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Herbert Matter

Herbert Matter

Herbert Matter

Herbert Matter

Herbert Matter

Layla Love


by Anthony Haden-Guest
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Layla Love’s methodology represents something rare in the venerable medium of photography. She mixes stuff up. That is to say she can be at once as objective about her subject matter and as committed to it as any member of the secular priesthood of Magnum, she can be as disturbingly intimate as Sally Mann and she can take off into a luminous world of high-tech pictorialism. All of which she does without sacrificing consistency. She has a visual vocabulary -- ocean, flowers, butterflies -- in which words can play an integral part. And the words are such that you may feel you have been teleported back to High Hippiedom, but hold on, and listen up. You’re in for a bumpy ride.

Love was born in Los Angeles in 1979. She started having spasms and falling over when she was five and was diagnosed as having a disease much like juvenile Parkinson's. “I was in a wheelchair. I was not well as a kid,” she says. Her father had dropped out of the equation when her younger sister was six months old. Her mother took them to Washington, D.C. “My mom, she is just a gypsy, her parents were gypsies. Literally. She got taken away from them as a child. She’s always been on the edge of poverty. I must have moved 30 times at least before I left home. I went to a different school almost every year. Different countries. And my mom, she wasn’t an American citizen. She got pregnant with me on holiday. And that’s why she stayed. We were never actually starving or anything. She was very loving.”

It was her mother who bought her a camera. “It was a little point-and-shoot,” she says. “This was in Miami. I was seven. And I always thought everything was beautiful and fleeting. So I photographed everything. I became obsessed. It was a way of holding onto people I loved. I made my first photo-album at seven. I photographed all sorts of things. Peacocks. I was always looking for water and sky. And I started making albums. And I never stopped.”

She met Lisa Metzger, a professional photographer, when she was 12. She had re-met up her father. His girlfriend was a photographer, too. “She did a very good story for the Washingtonian Magazine. A beautiful story about this little blind girl. So those two women inspired me.

“And I think it’s fair to say that the reason I mix all those things is that I found all photography to be a lie. Because nobody was showing the whole spectrum of what the experience of life is. . . there was one part and the other part and the other part. But I think everything from the most mundane to the profound is relevant. I like overexposing myself, I photograph myself in much more compromising situations than I photograph anyone else. I am more respectful of other people.”

Meaning what?

“I photographed myself right after I got attacked in Australia. I took the pictures of myself covered in blood when I was in hospital. Other people might feel violated by those images. I came back and put a book together with the pictures.”

Since then Love has shown with Eric Franck Fine Art in Paris Photo in 2009 and at AIPAD in 2011. In May 2010 she showed pictures in the White House for a Haiti Flag Day Fundraiser. She has images in the diamond rooms of over 30 locations of Tiffany & Co. On Friday, Nov. 11, 2011, her pictures will be playing on six projectors at a PeaceLink Live concert, for which she is the art director. Performers include Maya Angelou and Louis Gossett Jr.

So the bad times are behind her? Not exactly;

About three years ago Love began to have vision problems. She has had a series of operations. “The doctor really can’t believe I’m still seeing,” she says. “He says I don’t know what you’re doing but it’s amazing. It’s made me determined more than ever to make art that really matters. To put meaning into my art because I don’t know if I’ll wake up tomorrow and not see. I never know.

“That’s another reason I think it is okay to mix everything, To have all of it in one space, because life is just a huge river of unexplainable experience. And we seize little moments of it like treasure.” So photography can have meaning, even in a world of iPhones and Photoshop. “Photography is the art of light,” says Love. “I am ready to be taken seriously for the art and not just the story of how hard it has been. Both are real for me now.” 

ANTHONY HADEN-GUEST is author of In the Mean Time: The Other Ends of the World (Freight & Volume, 2011).