Posts in Category: Sunday stuff

Minimal equipment, limited influences: Alain Laboile

©Alain Laboile, La Famille

Lensculture has a really good video interview of Alain Laboile up right now, found here (embedding not permitted). Laboile began taking photos in 2004 in order to show his sculptures to clients, and he began taking pictures of his wife and six children. A strong body of work continues to emerge from his practice.

This interview left me with things to think about, and maybe it will do the same for others.

“I use one camera. I only own one lens, a 35mm, so I really know what my frame is and what will be in it.”

©Alain Laboile

©Alain Laboile

It’s a familiar situation in the arts, no matter the medium: restricting your tools, paradoxically, increases possibility. It’s a matter of expertise. If there’s an image I want, rather that switching to a lens that allows me to capture it without moving my position — without further thought or consideration of the image — am I growing photographically, creatively, in the same way I would if I have one lens and have to find a way to make the image work, or a different image that says what I wanted to say?

There are limitations to this, of course, and it is almost endlessly frustrating if I’ve chosen the wrong tool to use. I’ve discovered through very cranky photowalks that I think in wider frame; if I carry a 100mm lens, I’m stomping and cussing by the end of the day because nothing is working. A 50mm or 35mm works much better for my eye.

It’s similar in painting, where a frequent art school assignment is to use two or three colors for an entire term. We were restricted to titanium white, ultramarine blue, and burnt sienna for 14 weeks. With that combination, a good black could be made, a white was already there, and a variety of shaded and tinted hues in between could be mixed as needed. This exercise would fail if the colors were similar in value, and I can only imagine the cursing that would ensue.

Next time I am photographically stuck, I’ll try to stick one wide prime lens on my camera, and leave everything else at home. It could be freeing.

“I am realizing, bit by bit, that color is disappearing and black and white is imposing itself, naturally. Black and white gives the work a timeless and universal feeling, at the same time.”

©Alain Laboile

©Alain Laboile

There are beautiful color photographs out there, and sometimes I take a picture that is about the color, but mostly, I find it distracting and jarring. I still haven’t resolved whether I truly prefer black and white in my own work, if I’m just terrifically unskilled with color, or if I’m indulging an affectation. Regardless, eliminating color is another way to strip an image down to its bones, to get to the heart of the photograph.

My portfolio this semester is all in black and white, and very stripped, low-contrast black and white, at that. It’s a portfolio of grays. I don’t presume to consider it either timeless or universal, as it is very personal work, but color would decimate the atmosphere and mood I’m working toward.

I don’t have any photographic influences, I don’t have any master…

‘I have heard a lot of photographers, say things like, ‘I went to photography school, and I don’t know what to shoot. Because when I shoot something, I mentally compare my image to so and so or so and so…’ And finally, they feel so weighted down by references, that it hinders their photographic practices. I don’t have any photographic influences, I don’t have any master, and I prefer to stay a good distance away from photographic culture. What matters is shooting what you feel like shooting, concentrate on that, and the equipment comes second.”

©Alain Laboile

©Alain Laboile

I can’t help but see Sally Mann in Laboile’s work, but I think that is unavoidable; children in the country, growing up free, skillfully captured in black and white. I love reading about photographic history, and the work of others. I find the work of others very inspiring, educational, and grounding. Comparing oneself to others is both a valuable way to get better, and a way to shackle oneself into immobility.

I want to know what others have done, if only so if I develop a style very similar to someone else’s, I know it before it is pointed out to me. I’m not sure the struggle against comparison is made easier by not having a lot to which to compare myself. I’m still thinking about this.

Alain Laboile’s webite can be found here.



I can also be found on Twitter: