In the midst of digital revolution, Leslie Wray McBride stays true to film because to her, film is elegant — and is NOT dead. Be inspired by her traditional black and white photographs right after the stop!
Tell us something about yourself.
We have two dogs. One is a German Shepherd who never leaves my side. I trip over him constantly because he is always right next to me. There is one exception — when I take out my camera. He literally RUNS out of the room when he sees a camera. Almost every picture I have taken of him is blurry because of his attempts to flee. I have tried to fake him out by holding up a dark piece of paper, or trying to disguise my camera — he never falls for the joke. He and I are both uncomfortable having our picture taken.
How/When did you begin taking pictures? What was your first camera?
Photography was really important in our home. Our entire lives are documented through photographs. My dad was (and still is) an avid photographer. We were the family that invited people over for slide shows. Those poor people. I was 7 when I got my first camera; a little Kodak Pocket Instamatic that used 110 film and flash cubes. I took really terrible or really good pictures. The good ones show some sophistication in composition which amazes me. I can’t recollect where I learned that skill at such a young age — my dad, perhaps? Anyway, I have my original faded photographs and am still completely charmed by them.
Describe your style in photography. What are your usual subjects and themes? Why do you choose black and white photography over color?
Black & white photography is simply beautiful. There is richness and complexity without any distraction. Color can be really distracting. Sometimes I see a beautiful color photograph and I will only see the colors, forgetting to look at the content. My work is surreal and somewhat raw. Black & white enhances those qualities. I create pictures about common human issues — marriage, family, religion, isolation, work, humor, spirit, death, etc.
The “Ranch Life” series is a parody about contemporary life. The “Birds of Pray — Altar Images” series came about after my mom died. My dad’s new female friend believed that it was a sin to have any religious “art” in a home. I felt that defiance towards her belief was necessary, so I created this tender series to show that for all we know Jesus was a bird — I then hung them all in my home! I try really hard to creatively re-interpret traditional themes in photography. For example, in a recent series titled “Photographing the Figure” — there are no traditional nudes and only one human — but the series clearly represents the figure.
Amongst your numerous film photographs, which is your favourite?
“She Carries Humanity” from The Ranch Puppet Series is my favourite. The Ranch Puppets were incredibly time consuming to create and photograph. They are quite large (5 feet tall) and made from bones I found on my ranch. This picture speaks about solitude, beauty in the unlikely, our sacred relationship to animals and their spirits, the idea that women actually carry humanity in their ovaries (my eggs contain the eggs of my daughter and her daughter and her daughter and her daughter). There is a lot of subtext if the viewer wants to go there; however, it is also visually unusual and hopefully intriguing.
What is the soundtrack for your series of photographs?
Bagdad Cafe. It is somewhat haunting, somewhat upbeat, somewhat humorous, somewhat sombre, a little evocative, and a little bizarre.
We all have our idols, which photographers do you look up to? Who or what influences your photographic style?
Generally, I am drawn to film photographers who offer unusual yet respectful variations on traditional beauty. I regularly look at work from Joel Peter Witkin, Sally Mann, Lauren Simonutti, and Emil Schildt. Lately, I have been fascinated with Ryuijie’s underwater series called Kanchi — they are filled with light and silence. I am also really drawn to film photographers who add other mediums to their photographs — Holly Roberts, Kate Breakey and Ted Kuykendall have created stunning work. Henry Aragoncillo does beautiful film work with pinholes and digital composites. Influence from these photographers comes in remembering to keep shooting even when feeling blocked.
If you could take anyone’s portrait using film, can be living or dead, who (would it be), which (camera would you use), and why?
Terry Richardson. His work initially troubled me — especially the pictures of himself. I wanted to look, but through half-closed eyes. Now I find his work funny, campy, and completely entertaining. I would set up a scene with he and “Walter” (the deer in many of my Ranch Life pictures) and they would be in a “measuring contest” so to speak. In order to maximize the feeling of space, I would use my Lomo LC-W.
Analogue vs. Digital. What makes analogue/film photography more special than digital?
FILM IS ELEGANT. It is subtle, tonally rich, opulent, tactile and honest. Burning a moment onto a piece of film, waiting to see the results through careful development, hand-crafting a luminous, luxurious silver print — there is nothing like it. I am very opinionated and “old school” about this subject and I will probably offend some peers and alienate friends and family, but… I believe the term “digital
photography” is an oxymoron. Capturing an image on a computer card, getting instant results and then manipulating the results on a computer is not “photography” — it is digital imaging. Is there room in the world for both processes? OF COURSE! I even own a digital camera. But when I visit a gallery and compare a luscious analogue photograph to the best inkjet image — the difference is notable. FILM IS ELEGANT.
Do you own Lomography cameras? Which is your favourite? / Which Lomographic camera would you like to have and why?
My beloved Holga is a favourite and my most used camera because of the amazing light leaks and edge fall-off. Last year I purchased a Lomo LC-Wide and fell so in love with it, that I immediately bought a Lomo LC-A. I hope to get a Diana Mini — I love having the extra exposures of 35mm film and I think a Diana will provide the dreamy, surreal quality that Lomographic cameras are famous for. I am also eager to get a Krab.
A lot of people are into (analogue) photography today, what would you say to them to inspire them more?
Film is NOT dead. Working with film is a slower process — embrace it. Think about it as productive relaxation and the results can be phenomenal. Get into the excitement of waiting for your film to be developed. The results are like an unexpected gift, a surprise. Have some huge prints made and look at the detail captured though film. Shooting film builds skill in photography — without that instant feedback screen, one is likely to develop true skill in exposure and composition. Considering learning to develop and print — both are easy to learn, totally empowering and addictive. Experiment — shoot everything!
Aside from your website, do you have other creative online/offline projects? If none, what other creative pursuits do you wish you could explore?
Recently, I have started working on photography-based experiential installation projects. This need came from feeling stuck with basic printing in the darkroom. Late last year I was taking a class in underwater photography but felt compelled to re-interpret the idea of “underwater.” I am just finishing a series of periscopes that are attached to a big riveted metal frame. Viewers hold onto and look through the periscopes to see the photographs. The pictures were taken in an indoor pool (with a Nikonos Camera) and are not what one might expect to see through a periscope. The intent is to shake up the viewer by opposing his anticipated expectations and perceptions of “underwater.” I am also creating a rotating Viewmaster of sorts using a ships porthole and a series of underwater photographs shot with my Holga tucked inside a Ziploc bag (yes, it leaked).
For more information on Leslie McBride and to view more of her black and white photography, you may visit her website at lesliewraymcbride.com.