Beyond the Photographer : Lauren Woods
Photographers are the eyes of our world, going to great lengths to capture the beautiful and inspiring moments happening all around us. With their creative minds, they produce breathtaking pieces, bringing their visions to life. One of the most astounding photographers on the rise is Lauren Woods, creating compelling pictures to celebrate the experiences and intimacy felt by different people. Through their work with analog film and utilizing natural light, they capture authentic and self-expressive moments in just a few shots. Woods is not only a photographer but also a creative director, stylist, and former journalist.
When Woods first stepped into the multi-dimensional field of photography, they first experimented with digital cameras. But after quickly developing a feel and style for analog cameras, Woods fell in love with capturing beautiful moments in one or two shots. Throughout their profession, Woods has worked tirelessly to highlight unique experiences of those similar to theirs, growing up black and queer. Through their use of different analog films, Woods can capture the richness of black skin, something many photographers struggle to amplify.
However, their rise to success was not easy. Like many other developing photographers, Woods struggled with the financial burdens of gathering the proper and much-needed photography equipment. But, through their resourcefulness and innovative techniques, Woods can construct ways they can capture incredible moments while on a budget. Some of these methods and tips are highlighted below throughout our Q&A with Woods.
Q&A with Lauren Woods:
What made you want to get into photography/cinematography? Was there a specific moment where you realized/pushed you to become a photographer/cinematographer?
Getting into photography for me started around the end of 2016. At the time, I was modeling and gaining my bachelor’s degree is in journalism. I was working for a news station too. My background was previously more on the side of writing. There was a photographer that I partnered with during that time, whose work I had grown to admire. I was drawn to their personality and the way they directed me. That day I became one of their assistants for their bigger fashion campaigns and other sorts of shoots. I got to learn and shadow through that. From then on, I was able to get into photography and see if it was something that I wanted to dive into.
When I was first separated to do my work in 2017, I transitioned to analog from another friend that I had met during the time. I was also pretty curious about his work. I was taught the technicalities and how to use analog film, how to load it, what type of setting or how to balance exposure, that sort of thing. This was so I could learn to adjust to transitioning to a new medium style of photography. The camera I had was one of my father’s old film cameras from when he was my age that surprisingly still worked. I took the camera I found in his attic and brought it to my local camera shop. We found it was functional and from there, I just started photographing my friends and playing around, getting a feel for it, seeing what it was like. Immediately I knew it was for me. I fell in love with the textures and natural colors that you get from film. I also really liked how more hands-on it felt for me. The other thing that I liked was when you’re shooting analog you are limited to a certain degree with each roll of film. So it challenges you to think outside the box for each photograph, which I liked. That helped to challenge me to be focused and intentional about what I wanted to shoot and how I wanted to shoot it. I make each of those shots count.
What photographers inspire you? What about them inspires you?
I want to tell a story and capture intimacy, a lot of inspiration came from my photographer friends, Jordyn B., Natalie Allgyer, and Daria Rich. Those have been the starters for my career because, for me, I just loved how very fluid and airy their world was. I loved their range of inclusivity and the way that they were able to capture people in tender, candid moments. I thought they were timeless and admirable. That inspired me. And just the way they were able to tell a story within each of their photographs was very inspiring, and I always see them challenging and trying new things and I love seeing the way they display their use of color, that's always been admirable."
How do you use your art to shape the world around you?
"You know though photography is a business to a degree for me, it has also been a tool for grounding and art therapy as well because, with my work for certain, inclusivity means everything to me. I want to tell or depict stories that are silenced or not shared or told at all or are unique experiences because for me growing up being black, queer, and have mental health disabilities, I was very isolated and alone a lot and I just always wondered what it would be like to have that person who understands. But trying to, I guess, translate that into my art as well and show this community that can be joyous of who they are, no matter what their experiences may have put them through to celebrate people of color, transgender people, non-binary people. Their stories mean a lot to me. I think the way I shape the world is being able to, especially with a platform as large as mine, as so many people view my work, help voices of marginalized communities. I think that's extremely important that I keep being a vice to some degree. I cannot just celebrate but also educate as well through my art, depending on projects and experiences and sharing my personal experiences and experiences of my subjects. That means a lot. I am passionate about what I do. I feel privileged and honored that people being vulnerable would share their experiences with me. I love being able to translate those experiences into my work. I feel blessed and honored to be able to walk through life and share these stories because I think that they are important and relevant. That means a great deal to me.
How has your life shaped your art?
I guess when I think about it, it is a unique contrast; what I did not have but always wanted to. Telling stories, these love letters to my future self to get through certain times. I guess for me, photographing intimacy meant a lot to celebrate. Growing up was definitely on the lower side for me. I was bullied and abused a lot. I went to these rich, elitist white private schools and felt a heavy amount of racism throughout the years. They were very dark emptying times where I didn't feel like I was cared for or listened to. So looking back on that and reflecting, it has been important to me to celebrate the opposite. I have these authentic moments with people who care about each other and aren't afraid to be themselves and share their positive experiences. The ability to share what they go through and who they are, helps to uplift and inspire me. And being able to make those types of connections through my art, to try to make a better perspective for myself and the world around me, what I want to put out there to celebrate love. It means a lot to me in that way.
What kind of challenges did you face technically trying to produce your art?
"You know, for me, I was actually in a supportive community at the time when I first started and a lot of the people I knew and was surrounded by since I was a writer and a model at the time, I was already in the art community. When I wanted to get my first camera, I had a lot of people who helped me out with hand-me-downs. I became close friends with the people who worked at this local camera shop in my city. They're the only camera shop we have in North Carolina, next to Wilmington so I’m lucky I'm only 20 minutes from there. They've been supportive. The employees there had given away some film cameras to me that they just let me explore and play. So when I started I was lucky to have several cameras to work with, explore and experience. Then through the community, we had there at the time, people were swapping and doing trades and sharing film roles or helping with the lighting equipment. It was just a great sense of community back in 2016-2017 before a lot of us moved away. It was nice and sweet in that sense that I was able to have that community and explore all of those different types of cameras that people had passed down to me to help me get to experiment with myself.
What creative techniques and technical techniques do you use to shoot people of color and darker complexions?
After experimenting with different films, especially with people of color, my experience with the Kodak Ultra max 400 film and the Lomography color negative film in 400 have these rich, warm tones that can translate very well on brown skin. But the thing that is my favorite is when you're using Lomography film during sunset on dark skin, those browns are so rich. Those two would be the best. I wouldn't recommend people use fuji film on brown skin because it has green undertones and cold undertones. It contrasts better with white skin and shooting landscapes. Fuji films definitely could use some changes for sure on how they can translate brown skin.
Sometimes, not always, I work with a couple of different filters. But I had just drifted from the local camera store that could make it a little bit warmer to create that quality of color and contrast. Not always. 90% of my work is utilizing natural light and working with a reflector of some sort. Those are the things I typically work with. Most of my work is natural light. I have a lot of fun outdoors, I love exploring different types of architecture and nature. I love how soft and natural it is and being able to explore is always fun.
What are some tips and techniques you would want to share with others? What do you wish somebody told you when you were first starting?
I wish someone told me to take things in stride when I was trying to gain traction within the industry. We all go through those moments of, "Is this what I'm meant to do?" I felt very down on my luck. But just understanding the power of persistence and manifestation and if this is something you love, keep dedicating yourself to your craft, and the path that is meant for you. It has meant a lot to me to be more grateful and live in the present focusing on the positive side instead of searching for the negative. It takes a while when you are an artist who also has mental health disabilities but, it is important to stay present as much as possible. Journaling has helped me to stay in tune with what my intentions and desires are along this journey. It also helps me decide what I want to do with my art and how I want to show that genuine translation.
A question often asked of me a lot is how do I achieve kind of like that aerial texture to make it more of a dreamlike state. And people who love those dreamy textures, you can do subtle things. A few things I do with my camera include taking one of those clear plastic sheet wraps and place it over your lens. You can use a rubber band or scrunchie to hold it in place. That type of filter can come out very whimsical and dreamy if you want to do it that way. You can if needed, add a layer, just very lightly of vaseline. And you can use a small cloth to blend it or brush it however you want to onto the plastic sheet.
I love using the filter Future Eyes. It has great camera accessories for your lens. You can add color to your film and do things like a kaleidoscope effect. Another thing- because I love bang for your buck and being cheap and balling on a budget, so I made my first reflector and at any one of your Dollar Trees or Target. You can get regular poster board paper and layer it with foil. It will do the same reflection on your subject as a photography reflector. I just did that for $3.
If you could describe your art using a movie title, what would it be?
"It’s so crazy that you say that because a lot of my inspiration comes from movies I grew up with and television shows and I am obsessed with so many different actors and their talents and their range. It just really depends because there are just so many different layers and things that I can change within my work because I pretty much will take on anything. But I guess the Euphoric Angel because when people see my work the words I hear a lot are euphoric, angelic, timeless. It's just nice to get feedback and see the consistent flow of things. So that title was inspired by how people have told me they have viewed my work, which I think is very sweet.
Interview & Article By: Caroline Smith
Edited By : Ambre Tomlinson