Lori Vrba shares her stories, dreams, and mysteries in her art for all of us to explore. Please enjoy.
Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
I get up early every morning before the sun or my three children. I knit and play acoustic guitar but neither well. My favorite snack is chocolate chip cookies right out of the oven with an ice-cold glass of milk. I can tap dance. I am a shell seeker with a serious focus on sea glass. I cuss. A lot. I spent most of my life trying to get out of Texas, which I did five years ago. I now visit Texas at least four times a year. The relationships I have with strong, interesting, intelligent women define me.
How did you get started photography?
My oldest son is 17 and I have 12-year-old boy/girl twins. They were all premature. So I was home alone for a very long time caring for tiny people. I became obsessed with understanding photography…not to make pretty pictures of them or to document our life but only to make pictures about what I felt in that life.
Did your family and upbringing affect your decision to become an artist?
I grew up in a very small, rough Southeast Texas town which I never belonged to. I always knew I would leave and so for as long as I can remember, I was planning my escape. I knew I would have to make a new life and re-invent myself. So I became hyper-sensitive to everything around me…people, space, culture, gesture, inflections, everything. It was like research into what and who I would be in my better life. That sensitivity served me well and shaped who I am as a person and an artist. Also…I was a feral child. I spent my days in the woods or sitting in my favorite tree. So to answer the question…I did not grow up with an exposure to art in a formal sense. But my sensitivity to everything around me and my connection to the earth are relevent to me becoming an artist.
Which photographers and other artists work do you admire?
I could go on forever with this one. But I’ll harshly edit myself and say Sally Mann, Keith Carter, Francessca Woodman and Vojtech Slama. Along with so many of my contemporaries who I have come to know and love…the people and the work.
And what about their work inspires you?
Someone brought me Sally Mann’s, “Immediate Family” book as I was just learning how to use the camera. So from day one…I could see, at the highest level of photography, what was possible.
Keith Carter comes from my neck of the woods…in fact, still lives there. I met him several years ago and we became fast friends. Of course his work speaks to me, but more importantly, his philosophies for how to work have been profoundly important. It is his voice I hear in my head when I struggle to push through a slump or personal doubt.
Francessca Woodman. One word. Vulnerability.
Vojtech Slama. His series “Wolf’s Honey” is probably my favorite body of photographic work. It’s honest, sexy, intriguing and well executed. I only let myself look at it once or twice a year. Any more than that and it would paralyze me.
When did you start to develop a personal style?
My answer will sound arrogant and I hate to be misunderstood because I’m not at all arrogant. But my personal style was there from day one. I think it’s because I came to the medium so much later in life. I had lived a complicated, full life before I found photography. So my early work (which was commissioned portraiture) actually looks very much like the work I make today; soft, intimate, emotionally charged and feminine.
Tell us about your love of film and the darkroom?
I love everything about film. I love not knowing if I have the shot. I love the anticipation and hope I feel going in to process new rolls. I’m still in awe watching a print come up in the tray. Watching a print come up is not like magic…it is magic. I’m not a film snob. I just love waking up and working in it every single day. It’s right for me and always will be.
What challenges do you face as a photographer?
Pimping the work. I make the work almost constantly. I am driven, wildly energetic and willing. But putting it out there is brutal. Trends, politics, rejection…the fine art world ain’t for sissies. All of that brings up debilitating self-doubt.
How do you over come a creative block ?
I force myself to begin anywhere. I give myself the freedom to fail. Because that failure will most likely take me to the place I’m supposed to go to. Physically work. That’s how I move through.
Your assemblage work seems to be telling us a story. Do you ever share the stories behind them or is that a journey you let the viewer take alone?
The assemblage work is narrative in the same way that my straight photography is narrative. I am completely driven by subject and all of my work begins with me asking myself, “what story are you telling?” It’s honestly just an an effective way for me to work. It organizes and focuses all of the incoming photographic possibilities. I hope I leave room for the viewer to move around and answer their own questions within each assemblage or image. But if they want to know more about my mindset…I offer that within the titles and the artist statements.
Would you tell us about your workspace?
Ha! Three kids, lots of animals…it’s a lively house. But I carve out time and space within this home and life. I try to change things around often because I’m so affected by my surroundings and need the visual stimulation. My workspaces are some crazy mix of pretty and goth horror.
How important is it to your art form to have “creative community”?
I couldn’t live without it. I would not still be working without it. I’m so grateful I’ve found it.
How does your art effect the way you see the world?
The way I see the world has effected my art. I suspect that’s true of every artist? But I guess to consider the other way around…I am aware of possibilities all day, every day. It’s a wonderful way to move through the world…seeing everything through the potential lens. But there are times where I choose to be only present to the moment. I think it’s important to know when my full presence is the right choice rather than running to load film. Coming to North Carolina has been intoxicating. The seasons, landscape, and culture have turned me inside out. I see it all through child-like eyes. Wonderment.
Is there another subject matter you would like tackle?
Right now I am deep, deep into, “Drunken Poet’s Dream” and the Assemblage work. I’m excited and happy and consumed.
Any stories about your work you would like to share?
Remind me to tell you about the darkroom possum next time we meet for drinks.
Thank you Lori for sharing your work and words.
To learn more about the work of Lori Vrba please visit her site at, Lori Vrba.