my favorite directors would envision a scene. I like pairing Tarkovsky with nature and Kubrick with sci-fi. Otherwise I really love Paul Thomas Anderson, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and silent film director Lois Weber. I should also include Ridley Scott and Denis Villeneuve for their work on Blade Runner. A few years ago I started a photo series as an homage to Sean Young’s character where I was trying to envision the world from her perspective as a replicant.

How important is natural light to your work?

Very important. I love the power in relying on natural light and the challenges it presents. Even if there’s not enough light for some situations it’s a great opportunity for me to be flexible and figure out how to mold it in my favor. Working with artificial streetlights carries its own challenges for me depending on what bulbs are installed. Those kind of situations put a greater emphasis on getting “the shot” through chance and leaves hidden surprises between the electric currents that aren’t visible until you click the shutter. Creating my visions with what’s at hand is priceless to me. Years of working with natural light has made me more aware of the bite-sized surreal moments that are constantly revealing themselves in our daily lives too.

You take a minimalist approach to gear. Why is that important?

I’m constantly scanning what’s around me and want to be ready for any weird ideas that pop into my head. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve brought a tripod to a shoot and just get a sore shoulder from carrying it around all day. I also get joy from being fluid in my movements and locations and not being constrained by a bunch of metal and wires. But to be honest I can’t afford a bunch of extra gear anyways, so I’ve learned to make more with less.

You’re a big believer that in any given environment there is always a perfect moment waiting to be captured. How have you trained yourself to be present for those moments?

I started looking at the world through that perspective when I was battling depression in my late teens. If I was having a bad day I’d make myself go outside with my camera and would give myself mini-challenges where I’d have to find at least one thing I thought was beautiful. It brought me a lot of joy so I leaned into it pretty heavily and ended up training myself to look for anything that stood out and broke the pattern from the everyday monotony and how to see the world around me not only as a whole, but in small pieces.

Do you remember your first camera?

The first “real” camera I ever had was a Nikon D80 and 50mm 1.8, but before that it was Fujifilm Finepix, and before that it was those cheap drugstore disposable cameras.

What do you use today?

Right now I’m using a Sony A7III and 35mm 1.4.

What’s the number one piece of advice you give to photographers just starting out?

Shoot for yourself and shoot often. You’re not going to fall in love with every shot you take, so use this time to learn to fall in love with the process. Hold onto those shots where you see potential and continue to build off that too.