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Exploring creativity with photographer Laura Letinsky

In the spirit of celebrating creativity, we ask talented individuals around the globe to fill our q&a on whats and hows of their creative process. The third episode is dedicated to a photographer and professor at the University of Chicago, Laura Letinsky and her melancholic style of seeing fragile beauty in the aftermath. 

How would you describe what you do?

In my art-making, pictures, porcelain, design, and food, I aim to unsettle the photograph’s promise of perfection, to instead make images that reckon with our frailties, contradictions, and vulnerabilities.

How did you get started?

Back in art school I wanted to be a painter but the incredibleness of the material as it came out of the tube seemed just fine without my intervention. Working in ceramics and photography, I realized I am drawn to processes that involve almost an alchemical transformation, the analog (now digital) photograph, clay, foodstuffs, fabric yardage, a garden bed…. Making photographs is, like words, a kind of language, one that afforded me a kind of fluency and articulation to “speak” to that which matters to me. 

Untitled #23, Hardly More Than Ever series, 1999, via www.lauraletinsky.com

A strength or skill you value most:

I’ve never been good at seeing issues in stark contrast, instead, often suffering the complications and nuances of mostly everything. Holding contradictions is to my mind, a necessary component of just getting on.  

One of your favourite projects you’ve worked on:

The first photographic series I did that really felt like mine — even if I was in a dialogue with northern 17th century painting traditions, and artists such as Jan Groover and Morandi — was Hardly More Than Ever, pictures of tabletops and scenes not of a cornucopia, but the aftermath of consumption.

Both as idea and as physical space, the dialect between nature or nuture permeates “ home”.  Media, especially images, instruct and beguile our notion and realization of this concept and space. Home, and its images reveal who we are as individuals and as a society, hovering between repetition and revelation. 

Which phase of the creative process thrills you the most?

“Mosts” are hard to identify for me as I experience the entirety of the process as what needs to get done. There’s a thrill of anxiety trying to shift old habits to defamiliarize what is known so as to see it afresh. As I am making photographs, I get lost, without words rather highly tuned to what the scene — but more importantly — the image is doing. When I’m through the editing process including more careful looking and thinking, the relief and satisfaction, post-partum like, that my photographs see of say what felt necessary to be shown or heard.

What sparks your imagination?

Writers, from Gertrude Stein, to Lydia Davis, Diane Williams, Yiyun Li, help me to understand how to use language (be it words, images, etc) to shift how we experience, and thus know our world. I give attention to sensorial cues of being a body including sound (music), touch (craft and design), taste and smell (food), though these categories are neither bounded or exclusive.   

Then, there’s looking at the lens plane to see a vertical light shaft cutting across a surface, dissolving spatial cues as it forks to the horizontal, or, a neon fuschia flower petal dulling a plastic pink fork.   

3 things you need to get into your creative comfort zone:

– music that is more like a sound environment, a distraction that helps me set up a mental buffer to more fully concentrate.

– time to futz around, move things in front of the camera and out again, to make mistakes, to push push push until I have to pull back, waaaaaaaay back. And forth, again.

– my eyes as they are connected to my head, heart and spleen. 

Untitled #16, Albeit series, 2011, via www.lauraletinsky.com

Do you keep to a particular daily routine to let your creative juices flow?

Endorphins!  Joking, I am a runner, daily for decades, the physical as important as the mental in terms of. Food is obviously a big factor in my work and I love to cook, feeling some insult when I have to settle.

Paying attention is a huge part of my process. Noticing what things and space look like and, more importantly, how they appear as photograph.

A book, movie, exhibition, podcast you recently found inspiring:

The Lost Children Archive, by Valeria Luiselli. Her ability to move us through the incredible intimate space between wife and husband, mother and child(ren) to nationally and globally relevant issues is vertiginous and delicately wrought.   



Laura Letinsky, a BFA from the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada, and her MFA in Photography from Yale University’s School of Art, Letinsky has been a Professor at the University of Chicago since 1994.  She shows with Yancey Richardson Gallery, NYC, and Document, Chicago, and exhibits internationally including PhotoEspana, Madrid, the Israeli International Photography Festival, Mumbai Photography Festival, Mumbai, India, MIT, Cambridge, MA, Basel Design, The Photographers Gallery, London, and, Denver Art Museum, CO. 

Awards include the Canada Council International Residency, Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, The Canada Council Project Grants, The Anonymous Was a Woman Award, and the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, and her work is published in monographs and catalogues such as To Want For Nothing, Roman Nvmerals, 2019, Time’s Assignation, Radius Books, 2017, Ill Form and Void Full, Radius Books, 2014, Feast, Smart Museum of Art, UC Press, 2013, After All, Damiani, 2010, Hardly More Than Ever, Renaissance Society, 2004, Blink, Phaidon Press, 2002, and Venus Inferred, University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Follow lauraletinsky.com and @lthrice for more Laura’s works.


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