Youth is: a heart-shaped pizza, shirking two-day Levis on pit stop tarmac before a show, a pasteboard of sunbaked florals, and a condom on a plate. It is a daze of wonderful, disgusting, hilarious and disappointing moments that oft go missed in the flurries of heathen exalt.
Cue Lauren Ray, Vancouver's sassiest up-and-comer, and lens master of the seemingly mundane. Each shot snapped is an intimate and prolonged glance, a privileged perspective on something you quite frankly, would have ignored completely. She is ultimate finesse in the unpolished, a composer of everyday happenings, and without a doubt, one of my top favourite local photographers.
Less than a week before she's set to toss open the doors on her very first group art show at SBC Restaurant, I sat down with Lauren to talk security guard swindling, mixed CD diaries, and those necessary things in life that make you feel blue.
Let’s begin with a hypothetical end; you must stop everything that you are doing now and present your work created up to this point with a retrospective show. What do you entitle it?
“I’d probably call it something really lame like "fun places I go, cute people I see" or something cheesy. Something lighthearted anyway- nothing too heavy.”
What is the purpose of your photography? Are you documenting something? What is it that you are trying to do?
“I guess I just find the world around me so dazzling; I'm fortunate that my friends, the people I encounter and my surroundings are just so beautiful and interesting to look at. I take photos out of fear of forgetting those things. That’s the biggest thing- that sometimes I don’t trust my memory to properly archive those the way that a photograph could. I hate the idea of forgetting all of those special, specific details of everyday life...like how someone looked with a missing tooth when they were smiling, or how certain old wallpaper was peeling in a weird way."
What is your favourite film, and the camera model that you are currently toting about?
Nice Thrasher sticker.
“Gotta keep it jazzy and personalized ya know. My poor cameras always take pretty good beatings since they get jostled around in my backpack all the time, so this sticker feels appropriate.”
What was the moment that you knew that photography was what you wanted to get into? Was there an ‘aha’ moment?
“To be honest, I started doing photography because I didn’t know what else to do with myself...does that sound pathetic? I was never very good in school and I was too much of a space-cadet to excel at my after-school minimum wage jobs, but I caught myself always looking through old photo albums of family pictures, or taking silly pictures with whatever kind of camera I had in my possession at the time, whether it was my Spice Girls Polaroid camera or a $6 disposable from the drug store. Like most people, looking at photographs created feelings for me upon viewing them, and it was as simple as hoping I could create something that might be able to do the same for somebody else. I very last-minute entered a really ghetto ten month diploma program (before I was at Emily Carr as I am now), bought a little digital SLR as I was required to and noticed, when I forgot my camera at home, how sad I felt. It was like forgetting to put on pants; I’d feel this void. This is when I decided that this was something that I was going to try my darndest to pursue. I take photos because I get really bummed if I don't, and if I miss a shot, I really feel blue. So I guess I am constantly living in an 'aha' moment, I know photography is special to me, because it is one of those things I've implemented into my daily life and could never get rid of."
I’d say that’s a good enough reason! So you grew up in Tsawwassen, and I’m wondering how that may have informed your style. Do you find that it influences your work now?
“You grow up in Tsawwassen and it’s so perfect, like this sparkling bubble of joyous magic, and everything from the outside looks pristine. There is nothing controversial about Tsawwassen from it's exterior; it's all newly weds and nearly deads, upper class type people living there. I was always a bit on the angsty side, with no good reason except this frustration that I didn't feel like I was good enough for the perfect town I lived in. Sorry to get so after-school special about it but, I started listening to a lot of 80's hardcore punk. I never lived the proper lifestyle of a punk - because, let’s face it, just because I listened to Minor Threat on the way to field hockey practice didn't make me a true punk- but the attitude and messages behind that music really resonated with me at the time. I related more to the unpolished things in life, and really appreciated what this music had to say; it was people who were bored and uninspired by this image of perfection that everybody tries to uphold.
For example, there's a ferry terminal in Tsawwassen and when I'd go there, I’d see billboards of perfect families wearing khaki outfits on a beach, showing their pearly whites, and I thought ‘Man that’s so boring, you can see that anywhere. What about the weird guy who couldn’t get on the ferry because he didn’t have money, and now he’s lost and has to camp the night at the beach? How come he doesn’t get his photo taken?’ I see images of colorful flowers and brilliant sunsets on postcards in gift shops...of course that's all pleasant, but I almost sympathize with, or want to see the other things behind all that pretty stuff that gets missed, and give them importance by photographing them.”
Looking through your work, you are really quite fantastic at capturing these small mundane moments that most people would probably miss, and making them seem lovely and almost urgent. What is it that draws your attention to these details?
“I feel a lot of the time, especially with social media, Facebook and Instagram, that people are only ever going to post a photo of themselves on a good day. For the most part, many people only post a photo of themselves after a visit to the salon or whatever, when they’ve had the most perfect day and won some trophy. I don't blame them - I do it as well sometimes - but I think it's important to be vulnerable and to show the less thrilling or polished moments that we all experience. I think that those less desirable or aesthetically pleasing details of everyday life need to be brought to attention, too. They need just as much documentation as the "good" stuff that gets filtered through what we share and talk about with others. They are just as much a part of human nature as the other stuff is.”
Tsawwassen was your first home, but now you are very much ingrained in the East Van hub. Do you have a favourite East Van place, time, situation?
"Well - this is going to sound a bit strange and voyeuristic but I really like going into different people’s places, because I always find the best weird little details, like an family reunion photo on a mug or a sassy magnet poem on the fridge, or whatever. You see the personalized, little things that they decorate their environment with, and it shows a lot about what they might not present to the everyday world. Seeing another side of people, and seeing the things that they choose to surround themselves with- I find that really fascinating.
And, not too surprising of me to mention, I really like going to shows too. I love the DIY venues (like SBC) that keep popping up because it’s people who are passionate about keeping something alive. They don’t have some big daddy funding it; it’s just these people who want bands to play, who want to have art shows, or whatever else they believe is important. I think it’s really cool and noble of them to do that. It’s inspiring. These places sort of fill me with hope, if that's not too cheesy to say.”
Banging right along in good pace! Music is clearly a huge part of your work, and of your life in general. As we speak you’re about to head to a show. What does music mean to you? What is your tie to that world?“Music has always been one of those things; it has been a huge part of my life since I was very young, as I'm sure many people can relate to. With my first allowance when I was eleven, I bought a crappy little Crosley record player from London Drugs, and I cannot tell you how much joy it brought me. I still have it. I also remember my constant need to be making mixed CDs growing up (old habits die hard). I guess I was obsessive about this in the same vein of fear that I have attached to photography- that if I didn't archive the songs I was listening to at the time in some way, I felt I was doomed, that I'd forget who I had been at that time in my life. It seemed like an important thing to remember, documenting the phases that I went through. And still I’ve kept all of those embarrassing CDs and sometimes still listen, and they bring me back better than any diary ever could. I can remember specifically how I was feeling at the time, who my crush was, why that song meant something to me, and how it formulated my attitude at the time. I’m such an unsure person most of the time, so having something like music that I can listen to and be influenced by has always been a great source of comfort for me. It’s something that I can look to and it helps me to get out of my own head. I listen to the lyrics and sort of implement them into how I feel. It takes me to a different place, like a little tropical vacation for my mind.”
“Persistence is one; I go to a lot of shows. I've always had this strong desire to see bands in the flesh after I'd listened their songs to over and over again on my headphones, or at home. It's just nice to experience music in a live setting, simply because it's a chance for two senses to enjoy it, instead of only one. I remember in high school I even used to get my mom to drive me in her purple Windstar van to the Biltmore, or some place like that to see a show with my fake ID, by myself on a school night. I can't believe it worked- how dorky and obvious is that? I'm really lucky. I can't believe they'd let me in most of the time. She'd even honk the horn in a celebratory manner when she saw I had gotten in successfully, bless her! Everyone has their little escape, and I guess one of my biggest ones is going to shows.
I’m not a very confident person by nature, but one thing that I do believe in - not to sound like I’m bragging - is my passion for music. Not saying that I'm any kind of whiz or anything, but I do spend a lot of time listening to and researching all kinds of different types of it, simply for the reason that it brings me joy. I go to record stores a lot and I’m always looking, trying to find weird old compilations and stuff like that. I guess that’s why I do have that feeling of certainty when I’m in a show situation- because I have listened to the artist, and it's not hard to show appreciation for something you are genuinely excited about. I’m not just gonna go up and say ‘Hey! Oh my god, aren't you that girl from that band? Let's snap a quick selfie together! Wait... What are you called again?’ [recited in her best wheedling bandwagon band fan voice.] Knowing who you’re shooting, and appreciating them in a sincere way helps a lot. I hope that didn't sound rude! You can appreciate a band without knowing lots of their material...it just helps, I think.”
At last month’s Mac Demarco concert at Vogue, you literally dove on stage and managed to convince security to let you stay up there and take photos. What is one of your craziest ventures undertaken to get at a perfect shot?
“[Chuckles] Oh boy... yep. I have done some pretty outrageous things. Most recently, I was at a music festival in Southern California and I really hoped to bring my camera in, but they won’t allow you to have it unless you have a little media pass. I didn’t have one and so I thought ‘What if i just pretend that I’m media? What if I just go up and say hey, I shoot for this magazine...’ They were either going to say no and I’d do the walk of shame, or they’d say yes and I’d get to bring my camera in (the thought of leaving it behind made me quite blue). I thought ‘What the heck, I’m going to try.’ So I go to the media booth table and I say ‘My name’s Lauren Ray and I think I should be on that list right there.’ They’re looking through the list and they even double check (bless them), but of course it wasn’t there. I told them that I shot for this magazine in Vancouver (I made up the name of it) and they were like ‘Well, we don’t see you on the list, but what the hell, we believe you so go ahead.’ Luckily for me they slapped on a wristband and let me through. So kind of them! All of a sudden I’m in the backstage cool-guy territory, they’re giving me free beer, and I’m like ‘What is my life, I don’t know what’s happening right now.’ There were all of these really intimidating people that I was too scared to talk to, and here I was, this weird girl hanging out in the corner who had totally swindled her way back there. But, it was fun. It was nice because I got that opportunity to take some photos that I normally wouldn't have had.”
We’re going to talk a little bit about the show, Fun is Fun... Short and sweet, tell us a little bit about it.
“Well thank you for asking about it because I’m trying to get the word out there as much as possible. Everybody, come! That is the whole thing; I want everybody to feel welcome. I feel that art shows can sometimes be very exclusive; you have to be some sort of fancy pants and talk about the concepts behind the works of ‘ah-rt’. Sometimes I think art shows could be taken a little less seriously, that discussion can be as simple as ‘oh that picture makes me laugh, that drawing makes me feel a little sad’ or 'I really hope nobody notices I am drinking red wine out of this Dr. Pepper can.’ Ideally, I'd like it to have the similar vibe of a backyard barbeque at your crazy Uncle's house. I'm pretty thrilled, because we've been granted free reign over the music at SBC, and we’ll be playing some nice fun songs, not that stiff, minimal-ambient techno shit you hear at a lot of art-type events. Oh dear, I hope that didn't sound rude...There's also a skateboard ramp in the back that people are welcome to use, so that's exciting!"
Who are these artists?
"I'm really stoked on the people I've got to agree to do this with me. I am lucky that they've believed enough in me to say yes, so thanks guys. Many of them are old friends, which is cool because I've known some of them since before any of us even had an interest in pursuing art, so I think we're having a bit of the proud-mom feeling for one another to be doing this together. It's nice. They are all incredibly talented artists, and exceptional people who I feel very privileged to know."
What has it been like organizing your first ever group art show?
“It’s been way more chill than I expected! I haven’t had to go in and measure anything, or do anything too fancy like that. I had really nice friend design a poster for me and it looks really great! It almost looks like the cover of one of my favourite photography books, ‘Life’s a Beach’ by Martin Parr- I didn’t even tell him, it just magically happened! I guess I’m only in the beginning stages of it so maybe I’m not yet in the rapture of stress that comes with putting on an art show, but so far it’s an enjoyable experience!”
To all of the strange and wonderful people that will be coming to see the show, Fun is Fun is BYO__?
“Bring your families, your crushes, your pals, and bring your lovely selves. Just come hang out, scope some art, have some beers. Bring your skateboard if you're into that kind of thing! I think it should be a gay old time!"
If you like fun (don't kid yourselves, of course you do!) check out the Fun is Fun: A Casual Group Art Show.
Words by Laila xx