Lauren Semivan is a Detroit-based photographer. Using her experience in music to make beautiful photographs, her work is structured and yet abstract. Her black and white photographs draw the viewer into its melancholic, dreamlike and timeless as well as dark atmosphere through her controlled use of lighting over selected objects and charcoal drawings. She experiments and the result is an interesting body of work. METAL gets the chance to interview her.
How did you get into photography?
I studied violin beginning at a young age, and was always looking for a way to expand on that language.  I loved playing, but learning violin repertoire felt a little too formulaic and strict. I had always had a 35mm camera and would spend hours in any darkroom I could find. When I entered college I started thinking about photography in a more conceptual way and it became the only thing that I wanted to do. I learned about 19th century printing techniques and the history of photography, but also about how to think for myself as an artist and to take definitions or categories and trends lightly. A lot about my education was very ad-lib or improvised and I think that is really valuable. I attribute some aspects of my style of photographing to my experiences studying music.
My practice can be very disciplined and structured, but I also like to leave room for interpretation.
What photography inspires you?
I am always drawn to images that contain some kind of ambiguous narrative or some type of question. In an ART21 segment Sally Mann says “If it doesn’t have ambiguity don’t bother.” I feel the same way. The best photographs draw the viewer in and then don’t necessarily release them from an emotional/psychological space.
You also teach photography. Do you like it? Is teaching as rewarding as taking photographs?
I really enjoy teaching and I find that it energizes my own studio practice. It's inspiring to be part of a continuous dialogue about the medium, and to do what you love to do and teach others about it.
What would you advise a young individual that wants to be a photographer?
Make a point of regularly looking at art that interests you in galleries and museums - so much of the art that younger artists see exists in an online format.  Have diverse experiences and travel as much as you can. Do everything that you think of and edit it later.  Think for yourself and take risks.
Are photography courses important? Can one become a good photographer if self-taught?
I think like anything there is a limit to what you can do if you don’t have the right tools or knowledge. An example I sometimes give to students is that Pablo Picasso learned technical drawing and had a rigorous art education, but could not have helped revolutionize painting if he wasn’t rebelling against those rules that he had to understand first.
The different series of your photographs seem to follow each other. Are they all linked to create a story?
There is no specific story connecting all of my images, but I’ve been working on the same body of work for several years, so the images seem to create a timeline of a language that is established slowly and seems to continually re-invent itself.
Can you talk us through the work process behind a photograph? How do you pick a place?
This is different each time. The place is always my studio and the wall that I continually re-dress for each photograph.
Where do you get inspiration from?
I think any type of research in art is really just about paying attention and being a sensitive human, then finding some kind of balance between being scientific and being emotional about it. I take walks, collect objects and images, travel, read lots, listen to music, keep a sketchbook, etc. I think having your “antennae” up and being aware of your environment and your own interactions with it is one way to be a good human and to make good art.
No use of digital camera or manipulation, why so? Is it to give your work more of a vintage feeling? What does your camera bring to your work? What importance has the camera?
I am interested in the photographs as documents of events in space that are somehow transformed by the media as a container. Choreographing an event that takes place in front of the lens, almost like a ballet, is what is most interesting to me about making photographs. So, editing digitally often feels too easy and uninteresting. I’m not against others doing it in their work - I just chose not to in my own work.
You work and rework on your photographs, when do you know that one is done?
This is usually after a few negatives have been made and one or two of them work. I usually have an immediate reaction to seeing a good image and don’t have to study them or think about whether or not they are successful. Sometimes you are pleasantly surprised with the first image, and other times it takes more work and frustration. I am usually happy to move on and clean up the mess.
Your work is quite moody, mystical, graphic and dreamlike, and because it is in black and white those feelings are enhanced. Is this the reason why they are not in colour?
Most of the time the set or backdrop that I am photographing is not really any more colourful than the black and white film, so there isn’t much information that is missing. I draw using black charcoal, and colour is definitely secondary to the forms or objects themselves. Black and white is more interesting to me in some ways because of its limitations.
Could we say that your work represents you? Are you a dreamy person?
Some artists make work that is more personal or specific than others. This is maybe similar to asking a writer if the character in her novel is meant to represent her. It could be argued that it usually does in some way.  I don’t know if I’m a dreamy person, but I am definitely reaching for something that is dreamlike through my photographs.
What's next?
I am preparing for a solo exhibition opening this September at Bonni Benrubi Gallery in NY. I'm very excited about that, and at the same time it's always refreshing to finish a big show and then feel new ideas forming…