By Lara Arbid
There’s something about the color pink. Pop, creamy neutral, fuschia, baby pink. It’s bold and energetic yet calming, but also delivers a sense of happiness that’s hard to explain. It seems to be everywhere nowadays, and it’s what’s most appealing about Laurence Philomene’s work. Laurence is a photographer, curator and director based in Montreal. Her work is a representation of self-exploration of identity, but most importantly, creating what feels most natural to her as an artist.
If you’re familiar with Japanese Blythe dolls, that’s a start in understanding the development of Laurence’s aesthetic. At an early age she began collecting these dolls, posting their photos on Flickr to a growing community of collectors online. It was the freedom of playing with positions and poses of the dolls that yielded an attractive aesthetic for her. From then on, photography became an escape in high school. Laurence took photos of herself, of her friends, and moved on to study photography in college.
There’s a lasting power in beautiful images. A photo presents a moment in time that is a snapshot of the artist’s world through his or her lens. For Laurence, photography was very much an escape from reality in her early days. She began placing her inner world within the real world through her work. Over time Laurence managed to turn this fantasy world into real life with what she calls “a little universe that I’ve created for myself.” She was motivated to create dreamy scenarios as a way of escaping the dull world of high school. In contrast, Laurence feels her work now showcases a fantasy bubble she lives in, and less about creating a fake scenario. Her surroundings have changed, as has her motivation to create. Everyone around her is open-minded, queer and accepting, allowing her work to become a personal and safe space.
What’s most valuable about Laurence’s work is her apparent honesty. Her aesthetic is extremely cohesive, and though it seems like there’s a continuous narrative, Laurence explains she’s never been good at telling stories. “They’re overwhelming to me,” she says. It shows me another dimension of her honesty as an artist when she explains she’s not good at making up stories either. For Laurence, it’s about showing what’s there and the beauty of it.
There’s certainly a link between all of her photos: her use of color and very simple composition. Laurence doesn’t have any rules or patterns, but simply creates what’s appealing to her visually. Her minimal approach is what presents such memorable imagery. “It’s my camera, myself and that’s it.”
For a long time, Laurence’s work was less about telling stories but largely about herself. Her past work projected her feelings on gender and identity. She explored this through a great deal of self-portraits, becoming obsessed with the idea of looking at herself. Fascinatingly, this transitioned into a series called Me versus Others, where she began to dress people as herself and photographed them. The motivation behind this series was to deal with this discomfort of photographing her body. “At first I felt uncomfortable, but I wanted to continue to take self-portraits. This felt like a way around it by using other peoples bodies,” Laurence explains. Through time it started to shift and become more about examining what objects and themes she associated with her identity. She also expresses that she has created a character of this false version of herself through this series. One powerful image from this series captures a Cheeto orange-haired figure against a millennial pink background. The fuzzy wrap adds textural play that is representative of Laurence’s style, and a coherent feature in her work.
Laurence’s work transitioned into collaborations with people who vocalized how they want to be represented. This was an interesting shift that started to tie in many of the themes explored in Laurence’s work, such as gender, identity, softness, friendship, and intimacy. When her subjects were asked how they wanted to be represented, some would dive deep into a fantasy self, wishing to be presented as a pop star for example. Others, in contrast, stayed grounded in their reality. Her work as a young artist brings value to relationships and strengthening communities. Laurence shows us the worth of presenting intimacy and communicating friendship in photos, while also pushing individuals to dream and self-build.
Philomene calls herself lucky in the art community. She’s created friendships in a community of artists who share the same artistic goals and intentions; Laurence credits her friends as her main source of inspiration.
As a photographer, she hopes to provide others with a sense of comfort through her work. To her, what’s most important is to provide a sense of belonging, like photography has given her. When asked what she hopes to get out of her work, she declared staying inspired and providing for those she loves at the top of her list. There is a definite long-lasting impact to Laurence’s work and personality as a creative. Laurence shows us that for this generation and beyond, it is imperative to be creative, ambitious, and a dreamer.
All photos by Laurence Philomene