A conversation about art and life with photographer Lara Porzak

 Lara Porzak at her studio near Venice Beach, California. Photo by  Stephen DeVries , courtesy of  fresh style magazine .

Lara Porzak at her studio near Venice Beach, California. Photo by Stephen DeVries, courtesy of fresh style magazine.

For the most recent issue of fresh style, I wrote the artist profile of Lara Porzak, a fine art film photographer based in Los Angeles. Her ability to capture feeling and emotion on black and white film has gained her the attention of many LA celebrities, several of whom have had her shoot their weddings. That said, she does not name drop—although after a few enjoyable phone conversations I did hear some entertaining stories. The story on Lara, though, really focused on her fine art photography and how her career has developed.

During one of our conversations she shared a succinct statement about her life as an artist that has stayed with me: “My life is my art that’s made.” 

Every time I went over my notes, I paused at the quotation. I underlined it, and even put a star next to it. But it never found a place in the story. Rather than weave it into a larger narrative, the sentence deserved more careful attention, so I turn to it here. 

My life is my art that’s made.
— Lara Porzak

What does it mean to have your creativity and the everyday routines of your life be so interconnected that you cannot separate the two? How do you produce something and then stand back from it and say, yes, that’s me? How do you find the confidence to take yourself that seriously as an artist? Or as a musician, writer, or baker—whatever your particular expressive mode might be?

Lara shared a story about how she came to see herself as an artist. Nearly 20 years ago, she attended a workshop given by Mary Ellen Mark, a photographer well known for her ability to capture deep elements of humanism. (Her most famous images include photographs of circus performers in Mexico and India, captured in her book Man and Beast.) Lara recalled that all of the other attendees showed up with expensive Leicas—the signature camera of a professional documentarian. Lara, however, brought her plastic Holga, known for its vignettes, plastic lens, and square images. That willingness to be herself apparently impressed Mark, and she asked Lara to assist her on a shoot at a nearby Mexican circus. 

So Lara went to the circus, Holga in hand. While there, she snapped a shot of a young boy wearing a plastic animal mask as he stood in front of a tent. It has since become one of Lara’s signature images, and led to entire photo series on people wearing animal masks. The photo also had a deep personal meaning for Lara. She told me that it proved to her that she could be a fine art photographer—that she had what it took. While she has since had that conviction confirmed by a significant number of outside voices, believing it for herself was such an essential part of seeing herself as an artist. How would she be capable of understanding her life and her artwork as in sync, if she didn’t operate with the conviction that she is an artist, regardless of outside recognition? 

There’s a bravery to pouring yourself into a creative endeavor and then putting it out there for others to see. I think of a shy and cautious musician whose love for his work forces him onto the stage—his art transforming him into a performer and entertainer. That process can be so intimidating that some people never even give their creative dreams a chance. But what a reward to be able to stand back and say that your life and your art are one and the same. 

Hearing Lara’s story encouraged me to take myself all that more seriously as a writer—to see myself as a writer, and to produce work that I truly believe in. For me, that process hasn’t come without the encouragement of those around me. (Stephen’s matter-of-fact statements to friends and colleagues that “my wife is a writer,” has meant more to my professional development than he probably knows.) I share Lara’s story here in hopes that it prods others to consider their own passions more earnestly, so that they truly become a part of who they are.

Read her statement a few more times, and let it really resonate.