He was born in Boston but New York was the city that changed his way of thinking and allowed him to become a true photographer. The work of Collin LaFleche is plagued with projects that focus on documenting the lives of others or his own experiences. A good example of this is the Right After series where love, sex, drugs, innocence and fear come together through a group of teenagers. Oh, don't forget that Collin is a true fan of Polaroid photography because, as he says, “It is a unique and unrepeatable photograph”. We talked to Collin to find out everything about him.
Hi Collin. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in the suburbs of Boston and moved to New York City when I was seventeen. I lived there for ten years and then moved to Los Angeles. My preferred method of exploration is walking, or bicycle. I like taking trips to the desert or to the forest.
As you said, you are from Boston but moved to New York when you decided to study photography at the New York University. In fact, the city has been an inspiration for your work, right?
New York has inspired and influenced my work in countless ways. The city and the people in it exposed me to a much wider spectrum of ways of living, ways of experiencing and reacting to the world. My childhood was a bit sheltered, very homogeneous. I think it’s the relentless energy of New York that has affected me so much. I know that sounds cliché, but I’m very glad that I lived there, especially when I was still young. I miss it.
The city that never sleeps changed a lot your way of thinking. Could you explain us in what ways did it affect your understanding of the world?
In simple terms, my world was very limited not just in the way that every child’s world is small, but also in the quantity of chaos that entered my life on a day-to-day basis. Living in New York exposed me to the underlying chaos of everything. Not just the diversity of cultures, identities, socio-economic or political perspectives, but more importantly, what happens when things collide inadvertently. For example, how everyone deals with a crisis that is very communal, even a simple one like the subway not running. It made me a more empathic person, and a more curious one as well.
You usually work with Polaroids. When did this passion start?
I started using Polaroids during college. I don’t specifically remember why now, but I liked using them as a way of sketching. I also liked the immediate result, and I didn’t want to work digitally.
What’s the difference between working with an analogue camera and a reflex?
The obvious answer is the immediate satisfaction provided by a Polaroid. When you shoot 35mm or any other type of physical film, there is a length of time between when the shutter fires and when you actually see the image, either as a negative you develop or as a print provided by a lab. That gap in time expands backwards and influences the way you take pictures to begin with. For me, it meant that I didn’t worry so much about getting the perfect shot or being careful; I would just shoot away many frames of the same scene. I tended not to do that with Polaroids, not only because they were very expensive, but because the uniqueness of each print made it silly to take multiple shots of the same object or moment. You shot once, and if it didn’t work, oh well… Try something else! It provided a balance for my work, and pushed me to be more deliberate with my decisions.
I have a Polaroid and what I like the most about it is that you never know how it will come out. For you, what is the best thing about this type of photos?
That each photo is unique and unchangeable.
Your series Promenades is composed by four volumes of books that you self-published. Why did you decide to do it this way?
It wasn’t a decision, really, it just happened naturally. The first book was made from a body of work created during a summer I spent in Europe, mostly Berlin. It was a way to re-imagine those images, which had been initially created as sketches. When that first book was successful, I went back into my archive of Polaroids and tried to edit them for a second book, sort of as a creative exercise. The images in the third and fourth volumes were taken after the second volume was finished, so the editing of those volumes was more deliberate. I self-published the books because it was simple and easy, and because I was giving them away mostly to my friends. I like that there are four volumes; they feel like chapters, or like different rooms in a house.
In Promenades you capture different places that you have been visiting for over six years. In which ways has the discovery of new places, cultures and lifestyles influenced your photography?
In the same way that moving from the suburbs of Boston to New York expanded my horizons. The more you are exposed to and the more you absorb, the more you realize that there is no ‘right’ way of living, that there are many solutions to the common problems we all face. I think this has helped make my work more abstract and more complex. But this is a lifetime process; there is always more to learn.
Of all the places that you have visited, which is the one that impressed you the most or allowed you to capture its essence? Why?
Probably Japan. More than any other society I’ve visited (and I haven’t visited all of them, of course), Japan has a great consideration for the visual world and holds it in very high regard. The way gifts are wrapped, the way gardens are tended, the way food is presented: all of it is considered aesthetically. So just on the surface, there is an availability of imagery that can be overwhelming. But then there is an inner world (not necessarily hidden but that you have to look for), and because the visible world is so carefully structured, this inner world feels much more secretive, even though it really isn’t. It’s actually very exposed, even to an outsider. You find a thread and pull it and the whole thing unfurls in front of you very quickly.
Another series that is very interesting is Right After. In it you followed a group of teenagers that were in their last year of high school. How did the idea of experimenting with such a group like that come up?
The project began very unexpectedly. Will, the main subject of the project, is the son of one of my professors at New York University. His father suggested I should photograph Will’s bedroom for a different project I was working on at the time. When I met Will, I realized that I was interested in his story and in him as a person, and in what he usually did throughout the day before coming home to his room. I had been slowly moving towards a more documentary style with my work, and this opportunity to immerse myself with a group of people presented itself. I took it as a challenge.
To photograph a group of people who are in a transition from adolescence to adulthood allows to capture their fear of the unknown, the anxiety for the uncertain future that contrast with the joy of enjoying the day to day, right?
Yes. It’s the passing of a threshold. Something is irrevocably lost, and something is permanently gained. I imagine it’s similar to the shift that happens when you have your first child.
Did you see yourself reflected in the behaviour and the way of thinking of these teenagers?
Yes and no. They had a different relationship with their surroundings, their groups of friends, concerns that are specific to growing up in New York City; concerns totally distinct from the ones I had in the suburbs. But there are of course the common things we all deal with as teenager: social acceptance, experimentation with drugs and sex, restlessness and boredom. We were very close in age – they were seventeen and eighteen, and I was twenty-one – so in many ways we were equals, which is part of why the images look the way they look.
Emily in her Bedroom is a photography that is part of Right After. I think that this photo represents the essence that you wanted to capture. In this picture we can appreciate the different stages that a person goes through, the passage from childhood to adolescence and from adolescence to adulthood. Do you agree with that?
I do, although I don’t think that image captures the emotionality of the project or the complexity of what happens when you become fully aware of the outside world looking at you and making judgments and decisions about you, or what happens when you realize that you are moving from a world of comfort and familiarity to a world of unknown experiences. I think Emily in Union Square, or perhaps Matt, Will, Henry and Ray are better examples of this.
What can we except from Collin LaFleche in the future?
I am nearly finished with a film, part documentary and part fiction. I’m hoping to release it this year. It was filmed in Japan, Mexico, and around the United States.