Much of what one sees is influenced by what has already been reflected upon. In her pensive portraiture, Nora Lowinsky connects to her own artistic voice and the energy of those around her, may it be her muses or the earth where she stands. Here, she sat down with us for an introspective and thoughtful conversation about photographing by intuition and understanding the connection between nature and women.
Introduce yourself to our readers.
I’m a Bay Area-born, NYC-raised artist. I’m a romantic. I’m a feminist and an environmentalist. I live in Oakland with my husband and our two twelve-year-old dogs. I take analogue photographs and make traditional darkroom prints, gelatin silver and analogue color prints. I just took the Enneagram personality test for the first time and discovered I’m a type 4, individualist, which rings eerily true.
When did you begin to consider yourself a photographer?
I don’t consider myself a photographer now and never really have, strange as that may sound. I think of myself as a female artist expressing myself and photography is the medium I am using. Analogue photography and printmaking are just my crafts, but at my core I’m an artist. I began accepting myself as an artist just three years ago. It’s also a label, so I grapple with it too, but it offers me the freedom I need to be myself more than any other way of describing what I do. I also consider myself a healer through my work. You’re watching me self heal and that’s a potent reflection.
If you could whip up a category solely for your photographs, what would it be?
I would categorically name my photographs Energy. I think everything is based off of energetic flow. That is really what I am doing. I am exchanging energy with every element around me, my subjects, what is seen and unseen. Sometimes that translates into a powerful image that can move many people. Sometimes reflections of the energy appear in mysterious ways in my photographs. I welcome the unknown.
What is your philosophy about femininity?
As a woman, I think it’s vital to listen to my internal voice, which we are taught to silence from day one. I know that a creative birth is just as life changing as a physical one and should be honored as such. We need to encourage the many shapes and forms of feminine identity, especially those that defy societal norms. Honestly, just taking back our image is an act of defiance against the many imposed constructs of femininity. I am a woman making images of women, surrounding myself with all women in my creative work environments. How are we to access the inner truth of our identity if we continually surround ourselves with the watchful and judgmental patriarchal eye? We need the freedom to play and feel safe, both of which I encourage through my images. What I do is really an extension of my own quest for feminine connection, identity and intuition. I know its value, sanctity and power. I am sharing my vision of femininity to broaden our collective one.
How do you decide who to make portraits of? When shaping a new photo series do you plan ahead, or do you prefer going with the flow?
I go with my feeling about a person. I get approached a lot to shoot, by women especially. That in and of itself is a huge compliment and I am completely floored and honored. But because my time and creative energy are so precious to me, along with the high cost of my materials, I need to be selective. My discernment when it comes to subjects is completely intuitive. I have only been wrong once about shooting someone and I took the mistake as a blessing. It was recently and it stung, but I took from it a beautiful lesson- someone who wrongs you is your teacher. So, I try to shoot people who are on the level to avoid misunderstanding, meaning they perceive what I am doing more than on a surface level. It’s important for me to work with subjects who can take their ego out of the picture. I gravitate towards muses who soulfully understand they are taking part in a larger vision and who really want to partake. It is an honor on both sides to have that energetic exchange. I rarely plan ahead if I am not on a job. Even for commissions, I have a contract that explains how I work, which is being connected to my subject and my environment and letting everything unfold very naturally. Sometimes I get jobs with clients who need more control and then the images reflect that, but the magic really happens when you let go. I only strictly work with people who demonstrate a high level of respect for what I do. There are enough jobs out there. I learned that immediately when I began taking paid work. On personal projects, I get into a dialogue with my subject first. That usually takes us to a place. The earth and the light tell us what to do when we’re there. I love being outside. I love feeling free.
How do you keep the creative inspiration flowing?
By doing just that- flowing. I never stop. I am always working and it never feels like I am because I am just being me. One job, one muse, one darkroom print, one sale- they all sustain me and lead me to my next and keep me feeling juicy. Even this interview represents my flow. It’s not easy, but articulating my imagery is another creative exercise, which in turn leads me to a reflective place. Sharing what I do connects me with people who become part of what I do, even if it’s simply by reading about me and looking at the work. I find myself creatively inspired by the company I keep. As soon as I began honoring my creative birth and its development, disingenuous relationships fell away. I grew beautiful friendships with women striving in ways similar to me. We hold each other up and we reflect our higher selves. I also get inspired by seeing the world. When I first started this path, I felt really tied down to California, but during that time I also created images that fiercely relate to the landscape. My resources inspire me. Now I have finally reached my next position in this journey. I told myself I would be traveling every month for my work and so it is. I spent the summer in Europe and NYC, hand delivering prints to collectors and shooting on assignment. I’m headed back to NYC this month for work. I gave myself permission to live my life on my terms. On these trips funded by my work I can shoot for myself too and return home with new feelings and fresh eyes. So, remaining fluid and open to new places and people and situations keeps me inspired. I also continually inspire myself with my own vitality. My fire comes largely from within.
A lot of your photographs feature women and nature. Does each have a special meaning to you? How would you connect them?
I have always loved self identifying as a woman and observing other women, seeing myself in them spiritually and through our corporeal connection. Women and nature are both precious life sources, yet both endangered and mistreated. Nature is wild, as are we. We are cyclical. Women and nature are both unearthly yet of the earth, one with each other. We are divine. We reflect nature and nature reflects us so undeniably. Loving nature and loving women is self love really, and that goes for both genders (but doesn’t work reflexively-women have good reason to loathe men, for example.) I see men who are staunch environmentalists, but who display blatant misogyny. That is inherently disharmonious. I view misogyny as the root we need to address in order to fight all revolutionary causes. Currently, we are in a serious state of disharmony with nature. And through my work, I am continually trying to understand my role, but I know for certain that I seek a remedy for man’s destructive side.
The internet, social media especially, has now become a competitive space for artists to showcase their work. What's the greatest challenge of promoting your work online?
If I admire an artist’s images on social media, I am in communion with them rather than in competition. My greatest challenge for showing my work online is maintaining my presence offline just as much. I need quiet. I need solitude. I need balance. My work does not happen on social media, but my shared intention does. As a shy, and in many ways, private person, social media has enabled me to cultivate an audience. I have developed a dynamic supportive community around my creative practice. As someone who did not study art formally, and who is really not working commercially, that has been a gift from the techs. Likewise, it’s such a strange time to live in, not only as a person sharing sacred self expression through images online, but simply as a society. We are living in a detached world, continually grasping for validation and connection through a serious disconnect from the tangible world. Frankly, I find myself questioning my presence online daily, yet reassuring myself that it is part of my work. Being on social media gives me a lot of static noise to digest, so I find my own personal ways to pare down its negative effects. In the interest of my own self preservation and that of my creative energy, I will always need to challenge the pervasiveness of social media and its effect on my mind.
All images and information in this article are provided to Lomography by Nora Lowinsky and used here with permission. To see more of her work, follow her on Instagram.