with Lauryn Alvarez
Interview & words: Elisa Routa
“There’re so many times that I accidentally opened the back of my camera before rolling it back in. I get these light leaks and distortions of the photo, and I love that,” says California photographer Lauryn Alvarez. “When some people see that as a mistake, I feel it’s allowing the surrounding and the moment to affect your work even more.” In a world led by a modern, contemporary, digital and clean aesthetic, Lauryn appears as a beautiful weirdo, finding wonder in the imperfections.
The Laguna Beach-based artist, aged 22, tried analog photography for the first time just a year ago. Since then, she’s been considering her Polaroid 600 and her other analog toys as a way of expressing herself, meditating, and letting her inner nostalgia come out. We sat down with Lauryn and discussed California as her safe place, the importance of nature, film photography, melancholia, spirituality, and art as a relief against anxiety.
“I realized the slowness and the intention that comes in shooting on film with a 35mm camera. Since then, that’s the direction I’ve padded in.”
We discovered your work through your recent collaboration with Rhythm. Tell us more about it…
It’s been a year now and they’re awesome. It’s been amazing to be shooting and creating content for them. Last year, I was already doing brand work but I was trying to go full time into photography. I would always go to the Rhythm web page, they were a dream client, and I would have done anything to work with them. I love their style, their aesthetic, and everything about their branding. One day, I received an email from Jake, one of the main guys at the Australian Rhythm headquarters. He asked to do a shoot in Los Angeles for the Fall collection for the US Rhythm. I was so stoked. I was like maybe it is a sign. It all worked out and it was so inspiring.
Tell us more about this series of pictures shot in Malibu on Polaroid 600. What is the full story behind this series?
The story shot in Malibu was their most recent campaign. It was my first big shoot after the pandemic so it was a great one, working with Hudson and TJ. It was like a beach hangout. It was pretty much them doing their thing and me going up to them, seize the moment and snap really quick. While I did shoot a lot of digital, I also brought along my Polaroid. What I love about Polaroids is that they really capture the moment because of the tangible aspect of being able to hold the photo and see it right after it’s taken. The Polaroids are some of my favorite photos even though there were not a lot of thoughts that went into them.
“I can’t help but long for a past life. Whether that’s through music, photography, or buying a certain candle that smells and reminds me a certain time.”
Thanks to Polaroid pictures, this series and your body of work somehow hold a nostalgic feeling and look. Would you call yourself a nostalgic person, and does melancholia play a role in your life as well as in your work?
Yes, 100%. I can’t help but long for a past life. Whether that’s through music, photography, or buying a certain candle that smells and reminds me of a certain time. All the inspirational nostalgia came from the music. Music has been a very big influence in my work. It’s something that has always inspired me. Going through my photos, I do like to capture something that has more meaning, and that was a big shift for my work. There was a point where I was shooting things for a lot of brands, and I wasn’t really shooting for myself so I took time away from brand work to do things that I was happy with and that I got creative freedom with. I wanted to have more of a purpose with the art that I was creating rather than just taking photos that, of course, I loved doing as well. I like when the photos are not even planned and mainly done in the moment. I see the opportunity, someone’s doing something, it feels natural, it feels almost like I’ve been taken by the moment. The moment is controlling me in a way.
How did you first get introduced to photography?
As a kid, I was always into arts. I’d make little videos with my laptops. My dad had a Sony digital camera and I remember me and my sister would go play around and take photos of each other. Then, I got into the middle school and upgraded my camera with some old digital cameras. Through high school, I was shooting digital, then it wasn’t until a year and a half ago that I got into film photography. I had a film camera, a Nikon FM2, I had it for years but I never really used it. When I was trying to switch over my work and direction of what I wanted out of photography, I thought why not pick up this camera? I didn’t know much about film. It was just about me taking photos in my house and around my neighborhood in Laguna Beach. There’s so much to shoot here, it’s beautiful.
Your inspirations gravitate around your natural environment, Laguna Beach and California. We can see trees, people, birds, water, surfing, cliffs, flowers. At the end of the day, is nature something you pay attention to?
Yes, 100%. California is a place that I feel most connected to myself and my surroundings. It has always been my safe place. I grew up going to the beach, surfing with my dad. He showed me everything I’m into now; surfing, going on trail runs, and going on hikes. I love everything about the beach, and nature in general. It holds a very special spot in my heart. There’s also something about Laguna Beach that feels like a smaller town and I’m very glad to live here. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I know my safe spot is to be walking down to the beach, feel the sand on my feet, run up to the end of the hills, breathe the fresh air, watch the birds, and pay attention to the animals. It sounds so childlike but that’s something that a lot of people lose getting older; that childish sense of wonder. I think it’s something very important to hold on to. It’s weird, a lot of people tell me that I have this lightning when they see me. That sounds kinda funny but I just get to hold it a lot.
“With your analog camera you‘re still trapped in the moment. There’s nothing that’s distracting you. I can still feel it looking at it.”
What do you like the most in analog photography?
When I shot around Laguna Beach, that’s when I realized the slowness and the intention that comes in shooting on film with a 35mm camera. Since then, that’s the direction I’ve padded in. All my personal work is 35mm or Polaroids now, all analog. A lot of the work I do is digital because I don’t feel super comfortable. Every now and then you get those shots that come out completely blank, but that’s also the beauty of film photography : you never know what you’re gonna get. I think that’s why it’s super exciting. There’re so many times that I accidentally opened the back of my camera before rolling it back in. I get these light leaks and distortions of the photo, and I love that. To me, there is beauty in the imperfections of it. When some people see that as a mistake, I feel it’s allowing the surroundings and the moment to affect your work even more, which I think is great.
In which way does analog photography help you live in the moment?
I do struggle with a lot of things. When things are getting hard sometimes, especially now with everything going on. I found that going outside—just being away from technology is so freeing. And again, going back to analog photography, what I love is it’s not a screen, you’re so in the moment. I remember a few months ago, I was not feeling like myself and I decided to leave my phone at home. I took my camera and walked down to Crystal Cove which is a few miles from my house, and no one was on the beach. It was completely foggy and there was this beautiful reflection, the tide was just starting to come down, the shore was still a bit moist from the water. I remember just staring at this amazing reflection, it felt so calming and peaceful. I can take the photo and not feel taken away from the moment, I can still feel it looking at it. When you’re shooting on digital photography, you take the photo and then you see it on the screen, but with your analog camera, you‘re still trapped in the moment. There’s nothing that’s distracting you. Of course, you can pay attention to settings and composition but I try to stay away from that. I try not to be too technical. I let things flow, and that’s something that I’ve always been into. When people try to ask me technical questions regarding photography, lenses, settings, and film stock, I honestly answer that I just use what I have. It’s trial and error. Sometimes, I will underexpose a photo, it ends up coming up with this beautiful grain and mood. That was meant to be.
“I’ve been dealing recently with a lot of anxiety. Sitting down with just a pen and a paper has been really helping me. Art is another way of getting out of my mind.”
Art is also an important element in your life today. What does creativity mean to you today?
I grew up drawing with color pencils. Anything super serious. Again, a year ago, I rediscovered my love for that type of art, which is painting and drawing. It started up with drawing simple things, like seaweed designs. Nothing crazy. I think what has always intimidated me from drawing is I never thought I was good enough. That’s why I stopped doing it but I love sitting down with a pen and paper, seeing it in my mind, and drawing something live. When I started doing drawing and painting, I came with the intention that I wanted to draw things without a serious approach, going back to the child and me. So that’s what I did. I’d definitely come a long way since then, developing my style. Art is another way of getting out of my mind. My drawings are way more colorful than a lot of my photography. I love black and white photography but there’s something about painting with colorful pigments that is really fun to me. It feels like a different way of expressing myself. I’ve been dealing recently with a lot of anxiety. Sitting down with just a pen and a paper has been really helping me. Just being able to meditate on what I’m doing. It’s something I’ve been really enjoying.
There’s also something spiritual coming out of your drawings. Would you say your body of work is an ode to life, the present moment, and simple pleasures?
Meditation is something I try to do. It doesn’t happen daily but it’s something that I try to get in whether by keeping my eyes closed in silence, or just driving my car, being very present and focused on my surroundings. Through drawing and paintings, I try to be super present, and it goes back to shooting analog. It’s all about being present, taking influence from nostalgia and past experiences. One thing that I started incorporating in my drawing is a spiral. I later found out that the basic idea of a spiral is that you learn one thing but then you have to go back and relearn the same thing. You’re coming back at it from a different angle because you experienced different things since then. It means there’s always something different to take away from it. Spirituality is something that has been important to me. I’m not really religious but it’s just a way of being, living and touching with nature, and how things are made. I know my life is bigger than me.
A few months ago, you released a zine, a collection of photos. What is it about?
The zine is called « When you’re awake, you’re still dreaming. » The title came from the band My Bloody Valentine. That’s a cool title and it’s something I can find meaning in. In a way, I feel like life is just one big dream. Talking about dreams, there’s magic involved and there’s more than just me sitting at my desk with a cup of coffee. I can find more meaning in this moment right now. The zine is a collection of my favorite photos shot within the past year or so. I published the zine with a publishing company based in San Diego. The founder was doing a collection for 2020 releasing a zine with a photographer each month. He contacted me and asked if I wanted to do a collaboration. Of course, I said yes. Around the time, one of my goals for 2020 was to do a printed photo book. It felt like the Rhythm thing, I would ask for this just one thing to happen, and it kinda showed up. I find those little coincidences and synchronicities in my life a lot. I see those and that’s why I believe there is more, like a figure power looking after me, helping me, and guiding me. It was cool to see a tangible piece of work. It’s very inspiring.
What’s up next for you?
I just relaunched my website and started to do photo prints upon there. As far as photography goes, I’d like to release two books. Another zine before doing a hard copy book. That might be pushed to May 2021 but I’d like to release a zine mixing up photography, drawings, and painting. I recently got into sewing so I did a tote bag the other day. I did some painting on some totes, just for fun. I’m trying to get into video work too, I’m on the lookout for a Super 8 camera. Video is something I used to do when I was younger, so hopefully getting into video again. That’s pretty much it.