Fstoppers Sits Down with Lara Jade
A captivating photograph often tells a story. That story is – more often than not –the story of the one taking the picture. Sometimes the story is obvious, and sometimes not so much. It’s in that delayed gratification that we are able to explore the nuances –when we have to reach into the subtleties for meaning behind a photo. Lara Jade is a classic example of this and her images are a vivid interpretation of her life.
It’s supposed to be spring in New York. There’s a crescendo of green and syncopated bits of red and yellow here and there, but for the end of April, jackets are still too much in play for short sleeves to be taken seriously. We’re in a café in a part of Brooklyn that is in the middle of its own transition. There’s a gentrification and a softening taking place. It’s an area where – 10 years ago – many would have been nervous to walk around at night. That is not the case today. And while living in the midst of an environmental transition, Lara Jade is in the middle of a personal one.
“I started at 14 taking self-portraits. I was that kid at school that was kind of withdrawn from everyone else and couldn’t filter my expressions into an art form. I had art in school, but nothing seemed to fit – in any medium… until photography. I was the first person at my school to submit a photography piece for a final exam… I was really shy as a kid as well. I used myself as a model at first to hone my skills…to push myself forward and to experience new things.”
Growing up in West Midlands, England, she mostly kept to herself. “I think all artists are like that. Always to our own. Always thinking. Always a little weird. I was gothic and strange, and no one liked me.” It was the strangeness that would propel her creatively.
“After I honed my skills, I got more confident to work with other people…and I’d never seen [photography] before in that kind of light. Especially being from such a small town, no one shows you these things. This new art community was growing online, so I used that as a way to get [feedback]. But I really developed in a bubble.”
In the early stages of an artist’s development, it’s rarely about the technicalities – mostly because the skillset simply isn’t there. It’s also the time when the lack of refinement can craft the ingenuity of imagination – a tool that will continue to prove inherently useful years later. “I would use the place I grew up. It was near a lake with loads of greenery and trees. I had all these beautiful locations. So I would use whatever I could – friends as models. We would just go out and create. At the time, I never thought ‘Oh, this is what I want to be.’ I remember sometimes my mom would press the shutter, and I would pose in front of the camera. I was just passionate about creating a beautiful picture. She always reminds of that and says, ‘Do you remember that time…? Could you imagine then, where you would be now?’”
“When I opened my business at 17, I would get jobs from Myspace from people who wanted a portrait shoot or a CD cover. Any money I would get from that, I would put back into equipment or props. At the beginning, it was about using things that were around me for cheap or raiding a vintage clothing store or eBay to find all these elements that could come together. It was just climbing the ladder and trying to get to the next level. And I think that’s still what I’m doing today.”
Although she defined herself much earlier than most twentysomethings are able to do, the road still wasn’t easy. “I did a year of college which taught me the conversation of art. I knew I wanted to get into fashion, but I didn’t know how. College is not very helpful with that – they give you the tools and the background, but you have to make the journey yourself. My teacher at college told me a way “in” is to be a photo assistant, but I could never imagine myself as that studio assistant pulling around equipment twice as heavy as me and running around for others! I knew that female photo assistants were not that common.”
“At the time I was researching a lot of fashion photography, and I was really inspired by how I could push conceptual art into fashion in a way that I could really use my imagination. I knew this would be the path to my career. Fine art photographers don’t make a lot of money… or they make a lot of money. I was interested in fashion at the time, and I wanted to mix the two. I applied to a prestigious fashion college in London. It was my only university choice. I had this whole plan that I was going to be accepted, the interview went well, and then I didn’t get in – so I had to rethink my plan. I ended up applying for a local university, because it was my last option and I was scared that I’d miss out a year with no direction. The course in Birmingham was more art-based – where my original plan was fashion – so after a year I decided it was time to leave and find my own path.”
“I remember seeing all of these artists I admired online doing their own thing, and they seemed to be successful in doing so – so I asked myself, ‘what can I do and how do I get there?’ At the start of my second year, I decided to leave, and a few months later I moved to London, to try it out. I just kept shooting as soon as I got there, as I could. But I was last on the list to get the jobs. Everyone else was already established. And especially being 19, just turning 20, no one wants to book a photographer at that age. It was really expensive, and I ended up moving home for a year, saving up money. Then I visited New York, and I loved it. So I knew I had to get there.”
Some people go though life like a stone skipping over a pond. Some people have to begrudgingly trod though the bottom of that pond with weights around their ankles. For having success at such an early age, one might think Lara’s path is the former of the two. But like many successful people before her, she has failed. Repeatedly. But perseverance prevails when luck does not.
Ultimately, she ended up in New York. “[When I moved to Brooklyn] I shot in a store-front, which was a cold, large, open space, half-painted white and half grey – that I used as my studio backdrops. I lived in this makeshift backroom that wasn’t supposed to be lived in. It was just a temporary wall with a bed, a bathtub and no kitchen. I was given some borrowed lights, and I just shot. Every day.”
If one were to believe in fate, Lara Jade would be a textbook case of it. In retrospect, everything seemed to happen the way it was supposed to. The ‘weirdness’ manifested into the need for a creative outlet. Even the evolution of her own work from conceptual to fashion seemed entirely organic. “I think I just fell upon it – moving to London, starting to work with more collaborators, it kind of just happened. Now I‘m that obsessed with the clothes. I almost want to be a stylist, because I love the part of the stylist pulling and seeing what they turn up with on the day. That’s the most exciting part of the day for me.”
Even with the concepts and the clothes, there is one element of Lara’s pictures that define them. If Mario Testino has ‘the Testino Woman,’ then Lara Jade has ‘Lara’s Girls.’ Photographers are often drawn to shooting what they are attracted to. What makes Lara’s images so captivating is her attraction not to specific characteristics, but to ideas –constructs that define the girls in her images – strength, femininity, vulnerability. “I’m inspired by the beauty of a woman. I guess what I define as beautiful in a person is what makes them unique. Maybe it stems back from when I was younger, and people were mean to me about the way that I looked or the way I dressed. I was bullied, because I was different. Maybe I’m showing that there can be a lot of different types of beautiful. Or maybe I’m drawn to how strong a woman can be. That’s why I’m not interested in shooting men so much. I see myself in those girls.”
As photographers, our eyes are what define us. Some people see beautiful landscapes. Some people see the world at a macro level. But some people see themselves in others. It’s that reflection of ourselves that ultimately allows us to see the potential in someone else. That ‘potential‘ can give us magic.
“I don’t like to capture reality when I shoot. I want something just a little different – that kind of fairy tale, unreal world. I want to give my girls characters. I just want to tell a story.“