Photographer Interview: Lauri Lyons

Photo: Lauri Lyons by Jamel Shabazz
D&B: Where are you from?
LL: I am a global nomad. My family is from Jamaica, but later immigrated to the U.S. Both of my parents joined the Air Force and as a family we traveled the world many times over.

I have lived in a variety of locations that include the South Bronx, Greece, Louisiana, Germany, etc. As a photographer my work has enabled me to live in Europe, West Africa, and South America. I have lived in the suburbs, trailers, European homes, and military bases throughout the world.

D&B: What kind of photography do you shoot and how did you get started – any
“formal” training?

LL: I earned a BFA in Media Arts from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
My photography has evolved over the years. Initially my first love was photojournalism, then I moved towards portraiture, and now fine art.

My ‘personal’ work has always been intertwined with my ‘commercial’ work. Regardless of the categories, all of my work is essentially autobiographical.

Two examples are my books ‘Flag: An American Story’ (2001) and ‘Flag International’ (2008). The Flag series is a testament to the global interpretations of the American dream. Flag illustrates people from around the world, holding the American flag and discussing their views about America.

Over the years I’ve had countless hours of ‘formal’ training. I learned all the rules and now I’m breaking the rules.

Muslim girls, England – Copyright Lauri Lyons

D&B: What cameras or techniques do you use?
LL: I generally like shooting medium format film and HD video cameras for moving images. I prefer the manual ‘old war horse’ cameras such as Mamiyas and Yashicas for still photography. They don’t need batteries, dust and water are powerless, they can take a good beating, and nobody wants to steal them. Very important if you shoot on location as much as I do.

D&B: Who are your mentors (in photography)?
LL: Bruce Davidson, Jamel Shabazz and Andre Lambertson. They are not only great photographers but also consistently great examples of artists who have vision, longevity and ethics.

D&B: Have you experienced any setbacks or different treatment along your
photography career that you would attribute to being a woman and/or photographer of color? (this question is optional)

LL: Unfortunately I have to say the setbacks I have encountered, but transcended, were created by photographers and curators of color. We generally don’t like to discuss this in public forums, but the truth is, a lot of people in our photo community have a ‘crabs in a barrrel’ mentality.

There is still a deeply embedded belief that there can only be a few of ‘us’ of on ‘top’. That belief system is corrosive, unjust, hypocritical and ultimately self-sabotaging.

Fortunately, my resilience is strong and I know the value of my hard work. I will never allow other people to determine how far and wide I can reach. I am the captain of my own ship. I hope other artists who encounter obstacles come to the same realization.

Afrolicious – Copyright Lauri Lyons

D&B: When did you realize you could have a career in photography? Describe your journey towards becoming a working photographer.
LL: While attending college I was inspired by the work of the Magnum photographers. After graduating I moved to New York in order to meet Bruce Davidson and work for Magnum Photos. From that point I also assisted a National Geographic photographer.

Afterward I moved into the magazine arena as a Photo Editor for several national magazines. The photo editing experience enabled me to gain experience producing shoots, working with celebrities, and an understanding of the publishing business.

After several years of working behind the scenes with artists and creative directors, I decided to pursue my own career as a professional photographer. I studied at ICP to refresh my technical skills and then embarked on editorial assignments and personal projects.

I have always thought of my career in terms of longevity. Over the years I have diversified my experiences into the fields of advertising, publishing, teaching, exhibitions, journalism, and consulting.

Man on dock – Copyright Lauri Lyons

D&B: What do you hope to achieve with your photography?
LL: Photography is a tool that allows me to experience the world in a multi-layered fashion. My artistic intention is to inspire curiosity, dialogue and action.

D&B: What’s your dream photography project?
LL: My dream photography project is whatever I am working on at the moment.

D&B: What’s the biggest (life) lesson you’ve learned through photography?
LL: The biggest lesson I have learned through photography is, life is an evolving adventure. Live it!

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  1. 1

    The key word here is experience. She was asked to give her opinion based on her own experiences which exactly what any honest person would do. Her comment on setbacks is something that many people have dealt with therefore the comment about this being a "rant" and having a chip on ones shoulder makes no sense. Only ignorant people ask questions that they don't want to know the answers to.

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