Rainer Turim's Neighborhood on Film: An Interview with Lola Lafia

Rainer Turim

Lola Lafia is a film photographer from Brooklyn, New York and a current high school senior in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In her time at the International Center of Photography’s Teen Academy in the Imagemakers program, she created a series of black and white photographs entitled Bodies, photographing her friends and peers in a variety of poses, playing with shape. Before the Imagemakers program, Lola spent time at ICP learning about film. In her travels to Asia and Norway, she has continued to photograph people young and old, particularly interested in portraits of young children.

Lola Lafia

While walking around, Lola asks me to move here and there to take some photos.

Lola Lafia:

Can you stand here for a second?

Wait, let me just tell you something about light. I love light. I love film photography because it’s completely about light and it’s making me think about light in a totally different way that you don’t have to when you’re shooting with your iPhone. So even when I shoot indoors, I always ask my subjects to stand right under a lamp or to use a lot of different kinds of artificial lighting. When I went to Norway a few weeks ago, the light there was so incredible and different, and had a complete different tonality and feeling and sense so I did a lot of work there.

I’m also really interested in little kids because I have a brother who's five years younger than me and I’m always observing him and his friends and his life. Even though we don’t connect on a direct level of talking to each other about the same thing, because I’m in high school and he’s in middle school, I see his intelligence and genius and innocence and bliss and enjoyment of the everyday life because he’s really young and doesn’t really have to worry about everything that I have to worry about now. I think younger kids are really intelligent in ways they’re not given credit for. I’m interested in doing a project on that.

Rainer Turim

Rainer Turim: Can you talk a little about your history with the International Center of Photography (ICP)?

LL: Last year, I took a black and white film class at ICP in the spring. It was the first film class I’ve ever taken. I’ve always loved photography but didn’t really understand the technical and mechanical aspects of it. I loved it so much; I loved how much it made me think about every single picture in a roll -- you only have 35. I can’t even believe how many pictures you’ve already taken without really deeply constructing each one. I think that’s awesome. As I shot more and more film, I’ve been willing two or three shots of the same subject, which used to be really hard for me to allow myself to do, because each shot is a few dollars. So then I fell in love with film photography and being in the darkroom which is totally a kind of sanctuary for me.

Lola Lafia

I signed up to do their Imagemakers program which is a year-long intensive for people that have taken classes at ICP before and really want to pursue this later in their lives and be fully engrossed in the world of photography. I go there every week on Wednesdays, have amazing teachers, amazing teacher assistants and most of all, the ten or fifteen other people in the class are all incredible photographers. We’ve just had our last session of the semester and we did a critique and a guest artist came in and she talked to everyone about their work.

The coolest thing about photography for me is the ability for people to feel comfortable sharing their stories through photography, because it’s not writing so it’s not explicit and direct and literal; photography is more metaphorical and can tell stories in a sort of secretive and sly way, which I find really powerful. I’m learning so much about my peers in this class who I know are all going to do amazing things, not because of what they’re saying, but what I can see through their photographs and how they experience the world through virtue of like seeing it through the lens.

Rainer Turim

RT: Do you remember your first film camera?

LL: This [Pentax K1000] was actually it. Interesting story — last fall, I was walking to my ACT prep class and I walked past a stoop sale, and I almost kept walking until in the corner of my eye I saw a film camera. I had always been intrigued by film cameras. My dad used to be a photographer — kind of still is — and he has a bunch of film cameras at home, but he’s always telling me it’s ridiculous to shoot in film when we have the power to shoot a hundred images in one second through our iPhone. He was always super against film, because since he grew up on film, the digital power you can do on your phone is so exciting to him so he thinks it’s such a waste of time to use film — that’s why I didn’t use it for a long time. Since I grew up on digital, the film method and camera technique for me is actually so freeing.

Anyway, I found this camera with three other lenses and a flash for fifteen dollars, or ten dollars, or something really cheap.

Lola Lafia

RT: That’s a good deal.

LL: Then I didn’t touch it for six months, decided I wanted to do the class, and remembered that I had the camera — which is so much cheaper than any other digital camera —and I realized this camera is so powerful. This is not a fancy instrument. It’s so basic but it does the job, and because it’s using actual film — not a digital processor — it’s kind of all about the film you’re using. So I got it and I’m really in love with it.

Can you stand here? Okay, you stand here. Can you lean in more? Just look there.

Lola Lafia

RT: I’m not a good model.

LL: Yeah you are. Awesome.

When I traveled two summers ago to Asia, I used photography as a way to begin conversations with people. I would see someone who had a really great outfit or was really interesting looking and was having a super engaging and vivid and animated conversation with someone else on the street and I’d say, “Can I take your picture?”

Once I was outside and I saw someone inside a bar who looked really good and I wanted to take their picture — not good but interesting, that they would make a good photograph — and he saw me take it out of the corner of his eye and he came out of the bar and started chasing me. I was with my family so we all started running and this guy was threatening to punch me — this was in Japan. That made me realize I had to be a little more cautious about who I took pictures of. The other thing I would say is you shouldn’t always ask for permission. Some really good photographs just have to happen by you being bold and putting yourself out there and not being afraid to maybe get in a situation where it’s a little messy.

I’m totally not afraid to have really crazy angles and to go down and stand up on something. I lie down on the street all the time to take a picture, from like a worm’s eye view. I’m totally in love with that. And I also love photographing people. That’s my main thing.

Rainer Turim

RT: I don’t -- I get scared of photographing people.

LL: Yeah, I think a lot of people do.

Lola Lafia

RT: Also, street photography’s just the coolest talent.

LL: Yeah it is.

RT: For someone to find something that’s just so out of the norm and be able to photograph it well.

LL: That’s what has given me faith in the world. In true photography I’ve realized that, like fiction and movies and books, they all stem from things that actually happen in the real world, or most of them, because they are so story-worthy. We think of life as boring and as media being really interesting —such as books, movies, whatever — but all that real stuff exists in real life as well.

If you would like to see more of Lola's work, check out her website.

written by sragomo on 2018-02-05

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