As creator of She is Sure, Laura Knapp has provided a platform for up and coming female artists to speak about their creative pursuits. I thought it would be only fitting therefore that her inspiring self portrait series La Ura be showcased here on She is Sure. La Ura documents Laura’s self expression and creative journey as a young woman, and emerging artist/photographer. Laura grew up in a small town in Connecticut, but fancies herself a Vermont girl at heart. Laura attended Bennington College for two years, but left to pursue a strict photography curriculum at the New England School of Photography (aka NESOP) in Boston. Laura recently graduated from NESOP and is currently working there, interning at Panopticon Gallery, continuing with her multiple photographic projects, and writing this blog, She is Sure.
Lyn Freeman: In one of your self portraits in the series La Ura you appear noticeably younger (on Laura’s website). How old were you when you first started La Ura and how do you think you’ve grown as a person and artist since then?
Laura Knapp: I’ve been taking self portraits since I was in middle school, but I don’t think the photos had any substance (besides tween vanity) until I got to 10th or 11th grade. I definitely started growing as a artist once I began taking photography classes in 11th grade because I had never taken the time to think about what I was photographing before then. I’ve also definitely grown as a human being as I transitioned from high school into my first few years of college, where I felt a little out of place and uncomfortable with all the new people around me. The past two years of school have increased my confidence and made me realize that I need to have fully formed ideas behind my self portraits or else they’re just photos of me.
LK: I have a very spontaneous process. I have a hard time planning photos out beforehand because I love the element of surprise and seeing where the process will take me. Getting dressed up and putting lipstick on is typically the most planning I do before a shoot. I take photos when I’m excited. Forcing myself to take self portraits when I’m in a mediocre mood usually results in photos that I never want to show to the world because you can see my lack of enthusiasm. I have to be excited to take photos that I will be proud of.
LF: I’ve noticed that throughout La Ura, there are only two portraits where you have direct eye contact with the camera. Can you explain why that is?
LK: I actually take a lot of photos of myself and others with direct eye contact, but when I edit photos I am almost always more attracted to a photo where someone is looking away. When it comes to my self portraits, I think that I like to choose the photos where I’m looking off because the viewer is already staring at me. I take self portraits because I’m not comfortable with strangers looking at me, and I want to be more comfortable in public. Making direct eye contact all the time would be too easy, it would show that I’m already 100% comfortable.
LF: I notice that you don’t use the more traditional portrait angles and perspectives. What influences your decisions when choosing the angles and perspectives to shoot at? Do you ever feel self conscious or concerned about how you look in your self portraits?
LK: Whenever there’s something wonderful looking above me, I decide to put my camera on the ground, face up. I want to showcase the world above me and warp the viewer’s perspective of what a human being can look like. I love seeing my distorted limbs and overdramatic body length compared to trees and buildings that are far larger than I will ever be. I have a good sense of humor about life and I try not to take it too seriously, so I am always a fan of photos that might make people look unflattering or bizarre because it’s really just a different way of looking at them.
If you were laying on someone’s lap and looking up at their face upside down, would you tell them that they look ugly from below? No, you wouldn’t, because that is an angle you’re used to looking at people from during those particular moments. So, why can’t photography be like that?
People should be less afraid of taking photos that show up their noses, or elongating and distorting the size of their thighs, etc.. It’s just a photo. Most people will hopefully realize it’s just the lens that’s giving you that funhouse mirror effect. I really just love to see all the different ways I can enlarge and warp myself in photos. I love taking photos of my models from low perspectives as well because I want everyone to feel like they are a bigger and more important part of the world than they may feel. I have a habit of seeing photography from an architectural standpoint, which is part of the reason why I like bizarre angles for overdramatizing the human figure.
LF: You mention in your artist statement that you are “a shy woman”. However your self portraits hint at a woman who is expressive and comfortable with who she is! If anything, I sense a feeling of quirkiness in your self portraits! Is it surprising to hear how your viewer perceives you as a result of your self portraits?
LK: I am actually very comfortable with who I am. I don’t know how I got to be so comfortable, I’ll have to thank my parents for that? They’ve always made sassy and jokey comments about my style choices and ideas and I think that has kept me grounded. It slowly got me to believe in the decisions that I’ve made because I had to explain to them what I was doing all the time. I am only a shy person with people I don’t know, which is a few billion people if you think about it… I want to create photos that will make me more comfortable showing myself to the public. I’m really not that shy once you get to know me, I’m pretty strange. LF: What other portrait photographers do you admire that have in some way influenced your photographic style and journey, and why?
LK: In my first year of college, I learned about Cindy Sherman and that made me fall in love with dressing up for some of my self portraits. I try not to depend on dressing up because it becomes too forced and can seem like I’m trying to become a different person. I don’t want to be another person, I just want to see how different I can make myself look by using different angles, poses, and settings. My favorite photographer is Elliot Erwitt, but I don’t think you’d see any huge correlation between our work. He just has an amazing sense of humor and I try to sneak that into some of my self portraits and other photographic projects.
LF: There are some more abstract self portraits in La Ura where you tend to blend in or become a part of the environment, for example: the fogged up mirror, shadows and reflections of yourself. Why did you choose to include these as “self portraits”?
LK: Those photos are harder to create, and for that reason, they are some of my absolute favorite self portraits. Shadows, fogged up reflections, etc. just turn into other ways that I can distort myself and make myself look like something completely different from what I am. I enjoy exaggerating real settings and turning them into more surreal places that feel separate from reality. La Ura is a project full of various angles and ideas, but the photographs are all essentially the same to me because I created them to showcase all my different appearances and emotions.
LF: Congratulations on recently graduating from the New England School of Photography. What did you major and minor in, and how did this program influence your photographic style?
LK: Thank you! I majored in fine art color and minored in portraiture. NESOP encouraged me to create solid projects that I believed in, and that’s how I got the confidence and power to understand what I was doing with self portraiture and all of my other projects. Having teachers and students critique work on a weekly basis is something that I will greatly miss because it lets you see how someone else could perceive your image in a way you never thought possible.
LF: Is La Ura an ongoing project and if so what direction do you think it will go in the future? What is next for Laura Knapp?
LK: La Ura will never end! If it does, I have no idea what that will mean for my brain. I think I need to take self portraits or else I will feel like something is missing. As I said earlier, I am spontaneous when it comes to photography and I have no idea what is next for my self portraits. It all happens when it happens, you’ll just have to wait and see!
To see more of Laura Knapp’s work please visit: http://www.laura-knapp.com
& to see the photographic work of interviewer Lyn Freeman please visit: http://www.lynfreemanphoto.com/