An Interview with my friend Laura!
Today is a special treat! :) You get to sit in on a conversation that I had recently with my good friend, Laura Evans. I haven't known Laura for even a year yet, and yet it feels like we have been friends for years! We bonded quickly over our shared love of photography, and our willingness to try new things and be "all in" with our photography. I was wanting to work on a personal project, and I asked Laura if she would model for me, and she said yes, and within a week, I think, we were off on a two day trip (along with our other wonderful photography friend, Amy!) into the mountains to start the project! And it was so much fun! The three of us collaborated so well together, and played off of each other's ideas, and just had a blast! I can't wait to get to do it again when things open up again...someday!
This interview is kind of a long one, cause we really got talking, and took a few rabbit trails but we had a great conversation, and Laura shared some great ideas about how she works, that I think you will find really helpful and interesting!
So, without further ado, here is Laura!
Laura Evans: bio
Laura Evans was born and raised in Salamanca, Spain. A nurse by profession, she is currently studying a master’s degree in Global eHealth through the University of Edinburgh. She married Eric eleven years ago and moved to Minnesota, USA. The cold winters and the desire to work overseas took them to Kyrgyzstan where they have been working since 2014. Laura got into photography about nine years ago as a hobby, and through the years she has been building up her skills. She loves to capture the beauty of the mundane world around her with her camera. Most recently she has fallen in love with conceptual self-portraiture and is completely unaware of the new paths that may unravel as a result!
C: Hi Laura! Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview! I guess we could start with telling people a bit about how we know each other. I was trying to think how we met initially and I actually can’t remember!
L: We met at the women’s retreat.
C: Oh yes! I know we had seen each other many times, but I couldn’t remember the first time we actually had a conversation. So we met at a women’s retreat and we connected, mainly about photography, at first, I think. And very quickly, we started talking about projects and all sorts of fun things that we could do together and separately. It was very fun.
L: Yes, I think we were both at a point, we both wanted to explore different things than just the photography we’d always done and I think for us together, even though we were not necessarily exploring the same things, there was the idea of getting out of our comfort zone and exploring new things.
C: Yes! And I love that, that we work in very different genres…there is some overlap, obviously, but the things that you’re doing, and the things that I’m doing are quite different, but like you say, we have this connection over ideas and exploration and trying new things and just encouraging each other in those things, which has been really fun for me.
L: Yes, for me too.
C: So, how long have you been doing photography and how did you get into photography to start with?
L: I’ve been thinking about that. I started doing photography about nine years ago. I got my first camera when I was going to come here to Kyrgyzstan to visit. I had no background in photography up until that point, but it was very intriguing. My friends had a camera that I would use when I was at their house. So it was just before our first visit to Kyrgyzstan in 2011, to visit, that I bought my first camera, and I brought it to Kyrgyzstan. And so I just explored, cause I didn’t know anything, but that was the beginning.
I think that there are quite a few creatives in my family, they’ve just done it as a hobby, but it’s definitely there…doing photography, playing instruments, and I remember when I was pretty little…my uncle had taken a black and white picture of a tiny little church in Spain in a little village, and the sun was shining through, and I just remember being amazed, at how powerful a simple photograph could be. That has always stayed with me, and I think that motivated me to get into photography.
C: I think that’s how it starts for a lot of people…that we see something that we kind of go, “Wow”, or “That’s incredible!” and we think, “I want to do that!” Or we see something and it evokes emotion and we want to do that too.
So what kind of photography do you do now that you’ve been doing it for awhile, and what was the process to get into that, from starting in 2011, just not knowing anything, to where you are now? Or what interests you photographically? What are you interested in pursuing?
L: I think that because the first time I had a camera, I came to Kyrgyzstan…there’s a lot of mountains, and landscapes, people of course, that started calling my name a little bit..the landscape part. I’m also, not shy, but I’m not comfortable taking pictures of people. I find that kind of hard, so I kind of shy away from that, unless, it’s like a model, or someone who wants to have their photo taken. But if it’s just straight street photography, that’s hard for me, even though I really like it. But, definitely landscapes and details, the little things, I really like that. I had a friend who visited last year, who does wedding photography, and she’s the one who encouraged me to do more, to do things I’m not used to doing. We did some sessions with friends we know and it was at that point I realized I can do a lot more! It was the realization that there are other kinds of photography that I can do, even though I don’t necessarily want to do the type of photography we did last summer. And more recently, mostly through you…you talked to me about Brooke Shaden, and I started following her, and just the conceptual self-portraits that she does I find very interesting, 'cause I feel like it brings together taking pictures of people, but it takes away the pressure of taking pictures of people I don’t know, cause it’s a self-portrait! It’s just me and the camera, and I can take as many shots as I want, until I’m happy with the shot, and if I lose all the shots, so be it, cause it was just me. So I’ve really enjoyed that part, and the compositing, and working in Photoshop with that. It’s just allowed me a new form of art that I didn’t know existed! I’ve only been doing it for a couple of months, but I am very excited. I really want to continue to grow in that field. I have no idea where it might take me.
C: Well you’ve been doing some really cool stuff that I’ve been enjoying looking at, and seeing you explore ideas through your photographs, which is really cool. 'Cause like you say, it’s conceptual, so you’re having an idea first, and then bringing it to life through the photograph. So can you talk to us a little bit about how you do that?
L: I think I’m very observant, but I’m also very introspective, and I’ve realized it more now. I’m not one to share a lot of my feelings and emotions verbally with other people, but there are always things going through my head. So, I frequently have all these ideas. So what I’ve been doing now is writing them down, instead of letting them go. And then when I have time on the weekends I tend to go through them, and take this idea, and how can I try to communicate that? If I were trying to communicate that idea to me, cause different people interpret things differently, how would I do it? So that is one way I’ve been doing it. Then I set up the camera and the tripod and just take hundreds of photos, cause it’s actually very difficult!
C: That’s why I don’t do self portraits! ‘Cause it is not easy. It looks simple, but it’s really not. I think it’s one of the hardest things to do in photography.
L: Yes. I was doing one yesterday and I wish I had taken a picture! It was so funny.
Now that we’re in quarantine, most of these self portraits, I’ve been doing while I’m here at home, and I’ve been thinking about different places in my house, so I’ll think, “I think I want to do something right here!” So how can I communicate that? The house has the creepiest basement ever, and I’ve been thinking, “How can I capture and use this spot?” Or, we had a hole dug up in the garden, and I thought, "How can I use this space?”
So those two main ways. Having ideas and going back to them and trying to represent them, or seeing a space and trying to use it.
C: Interesting. And then you take it into Photoshop, and often turn it into something completely different yet, right?
L: Yes. Then there is a lot of trial and error and YouTube videos! 'Cause I have no idea. Thankfully there are a lot of people who know how to use Photoshop really well! I’ve heard advice from others to just let it rest a few days, and then come back and it helps you see the imperfections. Coming back after a few days, you think, that doesn’t look quite right.
C: That’s true. I find that with writing. I’ll write a draft of something and then I’ll let it sit, even just an email, just let it sit at least a day, and you re-read it and you think, "What was I thinking? This is terrible!" Or it doesn’t make sense, or whatever. So I think often that resting time is really important in whatever creative process you’re doing.
L: Yeah, that’s actually something I’m learning. Cause I’m not good at that. So letting it sit and coming back to it is something I’m learning.
C: So, what do you love about photography?
L: I think one of the things, practically, is I find it’s super convenient to be the one with the camera. I like hiding behind the camera. Not having to talk to people and being able to hide on the sidelines, taking the pictures, or if we’re hiking in a group, I’ll be at the back. I like the freedom it gives you to disconnect sometimes.
I don’t like journaling, but I look back at my photos over the years, and it’s like a journal for me, and the memories associated with those photos, it’s really powerful.
And now that I’ve been using Photoshop, the sky is the limit! If you can’t photograph the idea in your head, you can just make it! I like that flexibility.
C: There’s so much freedom to try anything. I think it’s about thinking of photography as art. But again it depends on the type of photography you’re doing. Obviously if you’re doing photojournalism, you don’t have that freedom to go into Photoshop and manipulate it, but if you’re doing self portraits or conceptual art, fine art, you have freedom to create your own world! To create whatever you want, and that’s one of the awesome parts about being that type of photographer, is having that freedom.
So what inspires you? Photography related or unrelated?
L: I think just paying attention to the details. I tend to get a lot of ideas just from paying attention to the details. I feel that just from living here in Kyrgyzstan, and the type of work I do, it’s just an environment that is so different from what I’m used to, that there are details everywhere. Some are beautiful and some are completely heartbreaking, but I think just trying to take all the things in and not tune it out. Sometimes I find myself trying to tune out all the harsh reality, that is around me, and I see, no, I need to embrace it, even if it is incredibly uncomfortable or really sad, I think just trying to be aware and take in what is around me at home, or at work, or walking. I think a lot of my inspiration comes from that.
For a little bit of background, I’ve worked most of my life as a nurse, and since I’ve been here in Kyrgyzstan, I’ve been working in a small village right outside of the capital, and we work with people that are economically very poor with a lot of struggles and difficult situations at home. I’ve been in a lot of families’ homes and they might not have food for the day. They might not have money to buy the medicine they need, and still they give me whatever they have left. So those things have been very powerful and have been very hard at times, but I am trying to embrace it rather than wishing I didn’t have to deal with it. To see that actually, it is a privilege, that most people don’t get to have a connection with people like this, but I can come into their houses, I can develop a genuine relationship, I can share the hopes I have, and they can share the hopes they have. That has been really powerful as far as inspiration.
C: I think that’s something I’ve been learning the past few years too. To feel all of the feelings. Not just the good ones, but also the “bad” ones. And not be afraid of them, and not feel like you shouldn’t feel the negative things. I think that’s one of the gifts of creativity, as well, whether it’s photography or writing or painting, whatever, is it’s a medium that allows us to explore those feelings and to get them out. Whether it’s our own personal feelings or making a statement on the pain we see around us, or photographing people and places and using our photograph for justice issues. It’s such a powerful medium.
So when you feel uninspired to take photographs, what do you do to re-inspire yourself, or get back in the groove?
L: I think in the first years, whenever I wanted, I took out the camera, and when I didn’t want to, I didn’t bother. I would go several months without touching the camera. In the past few years when I’ve been taking photography more seriously, sometimes I say, today I’ll take my camera with me. I don’t know what I’ll see, but I’ll take it.
And now that I have this running list of ideas, when I feel like I don’t know what to do, I try to go back and look at those ideas and think, “Okay, what can I do today?” I think that has been helpful.
Also I look a lot at Instagram, at people whose work is different from what I do. Not so I can copy what they do, but more so I can see what other people are doing, and maybe I can do something similar, or I can learn a new technique, or photograph something similar from a different angle.
C: True, 'cause sometimes you see photographs and you have no idea how they did that, and that in itself can inspire you to explore a whole new way of shooting that you never would have even thought of, had you not seen that image. And I think that the idea of keeping a list is such a good idea because just like you say, we’re not always inspired, so to have that list to go back to when we aren’t feeling inspired and to be able to have a whole collection of ideas there waiting for us is awesome. I love it!
So here is a question for you. How do you put emotion into your photographs?
L: I, again…I do have emotions, just in case people think I don’t…but it is not usually in the forefront of my way of thinking, so I tend to just take pictures based on what I like and not think so much about the emotion piece, and I just think sometimes my photography might lack a little bit in that, in the sense that several things look similar. Instead of trying to convey a message that goes beyond the picture. So I think with these conceptual self portraits I’m doing, I’m trying to be more aware and even plan a little bit more about this idea of how to translate and communicate emotion. And I think it’s helpful, 'cause a lot of the pictures start with the idea rather than, “Oh! This is pretty. Let me take a picture!” There is a set of three new photos that I took in my scary basement, and they go around the theme of religion, and the idea of: What is religion for you? What is religion for me? Is it just a set of rules, or something that is fulfilling? I think that this type of photography has forced me a lot to think about these things beforehand, and I’ve enjoyed that a lot, but it’s been really challenging.
C: Yeah, I can see that, because I find it very difficult to take a concept or idea and put that into a photograph. It’s so difficult for me, so I think people who are able to do it are amazing!
L: I’m not sure I can do it, but I’m trying.
C: I think you’re doing amazing. What do you think makes a good photograph?
L: I like so many things! In photography, in music, in whatever. I’m not one that thinks, this way only.
C: Are there any commonalities that draw you to those things?
L: To say something unique is too vague and almost too cliché. For example, going back to the photograph my uncle took when I was little, I think I was just amazed at the sunshine coming through this little window. So there was that detail. A photograph that has at least one detail, this one thing that stays with you after you’ve seen it. Something that leaves an impression after you’re done looking at it. I would consider that a good photograph.
C: That’s a good definition. What advice would you give to an aspiring photographer?
L: I feel like an aspiring photographer! I think it is a hard balance between following your desire to do photography and having the discipline to learn it. Like sometimes, I’m on the street and I’m just seeing it in terms of photographs. There is the creative part, and you need to cultivate that, and then there’s the technical part that you really need to cultivate if you want to be a good photographer. Cultivate those two things, constantly. Always try to learn something new, try to grow. Sometimes I look at my camera and I think “What is that button for?” Okay, I’m going to find out what that is for and sometimes it has been life changing!
C: That is a good tip, cause there are still buttons on my camera that I don’t know what they do!
L: Another thing I have struggled with, is you don’t need a lot of lenses, you don’t need a fancy camera. You can create with whatever, but it’s so easy to say, “If I had that lens, if I had that camera, if I had this smaller camera, I could take it with me…” I think there is some truth to that, but at the end of the day, it’s all lies. If you’re not doing it now, you won’t do it then either.
Quarantine Related Questions:
C: We’re going to move into quarantine related questions now. That was our long introduction. No, not the introduction, but the general portion of our “show”. :)
So, let’s talk about quarantine. What are you doing during this time, in terms of life and photography, and how those two intersect?
L: Yeah, it’s been crazy, busier than normal. Because of the quarantine, our clinic has been asking patients to stay at home, and we are visiting them at home. That’s what I used to do, before I started studying Russian. So I’ve been back at the clinic, doing home visits, and I’ve been doing that three times a week. It’s not full time, but it feels like a lot. And I’m doing Russian classes online and studying for a Masters online. And I just have all these ideas for photography, which is all I really want to do! So there’s this tension all the time, so I’ve been doing a little bit of everything. But I feel blessed to have them all, and I’ve really enjoyed it. But I am hoping it ends soon so I can see people. But, overall, it’s been a positive time.
C: That kind of answers our next question, as to whether you’ve found this time energizing or depleting.
L: Definitely energizing. I like to start something and then finish it. I’m not a good one for just doing the same thing every day. I like to finish something and move on. And I’ve been able to do that with photography, or even around the house. Working in the garden, and finishing projects…it’s so rewarding!
C: Well, you have been doing my photo challenge along with me, which has been really fun to see what you’ve been coming up with, so I thought we would just talk a little bit about some of the questions we’ve explored through the photo challenge, but now we’ll do it with words rather than with photographs. So what are you grieving through this experience of quarantine, or what losses have you experienced as a result of it?
L: I feel that I’ve been really blessed. I’m from Spain, most of my family lives in Spain, my husband is from the US and his family lives there, and my mom actually lives in the US…so the two places so far with the most cases. And I have two grandparents. There have been many opportunities for my family members to get sick, but so far they are all healthy, and have been able to keep their jobs, when a lot of people have lost their jobs, so especially now that we can’t leave Kyrgyzstan, there are no flights out, I feel very, very thankful that everyone is healthy. I know that can sound a little bit selfish…that I only care about my family, but it’s not that at all. It’s just that I couldn’t go see them, I couldn’t say goodbye, so for that I do feel very thankful. We’re here for the long haul. I think there is still plenty of opportunity to have to grieve, but so far, it hasn’t been nearly as bad as it could be…for me.
C: What is bringing you joy during this time?
L: Having more time at home has been good, to take care of things I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, like in the garden, or just things at home, or even the photography part. I feel like it’s been like extra credit time. The things that, if life had continued on, especially with my online classes, I wouldn’t have had time to do. So, that has been a joy. Going back to the village…I don’t want to do it long term, but it’s been great to see some of my old patients…it’s been really nice…to see that they’re doing okay, none of them are sick with the virus. That has been a joy.
C: What is giving you hope for the future?
L: I feel that there is not much hope, really, short term or mid-term. People are talking about living like this for one year, two years…not being able to get out, going back to quarantine, not being able to travel, so much uncertainty. So I think at the end of the day, my hope is not in the things of this world, at least I try not to put my hope in the things of this world that change every minute, but ultimately put my hope in God, who is the One who doesn’t change, who isn’t surprised by the virus. And if the world is slightly or radically different after the virus, I know I can trust God, so ultimately I think I can put my hope there. But in the short term, it’s very difficult.
C: Well, that leads to one of our last questions. What are you looking forward to when this is all over?
L: I think I’m just looking forward to being able to drive again! We literally can’t go anywhere. There are cement blocks on the street. I think I’m secretly looking forward to dressing up again. It’s been yoga pants non-stop!
C: I know! I put on blush for you! I can’t remember the last time I put on blush! I almost couldn’t remember how to do it!
L: I was getting summer clothes out the other day, and I was like, “Oh, this is so pretty! I wonder when I’ll get to wear it!” I am looking forward to seeing friends, to be able to see you in person, to take that photography trip…
L: So things like that, and a little bit longer term, I really hope we can travel again soon. We [my husband and I] were planning on going to Spain this fall. I really hope we can still do that. Just the little things I’m looking forward to.
C: I’m going to add another question. Where do you think your photography is going? I know you said you don’t really know where it is going, but where do you HOPE it is going? Or where would you like to take it?
L: I think for now, I’m doing the conceptual self-portraits mostly for me, 'cause it’s incredibly fun. I really hope, and I do think it has value for other people, so with time, I’d like to reach out to more people with it. And I can get a little bit caught up in that, and think I basically need to become famous! I want everyone to buy my prints, and everyone needs to see my work, and I have to go, “Wait.” It can be a little discouraging, when people like my photographs on Instagram, and say, this is nice, but it never goes beyond that. So I guess it’s a slightly contradictory idea that I want to keep doing this, and I want it to take me to a place where I continue to enjoy doing this and finding it fulfilling, just for the sake of doing it, and also I would like to be able to share it with more and more people. To be able to reach out to more people. I think sometimes I have thought about doing photography so that I can reach more people, but I have been trying to shift my way of seeing it so that I am doing it just for the sake of doing it, as a goal in itself, and then potentially later, reaching more people. But that is not the end goal or the only goal.
C: I’ve been struggling through a lot of those same thoughts and feelings, so I resonate deeply with what you’re saying. Trying not to care how many followers I have or how big it gets or how big I get, but what is the core of what I want out of this? And I realized a lot of my desire is to help people through my photography. So if I can stay true to that, then all of the other stuff shouldn’t matter, ideally. I think, it’s always there, in the back of your mind, that you want it, but to try and just simplify it and stay true to what you feel you’ve been called to do or what you feel is the most important thing to do…for you. And let all the rest go.
L: Yeah. I think if this is something we want to do as a way to earn money, it’s going to have to be intentional. A few people get lucky, but most people have to put in the work, and reach out to people, and submit to competitions, and write to galleries, and go to portfolio reviews and yada yada. So there is a point in which I/we will need to do that if we want to grow, and seeing that as something that is enjoyable and that I may eventually want or need to do eventually, but not as the reason for which I create. Learning to see things that way, for me, has been very, very helpful.
C: So where can we find you?
L: There are a few places. I do the self portraits on Instagram at: the.untamed.portraits
My regular photography is similar, at: the.untamed.places on Instagram.
I also have a blog with my husband. He’s a writer, I take the pictures. That is at theuntamedplaces.com.
Otherwise I’m in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. You can come for a visit! :)
C: Awesome! Well, thank you so much for sharing your journey with us and your thoughts and what you’re up to during this time. I appreciate it so much.
L: Yes, thank you for the opportunity. I feel so honoured. It’s been very enjoyable!