Loretta Lux from Photowisdom: Master Photographers on their Art


Our ongoing Photowisdom Series brings you the story behind the art of the world's most highly regarded photographers. This week Loretta Lux, painter turned photographer, who is best-known for her surreal portraits of children. But her photographs are not intended as portraits, she explains, and instead as an artistic metaphor for innocence and paradise lost. In recognition of her work, Lux has received the Infinity Award for Art from the International Center of Photography.


The Drummer, 2004. Ilfochrome print. 

Why do you prefer photography as your medium?
I trained as a painter and love paintings, but I found that the physical aspect of the medium did not suit me. I did not like the messiness of handling pigments, oil and turpentine. I still think like a painter, especially in the way I structure my images. The camera is simply a tool I use, but the process is psychological and much more like painting than photography.

What draws you to the portrait form?
I am interested in people, but my pictures are not portraits in the traditional meaning of the word. I call them “imaginary portraits”, because they are not really about the person photographed. They are not portraits of the actual model; I make the person my own. A portrait allows the artist, as well as the viewer, the chance to mirror themselves in the other and to reflect on their own existence.

Do you see your work in a photographic or a broader fine art tradition? 
I continue to be influenced by the history of painting, and especially by the work of Bronzino, Velázquez, Goya and Runge. My work process is much closer to painting than it is to photography in that it takes time. I only make three to five pictures per year. I think like a painter when I structure my compositions, organizing forms and colours when I stage the photograph and when I work on the computer screen. The process is quite similar to what a painter does on a canvas. The problems are fundamentally the same; it is all about pictorial organization.

There is a distinct colour space within your images. What is guiding that?
Colours are extremely important to me. I love colours. Colours can be used to evoke feelings or convey certain states of mind. However, recently I have started to explore black and white photography. I am interested in the mental process which translates black and white into colour.

There is an ambiguity between the recorded and the constructed in your work: things are depicted, but we may doubt any obvious "documentary" connection. Can you comment on this?
For me, a work of art should transcend the subject. Even if we recognize a certain subject, the picture will act as a metaphor and tell us something more. My portraits do not represent the actual model’s psychology or personality, but rather a constructed one. You can clearly recognize the model, but at the same time the portrait is detached from the real person.

You have moved away from the conventional photographic space determined by the standard lens and single image, in so doing inventing your own visible space. Are you concerned to hold on to a sense of the shared photographic illusion, the perspectives that viewers know well, or do you see your work existing outside of that?
I find it important to be aware of perspectives and other visual conventions, and I only violate them in very controlled ways. I like a fine tension between the real and the image.

What is the significance of landscape in your work?
As in literature, landscape in images can be used to represent mental states. I use landscapes and empty rooms to represent alienation. I believe man is alienated from the natural world. Industrialization and destruction of the natural environment have made it impossible for man to feel at home in the world.

How was the prevalence of digital photo capture and digital manipulation tools affected the environment for creating photographic-related art?
Coming from the perspective of a painter, conventional photography was not for me. I like to have more control over the image than having to depend only on what is in front of the camera. Digital technology suits me in order to get the results that I want.

Isabel 1, 2009. Fujiflex print.

The Rose Garden, 2001. Ilfochrome print.



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