INTERVIEW // Puspa Lohmeyer
We’re over the moon to have Puspa Lohmeyer join us for an interview at ARC. We’ve had a few weeks off and busy with plans for the next Experience in October 2017 but until then we’ll be rolling out interviews and reconnecting with some incredible photographers and creatives. Normal service is resumed.
Puspa is an American visual artist, photographer & director of German origin and we’re honoured she’s joining us this month.
Would you like to see any creatives featured on ARC in 2017? Let us know in the comments section below.
Bio Photo by: David Rose
Interview by Sachin Khona // December 2016
PHOTOGRAPHY WORK & PRACTICES
HEY Puspa! WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A PHOTOGRAPHER?
When I was a little kid I wanted to become a novelist. I wanted to write big epic stories about adventure, achievement and worlds unknown. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I have dyslexia and the whole writing thing ended up feeling more like a form of punishment. In high school I developed an interest in photography and that’s when I wanted to become a photographer. I moved to NYC after high school for love actually. NYC is a huge hub for photography and I did some photo assisting which was super exciting but I was too awkward then to start shooting on my own. I had a hard time talking to people much less direct them on a shoot. I didn’t really know where to start and that’s when I discovered photo retouching instead. I could work on pictures and be locked in my room. It was awesome. I worked as a commercial retoucher for 13 years. And then 5 years ago I discovered the other side of photography again – that box that clicks not flickers.
Where is home for you and where do you work? Have you always lived there or was there a conscious choice to move there?
I live in Southeast Arizona, 5 miles from the Mexican border in an art town called Bisbee. My husband and I moved here 10 years ago. We kind of stumbled on Bisbee on a road trip and ended up staying. Bisbee is a funky former mining town. It has beautiful turn of the century architecture now inhabited with creatives from all over the country and all walks of life. There is a lot to discover in this area and the landscape is epic. In the summer, monsoons come rolling across the high desert heavens, the intense scent of creosote (a desert shrub/herb) fills the air and rainbows adorn the sky in all directions.
In what way does your location influence your work?
Very much so. The landscape gives you a sense of freedom and adventure like anything is possible. You can stretch out, there is SPACE to romp around in.
I live very far away from trend makers, rule makers, commercial interests and gatekeepers. Here anything goes. We can all be creative and not be judged or pigeon holed.
It’s a wonderful place to develop your art. In addition Tucson is a 1 ½ drive from where I live. That city is a buzz with creative activity. I can’t even pretend to keep up with the peeps of Tucson. I get a lot of work in Tucson from wonderful people and most of my collaborators are from Tucson also. Check out www.territorymagazine.com to see some of what Tucson has cooking right now.
Do you have a designated workspace or office? (Do you have a picture to share of that?)
I do, I share an office with my friend Ariel. It’s only a 3 minute walk from my house, right down town on the second floor of the Copper Queen Plaza. It’s small and my side of the office is bursting out of all seams with photo gear, a big printer and 3 computers – though I only use one – the others are left over from my retouching career.
It’s more like a computer museum. It’s pretty messy with papers, bills, office supplies, a paper cutter, cutting mats, socks, shoes, chairs, photo books and the office is carefully scattered with coffee and mugs, some empty, some half full in varying states of decay… I lovingly refer to them as my science experiments. And chewed up pens can be found (never let me borrow your pen). Come to think of it I better not include a picture.
I also have a framing room in a somewhat abandoned building, no water or electricity but you don’t need that for framing. It is a safe place for me to work in, store my art supplies with lots of room and the price is right.
My friend David Rose, a celebrity portrait photographer, has a big warehouse in the Lowell district of Bisbee. It’s a great place to create. There is a big room to shoot both video such as music videos and photos. There is a recording studio adjacent also. David is very generous and lets me shoot in his space when I need to. Bands love to come to Bisbee, so most of my band shoots are there.
Do you feel there was a turning point, monumental time, or series of events in your life that you were felt as though you were on the right path in regards to your photography career that brought you to where you are now?
Not really, just one little accomplishment at a time. One step in front of the other and slowly but surely I notice things get a little easier than the year before. There are highlights like shooting Doug Stanhope for the Guardian or starting to work with my Agent Tiffany Alexander. This December the first print issue of Territory Magazine launched. It’s a beautiful publication and I have 2 stories I worked on together with my creative ally Sydney Ballesteros included – I am very excited about those.
Can you describe your style via a series of 10 photos that you feel define the work you’ve done in the last year and where possible describe why each one was included?
There is a lot that goes into my work but once I have created a piece I let go of it. If you love something set it free. I feel my opinion doesn’t really matter. When people experience the work on their own terms and claim it for themselves then in my mind my work has been done.
What inspires and motivates you to create?
I have always kind of lived inside my head. My first grade teacher had a meeting with my mom because I was a dreamer, couldn’t focus on the task at hand and wouldn’t follow directions.
I think I create to get things out of my head. Creating is also a form of escapism for me… and I get bored easily.
Do you do any creative training outside of your work?
Not particularly. I’m immersed in it on the daily.
When you get stuck creatively, what is the first thing you do to get unstuck?
I stand on my head and do the splits! I actually currently have the opposite problem where I can’t even remotely get to all the ideas I have right now. I feel like I have my hand in a socket right now. But I have been on the other side and what I do is fake it. It works. I also ask my husband, he is always full of ideas…
How do you know when a piece of your work is finished and needs no additional work?
My work is finished when the next project comes a knockin’ and demands attention. I have a very hard time knowing when an image is finished. I get obsessive and keep going and going but when the next client or collaborator is calling me asking to set a shoot date I move on.
Are there any key lessons in your career that you’d like to share?
These are just some ideas, NOT necessarily advice.
- I wouldn’t partake in photo contests. Often you need to pay to submit a picture, often the organizations keeps your image rights. You are judged by only one picture. I would only do photo contests if it motivates you to create new work.
- Submitting to magazines/blogs is kind of a waste of time. By the time you have researched the right ones and then submitted and then waited for an answer (which you will probably not receive) and so forth you could have done a whole new shoot. Might as well just self publish on your website & social media. Of course if a magazine shows interest in your work from their end then go for it by all means and start to nurture a great relationship! I am saying the submission process is tedious and hasn’t been worth my time.
- I would find a public space to exhibit your work. Nothing too low profile and maybe nothing too high profile either if you are just getting started. You change the way you shoot and think about your work. A picture you take for a commercial or editorial project is different than one you hang on a wall.
- Once you have the responsibility of keeping a wall occupied with art you will be forced to create new interesting work.
- If someone wants to work with me but they can’t find the time to have a short phone conversation with myself or Tiffany (agent) or meet, should they live close by, then I know it’s probably not best to move forward.
- Find someone to represent you as soon as you even get a little busy. Maybe you can’t attract a big agent but even a person you click with will be very helpful. It is extremely hard to be an artist and represent yourself at the same time.
- If you shoot fashion call the model the day before the shoot and go over the shoot with him/her. It is helpful to get to know each other before you start an intense day of shooting. The model is everything. They need to transform themselves for the shoot.
- Definitely don’t know when to quit.
Describe a photograph burned in your memory that you never took but wish you had?
Tim Walker’s glowing dresses in a big tree shot at night.
“The Dress Lamp Tree, England” (2002)
Can you share one creative tip that you use when you are working?
Creativity is like a child, all it wants to do is play. Just don’t tell the child to sit down.
What I am saying is involve everyone in the creative process. Embrace all ideas brought to the table. Have some fun with it! Do people even know how to have fun anymore? A child just wants to have fun. Don’t try to be cool or trendy.
“What’s good or bad doesn’t matter to me. What does matter is feeling or not feeling.” – Jimi Hendrix.
Think of an idea and then give it a twist and then maybe another twist. Do the twist again! Often you will try something and it will feel stupid and everyone on set will be like “this is silly” and then guess what it becomes the cover.
Don’t fight the process, ever. If it feels weird and awkward, it may mean that you are actually hitting the spot.
Also work with what you have.
“If I don’t have red, I use blue” – Pablo Picasso.
Let people be themselves. If you have a model that is stiff and awkward tell her she is a robot and to act like a robot. Never put anyone’s idea down, ever. If a lot is at stake and a product needs to be featured do a couple set ups, so you can scrap a setup that didn’t translate and use the other one instead.
Be prepared to throw things away, be prepared to change direction mid shoot. Be prepared to shoot again another day even. Be prepared for anything.
Also sometimes a client/collaborator will not like the shoot at first and then 6 months later they will love it. It has happened to me a few times.
And creative chemistry is a big deal. Some groups have more life than others. That’s true for everything whether you are in a band, an entrepreneur or going on road trip.
It’s important to find people that bounce off each other’s energy. You can’t have a chemical reaction with yourself.
And sometimes you are going to create bad work and that’s just part of it. Don’t worry much about it….. nobody is going to remember your bad work.
Can you share an image that you’re particularly proud of and tell us why?
I am currently digging this hummingbird photo I took. It’s playful and a little weird. That’s what I love… playful and weird.
Fun facts: On the right is my office mate Ariel Robinson, who I mentioned earlier. She is super cool and creative. She designed the head pieces. And to the left is my agent Tiffany Alexander, another muse of mine.
What are the 3 most important things in your life?
My husband, family, friends (including the furry ones) and work.
Do you work in any other fields of business?
I operate an original music venue that hosts concerts during the spring and fall.
Can you share a bit about your daily schedule / routines?
I am an early bird. I wake up at 6:30 am (voluntarily), drink coffee, hang out with my husband and chat, then I do stretching exercises because I have tendonitis and if I don’t stretch it flares up, I take a cold shower and then start work around 10 am. In the afternoon/evening I either walk my dog up in the mountains or we go on a bike ride in the desert. Somewhere in there I am probably having a social hour too. A lot of people come to visit.
What within your work do you not like to do and why? Do you achieve “work/life balance”?
Not a big fan of paper work like filling out vendor forms! Not a big fan of producing though I can certainly do it. I’m a bit of a workaholic though much better than I used to be. That is one of the reasons I had to move out of NYC.
A workaholic can’t surround themselves with other workaholics.
I go camping. I love nature, I need to sleep under an open sky every once in a while. No ceilings. It fixes just about everything.
Which person do you respect most in your life?
I respect many people for very different reasons.
Look closely and everyone has something remarkable about them. I don’t have one person I idolize. We are all a mixed bag of tricks and that’s what makes life so interesting. I like complex carbohydrates.
What was your hardest / painful creative failure to deal with and what did it teach you?
I don’t believe in creative failure. What didn’t work out creatively is what you had to do to get to the next place on your creative journey. To me creativity isn’t a thing. It’s an action like running or dancing. It’s important that you dance and try new things all the time. Not everything is going to be a winner but every once in a while things will line up so beautifully with the beat and it will be magical and then it will go away and then it comes back.
What will you be doing (or hope to be doing) 5/10 years from now?
I try not to look too far ahead. We live in interesting times, there are a lot of things happening around the world and in the States right now. Artists like to swim against the stream but there are ocean tides you can’t swim against. I hope to continue to be growing as a person and learning new things about the world, making an effort to spread kindness and awareness however small to those around me.
THE CORE // FOUNDATION
If you could change one aspect of our society through your work, what would it be?
To encourage people to be an individual and reject the homogenization of our society. Turn off your cable TV please and do something unique!
If you were no longer able to use a camera, how else would you express your creativity?
Life is an art project.
Are there any mantras that you live by?
Do the absolute most with what you have.
“It’s better to crawl in the right direction than run into the wrong.”
– Singer / Songwriter Dan Simonis
“It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about being a winner or a loser.”
– Dan Simonis
Stay curious and tinker.
If you only had 24 hours to live, how would you spend your day?
I would spend it standing under a waterfall and letting the river wash over me.
Have you ever doubted your talent? If so, how did you work through your doubt?
I do all the time. I used to hate just about every shoot I did and then I would call up the client or collaborator and tell them how I have failed. These days I stop myself from doing that. I understand now that I don’t need to expose people to my mental illness. I think my self-doubt does fuel my art to some extend.
My need to create and my self-doubts – I think they are frenemies.
QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS WITH PUSPA
Your favourite podcast(s)
The Doors, Wolf Parade, The Cars
Film / Documentary that is a must watch?
Your favourite book // A book you are currently reading?
A website you regularly follow?
This Is Arc
Last place you travelled?
Favourite photographer or photo project outside of your genre?
Coffee & beer
Last gallery / exhibit you visited?
Your favourite photography book?
A creative you’d love to see interviewed on ARC?
Links to your personal work // projects:
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR TIME PUSPA!
You can see more of Puspa’s work here // Web
READY FOR THE EXPERIENCE // ARC
VOLUME II ?
These are just some of the incredible speakers we have lined up in October 2017. Learn more here!
(Above image by Fer Juaristi)
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