You should not see the desert simply as some faraway place of little rain. There are many forms of thirst.
The desert has an impregnated silence about it. It is as if meaning lives in the place where rain should be; something hides in the red dust. Joining the ranks of artists who have looked to the mystery of the Southwest for meaning is London-born artist, Lorena Lohr.
Lohr’s fourth and most recent book release, “Desert Moon,” is a collection of well-calculated exploration and place: A looming blue sky overwhelms orange sandy hills; An abandoned hotel interior balances order with ruin; Sun-bleached facades crack and peel.
Lohr’s photographs have a nostalgic pang to them, but there is also an undercurrent of wonder and documentation in her work. An appreciation tempered by the desire to show things as they are. The result is an alluring, but unquenched inquiry into what gives the Southwest its essence.
Lohr talks with Newfound about her series, her relationship to photography, how the landscape inspires her, and her ventures into self-publishing.
COURTNEY SIMCHAK: Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved with photography?
LORENA LOHR: Through consistently making images and showing them to others as I went along, putting out the images in books and as prints. When I began to travel around America on the bus and the train, going mainly through the desert and the South, walking around the small towns along the way, the photos became a defined series or sequence, which I add to as I go.
It’s never been a decision to look at the “ordinary” or “mundane” and it’s not possible to describe why I would photograph anything in particular; it’s a record of what has happened which is for the most part ineffable. I don’t find anything really ordinary. Maybe one reason is that views of rooms or streets could go through a shift in qualities or come to represent something new as time goes by.
SIMCHAK: What draws/drew you to the American West? Why photograph it?
LOHR: The bright sunlight and the space around the buildings in the West showcases the way the place has been constructed by hand and has been rearranged and repaired over time and lived in and used for many purposes as a backdrop and a shelter. There are few people in the photos but I think about how people have left marks on a room or on a street or object, building it up and taking it down. Also the Southwest is a place where the behaviors of isolation, taboo, lustful or violently inclined, are felt strongly due to this solitary kind of landscape and its stillness or blankness; these feelings are more on the surface and you can see it in the rooms and structures.
SIMCHAK: There is an emotional energy to your work that fills the vacancy of these spaces with a certain something; I can’t quite name it. These places in the outskirts (pastel skylines, empty restaurant windows, faded brick facades) express fullness and emptiness at the same time. Your photographs remind me of William Eggleston and Ed Ruscha’s work, especially Ruscha’s gas station series. Both artists exhibit a wonder for the ordinary, overlooked, and neglected. Do you have this same kind of relationship to the mundane?
LOHR: It’s never been a decision to look at the “ordinary” or “mundane” and it’s not possible to describe why I would photograph anything in particular; it’s a record of what has happened which is for the most part ineffable. I don’t find anything really ordinary. Maybe one reason is that views of rooms or streets could go through a shift in qualities or come to represent something new as time goes by. It goes back to thinking about how buildings are constructed, interiors are arranged, and objects are made and moved around by people as they have varied experiences, often seen as lacking in fulfillment, but still something is happening and this can also be seen physically in the surroundings. If it’s not full of obvious or heightened emotions something gets called ordinary or mundane, but I don’t think it should be labeled in this way.
SIMCHAK: What is the most memorable experience you had during your travels through the Southwest?
LOHR: Hitchhiking has leant the most to an obviously memorable experience.
There are few people in the photos but I think about how people have left marks on a room or on a street or object, building it up and taking it down.
SIMCHAK: There is a resurgence of artists and writers who are bringing life back to self-publishing and the zine. There is really exciting work resulting from it. You’ve self-published several photo books now, with “Desert Moon” being your most recent. What compelled you to adventure into self-publishing? What is the most enjoyable thing about it? The most challenging?
LOHR: For me it has to be do-it-yourself and not to compromise for others. The books are a way of showing the photos in a physical way that lasts, unlike online. They are more accessible and easy to carry around and show than the prints, which come in small editions and are more precious and cost more to collect. Editing the photos in sequence enables them to be seen as a collection, as well as separate entities, and ultimately for me to move on and make more photos, which is what I want to do the most. The most challenging thing is that it costs more to print in color than use a copy machine for black and white.