Friday, December 19, 2008

INTERVIEW: Lydia Panas

From The Mark of Abel © Lydia Panas

I am so thrilled to have the opportunity to share this interview. Lydia Panas is one of my favorite portrait photographers. She possesses such a strong ability to capture natural beauty in environments, but mostly in the people she photographs. Like many of you she focuses on people she knows - utilizing the lives and relationships of her friends and family.

I recently wrote to Lydia to tell her how much I admire her work and to find out if she would be willing to do an interview. Not only did she say yes, it turns out she is a huge fan of The Girl Project... and an admirer of YOUR work.

From The Mark of Abel © Lydia Panas


ke: Your work features adolescence... not exclusively but in large part. What is your interest or curiosity in that age or time in life?
lp: I am interested in adolescence. Not exclusively, as you note, but I am fascinated by the years when we are almost adults, though not fully formed. Adolescents are still open to learning who they are, and still impressionable. They are not set in their ways at that age. They still have the capacity to listen (if there is something worth listening to). I see this in my college students. This capacity seems to disappear as people get older. Adolescents’ feelings are delicate. I find this endearing. I love the ambiguity of this time period, and the fragility of it. They are desperate to be someone, just not sure who that someone is. Adolescents are fragile, vulnerable and strong at the same time. This mixture of emotions is what makes me want to look closer and understand what lies beneath. I look for these qualities in the adults I shoot also. It is more rare in adults.

ke: What was your childhood like... your teen years?
lp: My family immigrated to the US, so I spent part of my youth in Greece, part of it moving around the northeast, and finally settling in southeastern PA. I was a lonely kid. Different. An outsider. Fairly quiet, I read a lot. I was the oldest of three, and artistic, from a family of doctors. Not a great fit. In school, I loved literature, poetry, and art. Through these subjects, I began to find explanations of the human condition. The rest of the subjects were of no interest to me at the time. I was focused on the emotions that had meaning to an adolescent girl, with little confidence. I never really found a comfortable niche during my school years. Leaving home, and finding photography was extremely liberating.

From The Mark of Abel © Lydia Panas

ke: Tell me about some of your projects. Lets start with The Mark of Able.
lp: The Mark of Abel. With this project, I am investigating the idea of relationships. How we see ourselves within relationships and how they affect us. I began this project in the summer of 2005. My niece and nephew were visiting, along with a few other kids. I made the photo entitled “Tatiana”. I began to think about how relationships can be depicted through photographs. I have always been interested in Nicholas Nixon’s work, especially the pictures of the groups, and the series of the sisters. They are both formal and casual. They contain so much if one looks closely. I ask people I know, usually friends or acquaintances to pose for me. I am closer to some than to others. I select models based on a sense I get about them, that they are wiling to show me something about themselves. I may have an idea that I want to see through in a photograph, other times I just wait to see what transpires. My assumptions/ expectations are not always correct, but that is part of the fun of the process.

Interior Portraits (2005) was a group of images I made of a high school girls’ basketball team. After I photographed the girls on the team, I was still intrigued by the photos so I invited more teenagers to sit for me. It ended up being a series of images, in which the teenagers are all looking straight into the camera. I look at them and they look back. The kids look strong. There is a lot going on in their personalities, and they look back at the viewer with a great intensity. They are a lot about “looking”. You can see some of these portraits at (click on “artists”, then on my name, then on Interior Portraits 2005.

From The Divine Bysantine Crypt © Lydia Panas

The Divine Byzantine Crypt. I started this series two years ago when it was too cold to shoot outside. They are more domestic than The Mark of Abel. This series is shot at home, with my own family. Moments of our lives that I want to hold onto. Most of the images are of my youngest son, as he is home the most.

ke: What kind of equipment do you shoot with?
lp: I use a Horseman Woodman 4”x 5” camera. I use Kodak’s Portra Color film. This is a large format view camera that takes sheet film.

ke: Has anyone ever told you your work shares a romanticism with/like Sally Mann? I also see your work in Alessandra Sanguinette especially in The Adventures of Guille and Belinda.
lp: Some people have compared her work to mine. She inspired me originally because of the similarities we shared: three children to raise and the need to adjust to and combine art and home life, while raising them. I think my photographs are concerned with very different issues however. My photographs are also beautiful to look at, but with less romance. More about looking than orchestrating. My subjects pose less and look more. My work is about different questions than Sally Mann’s. “No tricks” was how one critic described the pictures in The Mark of Abel. I like Sally Mann’s work, but I think mine is different.
Also Allessandra Sanguinetti. I am happy to be compared to her. I really like her work. I see more similarities with her work.

From The Mark of Abel © Lydia Panas

ke: What photographers inspire you?
lp: Diane Arbus, whose straight-forward approach to people was unflinching. You feel her psychological presence in the pictures. Through her photographs, we can “see” what Arbus feels so clearly. Robert Frank. Again, when I look at The Americans, I think I know Robert Frank. He so clearly showed us what it must feel like to be in his head. I love that about those pictures. Both of them, Arbus and Frank, were not afraid to show us the hurt and anything else they felt. I think Katy Grannan does this too. She goes somewhere most of us will not venture. She is not afraid to show the stuff we don’t want to talk about. I like Rynecke Dykstra, for her interest in psychological intensity. I like her very consistent methods of investigation. For the same reasons, I am attracted and inspired by Sophie Calle and Hiroshi Sugimoto. Calle for her psychological intensity and openness, and Sugimoto for the meditative quality of the work. He works in a linear fashion I find interesting. I like the repetition and the uniform quality of each project. The work is thorough and disciplined in a manner that I admire. Calle, too, is clear where her obsessions lie. In both instances, though they are different, I am fascinated by the process.

From The Mark of Abel © Lydia Panas


Sewon said...

The Girl Project sounds great and I love all the resources on your main website. I'll be following your blog. Thanks!

Michelle Del Guercio said...

Your images speak the truth, instead of pushing something artificial on your subjects you are fully present in your observations and capturing what is there. You have inspired me.

123 123 said...

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Joan Stepsen
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