Interview with Laura Plageman on

How would you describe the subject matter of your artwork?

My artwork combines an interest in both the natural environment and its representation through photography. Many of my pictures are of landscapes that reveal an interaction between human presence and natural forces, but they are also explorations of photographs as tactile and visual objects.

Tell us a little bit about your creative process. How does a piece of yours come to be?

In my on-going series, Response, I start with one of my printed photographs then physically alter the image sculpturally. When I’m satisfied with the results, I re-photograph the image as a still life. The final prints hover between being illusory and tangible, seemingly impossible but showing evidence of their actual construction (rips, tears, folds, and places where the ink is rubbing off of the paper). Experimentation is invaluable to my process - I generate a lot of tests and studies to see how far I can push an image or what its dimensional possibilities will be.

We noticed the previous installment of your “Response” series focused on land, whereas the latest installment features the sea. What inspired the shift of focus? Did you have a vision for both land and sea from the very beginning, or was “Response, Sea” the result of something else?

The progression of the Response series was not pre-planned, but reflects a personal shift of focus over time. Creating the categories of Land and Sea was a way of organizing this on-going series. When I first began the series I was working with landscapes from my travels across the country, focusing mainly on the verdant wildness of nature in urban areas. For the past couple of years I’ve been drawn to photographing the Pacific coast, a place of dynamic change and human attraction. As a Bay Area native the coast has personal significance to me; I’ve been able to witness its ongoing transformation throughout my life.

You shot your first generation images for “Response” along the California coast. Is there a special significance to the locations you chose?

For this series I knew I wanted to make pictures along the Pacific coast - a well-worn photography path and a dramatic, changing landscape. I’m attracted to accessible places where people go to experience nature, planned overlooks, for instance. Sometimes I have a specific destination in mind and other times I allow myself to wander and stop when something unexpected catches my eye. I do a lot of “planned wandering” and use internet research and tools to scout locations.

When did you first pick up a camera and what inspired you to do so?

As far back as I can remember I’ve enjoyed photography - taking pictures, participating in pictures, looking at images - but the first formal training I had was in college. I took a black and white darkroom class in and fell in love with exploring the world around me with a camera and discovering creative possibilities in the darkroom. I was interested in, and continue to be driven by, the transformative power of images.

If you could have a one hour mentoring session with any artist (alive or deceased), who would it be, and why?

These kind of questions are really hard for me - there are so many artists I’d love to meet, and so many time periods it would be amazing to time travel to! On the one hand, I’d like to choose a female artist I admire and resonate with, such as Agnes Martin. But honestly, I keep thinking about Larry Sultan, because I am more connected to people I have known and loved than those I can only imagine meeting. I was a student of Larry’s and he remained a friend and mentor until he passed away almost five years ago. He was so incredibly generous and articulate about pictures and I learned so much from him about photography and its limitations and possibilities. I miss him very much. Another hour to share with him - to talk art and life, and just share a laugh and a bourbon - that would carry me for a while.

What do you like to do when you are not working on your art?

It’s hard for me to separate my art from other aspects of my life. So if I’m not working on it, I’m often thinking about it. But having two young daughters to focus on is something I am very grateful for. We make art together sometimes and take nature walks - lots of nature walks - the stuff of inspiration.

Describe your artistic style in one word.