“I’ve been a bit hypnotised by pictures for as long as I can remember” – Interview with Sheffield photographer Lou White
Sheffield-based photographer Lou White recently worked with the Vintage Rose team on a shoot, producing a selection of striking shots to complement a portfolio filled with bold, colourful images. Last month, we caught up with Lou to discuss her inspirations for getting behind the camera and the creative journey she’s undertaken since.
How did you get into photography?
I’ve been a bit hypnotised by pictures for as long as I can remember; I loved running around with my 35mm as a child. I loved flicking through old photo albums, and I suppose what I really loved were the stories. At uni I fell in with the photography lot and soon had an old Minolta and some Lomo toys of my own to play with. I had no idea what I was doing but there was something positively delicious about the blur, the grain and the soft muted tones it left my images with. I spent most of my twenties just being ‘that friend’ photographing everyone and everything to within an inch of its life, normally with my phone. I’m still guilty of that – sorry!
It was my grandad (‘G’) that got me my first proper camera for my 30th. G had this old green album that covered his time in the navy in WWII, followed by his life back home with my granny in the years that followed. I loved going through that album with him and listening to him talk. The last photo I ever took of him, in fact, is him stood in his kitchen holding that album. After he died and that album came to me, I lifted it out of its box to find that underneath there were hundreds of other images I’d never seen. They were like one last hug from G. They helped me to see him and understand him as a person in his own right, not just the the man he was when he was ‘my G’. Suddenly photography had an extra weight after that; it wasn’t just something I did to amuse myself on the side anymore. It’s storytelling, it’s belonging, it has purpose and value. If the house was on fire, that box of photos is the thing I’d grab (after the dog, obviously). When he gave me my camera, G asked me if I enjoyed photography. I said yes and he said, “Well then, you enjoy it love.” So I did and i do.
What sort of picture catches your eye?
I really love colour; it just hooks me in every time. I go in phases with other things but right now I love images with a sense of movement, life and joy. I love anything that creates a dreamy surreal vibe: reflections, prisms and softness all catch my eye. Unless it’s black and white, in which case I love texture on texture, with harsh heavy contrast and a metric fudge-tonne of grain.
What advice would you give budding photographers?
Two things really. Firstly, find your people. Go looking for a photography community you can engage in and learn from. For me, I found the Phlock Live community a couple of years ago, I’ve learnt so much from conversations in there and it was invaluable to have such a nurturing and supportive community to share work with.
The biggest thing, though, is something that I once heard Leanna Azzolini say in a podcast a couple of years ago: “You ARE going to get this wrong – not once or twice, but a lot.” What a revelation that was. I think before that I really thought everyone else got the shot first time, every time. I’m going to sound like a gross cheeseball now, so for god’s sake don’t tell anyone I said this. But it’s like any craft: it takes time to get ‘good’ and everyone you’re looking up to has spent years being frustrated with work that doesn’t live up to the vision they had. There is no around, only through. I have to give my pep talk maybe twice a week?
Do you have a favourite image/shoot to date?
Before the pandemic, I never got in the frame. I had like a real visceral reaction to both to seeing myself and the act of having my photo taken. It felt physically painful. In lockdown, it was just me and the dog, and she made it quite evident that she was sick of being my dancing monkey for Instagram and I quickly had to think about what else I could photograph. I’m not big into still life, so I decided it was either get in the frame or bake banana bread.
Since banana bread is evil and should be banned, I did a full series of self-portraits recreating scenes from Wes Anderson films.
There was a lot of trial and error, but that project changed the whole way I communicate with and direct a subject. The whole way I shoot changed after that; it was the first time I really pushed myself to create and dress a scene. It was the first time I allowed myself to just have fun with it and do whatever I wanted. Before that time, I cared entirely too much what other people thought, would be paralysed with so much self-doubt, wouldn’t try things, and I never submitted work anywhere. This series was such a big turning point for me. I’ve got other images that are technically better, but I feel like I grew so much in that time.
What motivates you creatively?
Wes, obviously. I have seen other films, I promise, but I just can’t necessarily remember what they are right now! I get excited about colour. I think I take a lot of inspiration from whatever music I’m listening to at the time. To be really honest, I struggle with this question. Part of what made me fall in love with photography was that there isn’t a ‘wrong’. Or that you could try anything you like and if it doesn’t work, then no harm no foul. I love how things grow and evolve as I go and I suppose what motivates me most is the want/need to always try something new. To ask the questions, ‘How can I make this different this time?’ ‘How can I push this further?’
Do you have any projects currently in the pipeline?
I have a couple of commercial projects coming up in the autumn that I’m really looking forward to, but I probably can’t really say a lot about them. I really adore big, styled shoots. I love creating colourful, texture-filled scenes, and putting together the styling for it all is one of my favourite parts of the project. I’m in the process of working with a couple of local independents at the moment, which always makes me happy. To be honest, I’m just getting over Covid and double pneumonia, so I’m still easing myself back into normal life, a lot had to be put on hold/cancelled. This is the longest I’ve gone without a camera in my hand in my adult life. As you can imagine, I’ve been very grumpy about it!