An interview with Lauren Adkins

Lauren Adkins is an LA-based photographer, art director, and educator. Check out our discussion of post election blues, finding inspiration, and what's next for Lauren.


DE: Hi Lauren! Tell us about yourself.

LA: HI! I’m a photographer and artist living in Los Angeles. I love cats, decorating, reading, and smashing patriarchy.

DE: How’d you get into photography?

LA: Honestly, now that I’m really thinking about it, it probably started in high school with the rise of what ended up being the precursor to selfies. I started taking self portraits for social media, which back then consisted of  (cringe) Myspace and Livejournal. I experimented with motion, lighting, and flash and started playing around with a pirated copy of Photoshop, which I ended up pretty seriously teaching myself. Then I started making what I now realize were collages and sometimes paired them with prose.

In my junior year of high school, I transferred to a private school that had a darkroom and immediately signed up for photography. I had a really great teacher from the West Coast who would let work in the darkroom over the weekends because I was so obsessed with it. He even introduced us to studio lighting by bringing in his own strobes and letting us shoot.

DE: How has your art changed over the years?

LA: I like to think it’s evolved to be more socially conscious. When I first started making art in high school, I didn’t even really consider it art, but then I went to college for it because I couldn’t decide anything else I liked more, and everything changed. I started seriously studying art history, literature, feminism, and ethics, and my work gradually became more socially charged. I spent long nights in various studios working on projects that were mostly photography based, but I also experimented with printmaking, collage, and installation. My BFA thesis project ended up being an installation of nine self portraits in a white dress and veil, which is super interesting to me now, considering what I went on to do in grad school.

When I moved to Las Vegas for graduate school in 2013, my focus began to shift to video, social practice, and performance art. I was still drawn to portraiture, but I think I was interested in finding non-traditional ways to make portraits. For instance, I started dating people I met online and documenting my dates with grainy, low-quality photo and video. I think I became even more interested in narrative and story, and with figuring out how I had come to be the person I felt I was. I continued to investigate feminist themes in my work using the lens of popular culture, appropriating bits of film and tv. I was particularly interested in fantasy versus reality. I can only say this with any confidence now, three years after the fact, but it makes total sense that my thesis project ended up being a performance piece in which I quite literally married a cardboard cutout of Edward Cullen.

I found myself really exhausted by art-making after grad school and made a huge effort to take a break, despite the enormous pressure I felt to continue producing work. I took a regular office job and thought I might’ve been done with art altogether, but I slowly started picking my camera back up more and more, and now I’m a freelance photographer focusing in portraiture.

DE: You’ve lived in Memphis, Las Vegas, and LA. How do you feel these places have had an influence on your work?

LA: I think I have to give Memphis credit for really making me want to strive for some sense of honesty and authenticity in my work. I guess like all artists, I really try to connect with people, but Memphis is such a gritty, soulful place, and I feel like that had to have influenced me, even though I can’t quite put it into words. It’s still kind of a raw place, and I think there’s probably some evidence of that in my work.

Vegas probably influenced my work the most tangibly. Living there was incredibly difficult for me, both physically and mentally, but I think it’s where I did some of my most important soul searching. Maybe most of the art I made there wasn’t fantastic, but there was something about that city that was incredibly inspiring and woefully depressing at the same time, and that turned out to make for some interesting work. There was a lot to think about there. In a lot of ways Vegas totally exemplifies the worst parts of American culture, and I was always very interested in that— appearance, facade, indulgence, and decadence combined with a very real sense of the down and out. It’s a strange place to live.

By the time I got to L.A., I felt really exhausted by art-making and took a bit of an extended break to digest the experience of grad school, as I mentioned earlier. I only just started working with photography again the last couple of years, but I’ve felt totally revitalized, and I think that’s because Los Angeles combines, for me, the sense of rawness in Memphis with the bizarre kind of oddity I discovered in Vegas. It’s a good balance.

DE: What parts of LA inspire you?

LA: Honestly? I really love the dog parks. I love the craft fairs. Echo Park Lake. Stories Cafe. L.A. feels really magical late at night and early in the morning, when way fewer people are out. I’ve always felt free to be myself here, and I think that’s really powerful.

DE: How do you choose your subjects?

I don’t always get to choose my subjects, and when I do, I’m not sure if I choose them or they choose me, or if it’s some combination of both. I like to work with people who seem kind-hearted and open-minded. I like to photograph people who exude that, and who have their own senses of style.

DE:How do you choose where to shoot? What do you look for?

LA: My work is pretty heavily influenced by color and/or pattern, so usually I look for those things. I find myself drawn to either really clean, organized spaces or extreme visual clutter. If I can’t find a location I like, I try to create one in the studio. I find I do normally focus more on the subject than the location, though. If I can manage to capture just the right light and just the right instant, I feel fine shooting against any background.

DE: Tell us about your new production company.

LA: We’re called ADMIN, and we’re a creative duo comprised of myself and my good friend Lindsay Minnich, who’s mainly a production designer and stylist but really also a jack of all trades. We both come from fine art backgrounds, so we’re really interested in bringing fine art into the commercial world. We want to produce compelling visuals in collaboration with our clients.

DE: You’re currently working on a project called “We’re still here,” can you tell us about it?

LA: Sure. Since the election, I’ve felt really helpless, and immediately after Trump won the race, I started thinking on what I could do besides marching, calling representatives, and donating to worthy causes. I noticed that a lot of people, particularly people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community, were feeling shaken and silenced. I wanted to give those people a chance to be seen and heard. I posted on Instagram and Facebook that I wanted to start a portrait series of marginalized groups wanting to speak out. For these shoots, I personally meet, speak with, and photograph individuals, record our conversations, and later pair the photos with quotes. It’s not much, but I want to give people feeling suppressed by the current administration a platform from which they can choose to say as much or as little as they want. The project is ongoing, but so far it’s been a pleasure getting to sit down and talk with people about how they’re feeling.

DE: I’ve noticed you’ve had some issues with Instagram censorship. Do you see those policies changing anytime soon?

LA: No, I don’t see those policies changing. I understand why Instagram feels that censorship is necessary, but often times the photos that get reported/removed don’t actualy violate the “community guidelines” they have in place. I’m not sure if Instagram has actual people reviewing the photos that get reported, but if they do, those people aren’t doing good jobs. Countless images that don’t violate a single “community guideline” are removed every day, and it gets discouraging. This usually speaks to the larger issue of censoring women’s bodies, but given the current political climate, I don’t see that changing very quickly.

DE: Who are some of your favorite artists on instagram?

LA: Paris Helena @parishelena

Jimmy Marble @jimmymarble

Tattoo artist @seanfromtexas

David Shrigley @davidshrigley

Alanna Pearl @alannapearl

DE: LA: What are your goals for 2017?

LA: I really want to become less camera shy. I’m mostly doing this by taking a ton of self portraits, but I’m also learning to say “yes” when another photographer wants to photograph me. To be frank, I want to figure out a way to make money shooting what I like to shoot. I’d like to get some of my work published. I’d really love to have a gallery show, but that may have to wait until next year. Aside from work goals, I always want to get better at taking care of myself and appreciating all that I have. I tend to be incredibly hard on myself, and I’d like to try to start seeing glimpses of myself through others’ eyes, somehow.

DE: What’s the last show you binge-watched?

LA: The last show I binge-watched was Broadchurch on Netflix. I’m soooo excited for season 3 to start. Cinematic crime dramas are my favorite.

DE: Finally, what’s your favorite David Bowie song and why?

LA: This is the hardest question. I think I have to be cliche and go with “Space Oddity.” It was the first Bowie song I ever heard. It’s always stuck with me, and it’s obviously so iconic, but shortly after Bowie died, there was a video going around by this organization called Choir! Choir! that organizes hundreds of regular people to sing as a choir, and they did “Space Oddity” as a tribute, and it’s just so powerful and amazing. I cried like a baby.

Lauren Adkins is a LA-based photographer. She received her BFA from Memphis College of Art in 2010 and her MFA in Studio Art from University of Nevada Las Vegas in 2013.  To see her work you can check out her website or her click here to see her instagram.