Thursday, 19 April 2012

Lauren Simonutti (1968-2012)



"The misfirings of my beloved/despised mind that conspire to convince me to destroy all have rendered me housebound and led to a solitary life. I am a creature of past, proof, memory and imaginary friends."

"I have reached the point where if I do not have a photograph of something I cannot be certain it happened. So, locked inside the house with nothing else left, I shoot this"
Lauren Simonutti was a photographer who made handmade books. Sadly she passed away last week at a far to early age - this is what Catherine Edelmann, her gallerist says in her touching tribute.. 
 
"Through her photography, Lauren gave a voice to those that suffer in isolation. Her life mattered, and her legacy has yet to be written.  She will forever be in my heart, and while she may have felt alone, she always believed that her photographs would be her lasting memory – the one gift she would leave."
 
 
I bought one of her books last year and was interviewed her by email a short time later. Her work was profound and expressive and her books were both thoughtful and touched with a real dark humour. There was freedom in the way she made them, they were liberating. She had a special talent, a different talent and she struggled to make her work which was so loved and appreciated by those who were lucky enough to see it.
 

The 28th March 2006 is when Lauren Simonutti began to hear voices.”Three of them, quitedistinct. Two are taunting and the third voice is mine, as I have heard it externally, on a tape recordingor answering machine. That voice has some reserve, it seldom makes itself heard. The others are a constant. They all live in my right ear which rather makes sense as I spontaneously went deaf in that ear a decade ago and it has been vacant ever since. As time and treatment progressed they have stopped screaming and contribute only a dull murmur. Except at bedtime, at bedtime they like to sing.It presents itself as a sing-song - Rapid cycling, mixed state bipolar with schizoaffective disorder.

The problem with madness is that you can feel it coming but when you tell people you think you are going crazy they do not believe you. It is too distant a concept. Too melodramatic. You don’t believe it yourself until you have fallen so quickly and so far that your fingernails are the only thing holding you up, balanced with your feet dangling on either side of a narrow fence with your heart and mind directly over center, so that when you do fall it will split you in two. And split equally. So there’s not even a stronger side left to win”




You don’t leave the house? What does this do to the way you see the world – both the world that you still inhabit and the world that you don’t inhabit?

For several years as I was trying desperately to find someone to help me get the bipol under control, (a pursuit I refer to as the uninsured hospital monkey dance) I lost all the people in my life.  When you are ill in that manner, mental illness, people do not rally around you - it is not a reflection of their character - they simply do not know what to do.  They do not understand, they get embarrassed, they get frustrated, and they leave.  So I decided if I was going to be alone with this illness then it would just be the two of us and I sequestered myself in my house.  I created imaginary friends and conjured world's to keep from feeling all alone.  And I photographed it all.



Do you see things differently because of this? Do you find yourself looking at things differently?

I always have.  Not because of this, just because.  I believe I was born that way.

What are the effects of your domestic perspectives (ie being in your house) on your photography?

 I would not have survived without the house.  I work here because I made it to be model, backdrop and haven.

It is what I have.


You mention that you used to hallucinate? How does this affect the way you see your world, the way you interact with it and the work that you make?

An added bonus (shizoaffective disorder) worked itself into the mix.  This results in visual as well as auditory hallucinations.  I don't much use the visual hallucinations in my work - my mind's eye is much keener when I am well.

You work with large format and chance is a large part of your working practice? Why do you work with chance – is it an active choice or pragmatic due to technological limitations?  

You work with large format and chance is a large part of your working practice? Why do you work with chance – is it an active choice or pragmatic due to technological limitations?  I find very few technological limitations to large format.  The glass, the movements, the range, the size, the cameras themselves offer a world of possibilities.  They are cumbersome and require patience, but being forced to slow down and genuinely contemplate the image before you I believe adds much to the image.  They not only record a subject but stopped down to a long exposure they can record time.  Hours, minutes, seconds, the passage of light over an object and the darkening of a shadow as the sun shifts.  That is their gift.
Chance comes into more as since I am the subject of all my photographs (I do not consider the majority of them self portraits, it is simply a matter of convenience for me to act that the character in the image where a character needs to be).  I can set the stage but where I place myself, where and if I choose to move, and the fact that I have a great deal of difficulty holding still means a large part of the image is reliant on instinct - and chance.



You have said on your blog that “The discipline of bookbinding is an ideal counterpoint to the restrained chaos of my shooting and printing” – How do the two combine? Why do you make books – are they the ideal form for your work?

I make books for the discipline, as a counterpoint and because a book can be closed.  One can be haunted by images for years, extending and adding ad infinitum to a series that was thought to be complete some time ago.

Once the selection is made, the images are placed and the pages are laid in the binding the project is complete.

It is nice, from time to time, to know that you are done.

You sometimes sketch outlines for your prints? But you say you can’t draw. There seems to be something liberating in doing things you can’t do – is this theme apparent in other areas of your work? And I mean that in a good way.

I would say no.  I do random sketches because my memory is fractured and I have lost too many images along the way.

You shoot in black and white but colour has importance for you as mentioned below. 

“One book has pages infused with blue cornflower-blue is for memory.
The second: infused with Mughal Rose petals-red is for passion.
The third: infused with yellow star flowers-yellow for hope + promise.”

Why did you choose memory, passion and hope and promise –how are these replicated in the book?

Blue, red and yellow are images that work well with black and white photography - complementing the paper base of a cool tone gelatin silver print, the richness of selenium and the warmth of sepia.  These papers infused with flower petals both offered a strong background against which to place the images as well as a symbolic stance - flower petals strewn for a wedding, or laid down for the dead.  It is best to cover all bases.

As for memory, passion, hope and promise?  What else is there?

Why is No Such Thing as Silence a confession? 

People do not much talk about mental illness.  I have never felt there is much point in feeling shame for something to which I was born.  And I do not hesitate to use it in my work.



There is no wrong order to the book? Why not? Is order over-rated by some?

The order of  a series dictates the direction the story will take, once someone acquires a work it no longer belongs to me - it belongs to them and I cannot begrudge anyone the opportunity to make their own direction and dictate their own ending.

Why do you have bells and feathers?

The bells are my small gesture to interfere with the silence to which most people have access.
I began to put black feathers in all my packages years ago.  E.A. Poe has been a strong influence of mine for decades and now that I live in the city that saw his demise I felt it appropriate to give him his due.


Silence is the Secret to Sanity
See the pictures in sequence here.

5 comments:

rajiv said...

Hi Colim,

I have been totally away from photo blogs for quite a while now and it was great to return to your blog and to find such a fascinating post about Lauren Simonutti. Her wonderful work that seems so incredibly intertwined with the complexities of her mind is astonishing. thanks a ton.

colin pantall said...

Thanks Rajiv - and so sad that is gone!

Carla Sarr said...

Lauren was a great friend as well as a fine photographer and writer. She took her first photograph of me in 1991, in her apartment in New York City, and later used it in one of her books. She was a much better friend to me than I was to her: I wasn't reading her blog, and since her death I have cried myself nearly blind reading it and looking at her beautiful,disturbing images. Thank you for remembering her.

colin pantall said...

Thank you so much for your comment, Carla. I didn't know Lauren in person, but her work was beautiful, moving and also very sad. I guess that mirrored her life; which I hope will be remembered through her work.

petrus373 said...

Carla,

I was Lauren's neighbor and a friend as well. I share your sadness in these painful moments. I helped her parents clean out her house when they came to Baltimore to settle her final affairs. I have a few photographs that were a little more on the personal side, I think a few of them may be of you. I think there were a few of a woman in a wedding dress and a few in an apartment that was painted all white where it looks like inside of a bedroom. If this is you, please let me know. I can send you the print.