ART: Q&A with Lafotographeuse
ARTISTICALLY SPEAKING: Q&A with LAFOTOGRAPHEUSE
Amanda Adams-Louis has been serious about photography since her freshman year in high school. But, at 13, she fell in love with House music. “At lunchtime in school, I would hear the popular kids gossiping about the clubs and bars they frequented on the weekends and the type of music that was playing. It took me awhile, but I realized it was House music. And, I knew I had to go and hear it and experience it in a club,” says the talented young woman making her mark professionally in NYC’s underground dance culture as Lafotographeuse. On Friday, she presents new work in a special exhibition for Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program. In the following Q&A with Tania Fuentez Media, she reveals more about her latest project and how the ISP challenged her “inner theory geek” and changed the way she approaches making art.
NOTE: All photos courtesy of Lafotographeuse. Exhibit runs May 4-20. Opening reception, which is free to the public, from 5-8 p.m. at 161 Bowery St.
TFM: Did you realize your new exhibit, as part of the Whitney’s Independent Study Program, opens on Keith Haring’s birthday? As an independent artist in NYC, what kind of impression or legacy do you hope to leave on the masses?
No, I didn’t realize that the Whitney Studio Program exhibit opens on the same day as Keith Haring’s birthday. Wow! My gut reaction is that this coincidence is a blessing from God and good old-fashioned luck! It kind of reminds me of a similar experience a few years ago. I was shooting Centrifugal Force (Buddha Stretch, Gus Solomon Jr. and Adesola’s piece for “Dancing in the Streets”) at Lincoln Center a few summers ago and it premiered on the same day as the Dynamic Rockers vs. Rock Steady battle 28 years earlier. It also happened to be on my birthday :-)
To be honest and a huge hypocrite, I haven’t thought much about the legacy/impression I hope to leave on the audience before you asked me this question. I am so engrossed with conceptualizing, realizing my artwork, teaching and shooting commercial gigs that I have not had the opportunity to consider this. I say this stance is hypocritical because legacy is a major theme in my work. I capture and create images that feature dancers, DJs, partygoers _ you get the picture, people in the underground street dance and dance music communities in order to expose the masses to House Dance culture.
I hope to increase the amount of scholarship and visual art around contemporary and historic Hip Hop culture beyond the four elements. Specifically, I hope to be the Top Styles cheerleader in the fine arts world and academy, in the media wherever necessary basically. House Dance is my starting point, but eventually I hope to learn how to do, write about and create artwork about other Upright dance styles (like Waacking and Vogueing). I do not feel that Top Styles street dances are respected or even recognized by most people. B-boying was so widespread and reproduced through the media it is known. So, that is why when anybody is doing any non-classical movement it is immediately categorized as Hip Hop dance or B-boying.
TFM: You chose to take a different creative direction for this exhibit. How does it compare to earlier works? Why did you decide to push the boundaries and step outside your comfort zone?
Thematically and subject wise it relates directly to previous works, but formally and aesthetically it is very different. The difference lies in the mediums I am using to execute my ideas. Previously, I exhibited photographs and curated live performances. This time around, I am exploring new artistic disciplines and weaving them together to present a critique of House Dance culture through three spaces of activity that perpetuate it in this day and age. The three spaces activity I mean are the dance floors of parties, the battle floors of dance competitions and the wood floors of dance studios. For my upcoming exhibition, I am showing three pieces. One piece is a series of appropriated videos of House Dance battles that I have edited, the second is a site specific-installation (a dance floor) accompanied by photographs and the third is a graphic design piece that satirizes the Web site http://www.ratemyprofessor.com and celebrates the dancers in the NYC underground dance music community that teach House Dance professionally.
TFM: How did you arrive at the moniker “Lafotographeuse” professionally? Where and when did your desire to capture the world around you with a camera come into focus? Favorite subject to shoot and equipment to use?
I was switching from Hotmail to Gmail and made it up at like 2 a.m. in the morning. My Hotmail screen name was already taken on Gmail, so I had to come up with a new one. For some reason, I decided to be precious about it. Lafotographeuse is a mixture of the French article, “La” that proceeds a noun making it feminine, the prefix of the Italian spelling of the word photographer, “FOTO” and French suffix “euse” that designates a position as feminine. In French, photographer is always masculine, so the word becomes a unisex term by default. But there is always history and culture in language and syntax and because I have a good grip on the history of photography, I can safely say that the reason for this is historically photographers have been men in France and all over the world. The U.S. included! My inner feminist took issue with this and created a word that French people (I say this because it happens all the time) would recognize as being “french” but that changes the sex of the person being described as a photographer from masculine to feminine.
TFM: Discuss some of your past and ongoing projects. Which were least likely to see the light of day but did and what has been your most rewarding experience?
I’m a Leo, so everything that I have really put my mind to has happened in some form or another. Gosh, this question is like the hardest for me because I am so all over the damn place when it comes to projects. I have this disease where my creative juices start flowing in the nick of time, never early and occasionally too late. What I mean is, my best ideas come to me just in time for me to make things happen for them to see the light of day, they never come early like six months before a show. For example, Kito and I were doing a show in Paris in 2009 and it was amazing, well executed and attended but I was friggin’ printing and cutting until a few hours before I got on the plane. We had to carry oversized (5×6 feet) foam core through Ireland to Paris to make the show happen. All of my projects have been rewarding but in different ways. Executing an idea or giving birth to a project is always a learning experience, a community effort and leap of faith and requires a lot of luck from what I have seen.
TFM: House music and underground dance culture play a pivotal role in your life, so much so that you published a book about the experience (“Welcome to: The Other 8 Hours”). Describe how those influences may have changed your worldview along the way.
I fell in love with House music when I was 13. At lunchtime in school, I would hear the popular kids gossiping about the clubs and bars they frequented on the weekends and the type of music that was playing. It took me awhile but I realized it was House music. And, I knew I had to go and hear it and experience it in a club. I also have had a fascination with nightlife and dancing since I was in elementary school. Have always loved to dance, as well. So I found a way to get to the club as an eighth grader to hear House music. My mom is a hippie and pretty liberal but she’s wasn’t having me in the club as a junior high schooler so I lied through my teeth, went over to a friend’s house who had clueless parents and went to the club from there.
I selected the boarding school I attended all four years of high school, because I visited the school, read the brochure and saw the line about unsupervised weekend trips to various European cities and gagged!! I was like, oh shit, so I can party on the weekend and get away from this stuffy ass place. Can I get an AMEN people????? Guess what I did on my weekends in high school? I traveled to various European cities to see art exhibitions and go to clubs. I got to hear some of the best European House DJs between 2000 and 2004. Ahh, the life. Side note here, I didn’t completely fuck around during high school, as I was an IB and AP student and lived in the darkroom during the week. I’ve been serious about photography since my freshman year of high school.
When it came time to go to college, I decided on NYC for two reasons: the artistic and cultural community that exists here and the nightlife/music industry here. Moved here in September ’04 and by January ’05 I had found the underground dance music community. The first party I ever attended in the scene was Soul in the Hole. On the walk from the entrance to the dance floor I had decided that I would be exploring this experience and shooting the dancers somehow. I had no idea how at that point. It’s funny how things come full circle. I grew up fantasizing about nightlife and started working in clubs when I was 19.
I should mention something else here, when I was a kid I used to sneak behind my mom’s back and watch Hip-Hop, R&B and other popular videos on MTV, VH1 and BET in the mid-90s when we lived in D.C. I loved watching the videos because of the dancing in them. Yea, the music was cool but it was the dance moves that inspired me to plot ways to catch videos without getting put on punishment. About two summers after I moved to NYC, I went to a rooftop party and several other social functions where I ended up meeting the dancers, choreographers and taste makers that were responsible for the dance moves in the music videos I grew up on. To name a few videos, I mean the videos for “Men in Black,” “Welcome to Miami,” “Dream Lover,” “Creep.” A few of the dancers in the videos are the subject of one of my pieces in the ISP exhibition.
TFM: What keeps you hungry and excited? How has the ISP experience factored into the equation?
Street dancers inspire me. Well-written, intellectually rigorous literature always helps to get the creative juices flowing. Dancing excites and invigorates me. The club is my church. So what the church and the preacher do for the Baptists, the club and the DJ does for me. If only I had more time to go out these days! The ISP has challenged my inner theory geek, changed the way that I approach making art and exposed me to possibilities in culture, art and theory that I didn’t even know existed. In short, I would not be on the path I am artistically if it wasn’t for that material that I studied, the lectures, seminars that I attended and the ideas I was blessed to learn about from the masters.
Lafotographeuse Imagery: http://www.facebook.com/Lafotographeuse.Imagery
Whitney Museum of American Art: http://whitney.org/
Whitney (Independent Study Program): http://whitney.org/ISP