SKYN: Lara I have been a fan of your work for such a long time, this eerie, and fantastical quality that your work consistently displays is something that warrants plenty of exploring and I am honored that you are choosing to explore it (once again) with us. So tell us how and where did photography start for you?
LZ: My journey into photography started when I was 21 years old. Up until then, I had been involved in my economics career, but I took initiative and bought myself my first DSLR camera, and have been photographing ever since. I consider that decision one of the best ones of my life.
SKYN: Right off the bat, your work inextricably reminds me of Alice in Wonderland, what is your opinion on Alice in Wonderland as far as the storyline, the visuals and even the recent remakes?
LZ: I’m in love with the surrealism and rawness of Alice and Wonderland, and how it manages to be so absurd and make so much sense at the same time. I do feel much more strongly about the original work—there is nothing that compared to original works—however I do appreciate different perspectives that different directors take on the same thing. It’s interesting to see how people can interpret a story in their own way.
SKYN: You are clearly a busy woman and like all of us, burnout can happen, so whenever you feel like things are getting to that point, what are some self-care strategies you use or things that you do to bring things back to center?
LZ: When I’m in need of some down time, I retreat to my home town in South Lebanon. Sometimes I create works there, and other times I go, and just relax and spend some time alone.
SKYN: Do you travel a lot? If so where do you like to go? If not, why not?
LZ: I adore traveling. So far, Europe has been the most interesting for me to visit. I’ve traveled many places for workshops, and have just recently returned from a residency in Italy. It’s always wonderful for me to discover new places and see what the world has to offer.
SKYN: I know that your sets are rather particular and often technical especially with the water tanks and the levitation photography, have you had any horror stories or near misses while working with such intriguing but sometimes difficult props and sets?
LZ: During one of the takes with the water tank, it cracked! It could’ve ended disastrously, but it ended up being a funny story. We fixed the error quite quickly, and were back to shooting in no time. It’s inevitable for there to be some difficulty when dealing with such dynamic props.
SKYN: So many of your sets display these elegant yet simple rooms with a single or double exposure windows, molding on the walls, antiquated floor tile, why are you drawn to this particular types of settings?
LZ: I’m drawn to minimalism (less is more, at times) and windows in particular intrigue me, both because they provide the room with a soft, natural light, and also because windows give hints of another world. When there is a window in one of my photos, it is like a world within a world.
SKYN: I noticed that quite a bit of your work incorporates levitation photography, what is the process like when it comes to tools used, techniques and other factors?
LZ: The technique of levitation photography is not a mystery anymore, it’s quite accessible to find the means to carry it out. I do them mostly for fun, and the process involves having a model lie on a stool and then removing the stool later on with photo manipulation.
SKYN: You mentioned in an interview with another publication that you spent a lot of time looking at fashion and staged pictures as well as magazines that also contained those things. Are there any specific magazines you enjoyed reading when you were younger as well as magazines that you enjoy reading now?
LZ: When I was younger, my favorite magazines were Vogue and Elle. Now, I’m finding more inspiration in Fine Arts than fashion, so I do not check those magazines as often. If I feel like it, however, I can always find them online.
SKYN: Could you tell us about one of your earlier projects 365? What prompted that type of project?
LZ: The 365 project was when I dedicated a photo to each day of the year. I was prompted to do that in order to practice, learn, and create commitment to photography.
SKYN: How would your best friend describe you? Would you personally consider yourself more of an introvert or extrovert and what things happen in your daily life to convince you of one or the other?
LZ: I would best be described as “calm with a crazy side”, easygoing, and a dreamer. Depending on the company I’m with, I switch between introversion and extroversion.
SKYN: So you went to the American University of Beirut and then received a master’s in economics, what was your University and Post grad experience like and how did you reconcile your education with this love of photography that you had?
Economics was pursued because society here strongly dictates that careers in that field were strong and safe choices. Photography for me is more of a passion—though economics developed a certain manner of thinking, photography is what I live for. I can’t control and can’t stop my love for it.
SKYN: As an extremely accomplished person, where your work has been shown at the Women’s art exhibition in Lebanon and the festival photomed in the south of France, do you feel like these opportunities validate your work in some way or does it feel different for you?
LZ: I love showing my work as prints, and being able to exhibit them is always thrilling and humbling. It does validate my work, especially when I get to see the audience members inspecting and finding interest in my photos right in front of me. Recently, Guy Hepner gallery in New York exhibited one of my works, and I couldn’t be more thrilled and excited about that opportunity.
SKYN: How did the representation by the Ayyam gallery come about?
LZ: I participated in a photo competition they launched many years ago, and subsequently won an award for it. I was then admitted into their incubator program, and this is how my representation came about.
SKYN: Your Cinematography got auctioned at Christie’s Dubai how does it make you feel to know that your work is so incredibly revered that it would find itself on that sort of forum?
LZ: Thrilled and in sheer disbelief—it motivates me to keep moving forward.
SKYN: One photo of yours that I am particularly entrapped by is the female with a rabbit head and a male with a horse head having a 75% underwater tea party, I love it because as someone who’s favorite Disney movie was Alice in wonderland in youth that sort of surreal blending makes life seem limitless to me, but what does that particular photo mean to you and what do you want others to take from it?
LZ: “The Zoo”, as it’s called, surprised me with how much acclaim it received, particularly because it was only an extra in my series. It is meant to comment about life in the household, depicting lived experiences others can relate to. Like the rest of the series, the above-below water scene is supposed to tell two stories—contradictions, if you will—and reinforces the sense of oppression depicted with a touch of humor.
SKYN: Could you tell us about what role cinematography/videography plays in your overall vision and could you share with us any work that you have ongoing or completed within that vein?
LZ: Having started solely with photography, I’m striving to be a more multidisciplinary artist. I have already done a few cinemagraphs and hope to continue with other installations.
SKYN: In your opinion what is the worst kind of model to work with?
LZ: The worst kinds of models to work with are those who are impatient. For me, I like working with those who care more about the process than the end result.
SKYN: In any one of your shoots in your series ‘the unseen’ how many people on any given day are working alongside you to create what the final product and what is the collaborative process generally like?
LZ: I shot that series over a period of two days—my team was composed of myself (other than the role of the photographer, I was also the wardrobe designer and art director), a lighting assistant, the behind-the-scenes assistant, and the models.
SKYN: What Camera(s) or cameras do you use when shooting?
LZ: I use the Canon 5d mark ii. My lenses are: 50mm1.2 | 50mm1.4 | 24-70mm 2.8 and 2 elinchrome 500w strobes.
SKYN: I know that you have been holding workshops basically all over the world, I’m curious about what the germ was for the several decisions that goes into making those workshops happen and what is the general process leading up to each of these workshops, What are the feelings you walk away from the workshops having when its all said and one?
LZ: The feelings I walk away with are that I’m happy I embraced the opportunity, and am happy I was able to give back to that community.
SKYN: What was your childhood like?
LZ: My childhood was full of rich experiences, and my mother gave me the space to be creative and to dream. It definitely made me who I am today.
SKYN: What is something that life has taught you that nobody else has, something you had to learn on your own in many ways?
LZ: If you don’t help yourself, no one will. You must keep moving forward.
SKYN: What is next for you Lara?
LZ: A lot of new creations due to a lot of amazing new inspiration.
SKYN: Next time we are in your city, may we spend some time together?
Of course! I adore meeting new people, and it would be lovely to get to spend some time with you.
@sofxposh | www.sofxposh.com
www.larazankoul.com | @larazankoul
WHILE YOU'RE HERE, CHECK OUT SOME OF OUR OTHER FEATURES: