Portland-based Parker Woods captured fellow photographer Jerrod La Rue and talked to him about his work, creating as a person of colour and the concepts of alienation and loneliness
One of the questions I’m most curious about is: how do you decide what makes a worthy subject for a photograph? Is it beauty; symmetry; emotional depth; universality?
Ooh, gotta really think before I speak now. This is some real shit; this isn’t that Vogue shit. I would definitely say that… it’s typically emotional—like emotional based. Just because your emotions are something I find to be the most valuable, you know?
You always remember how something makes you feel: so if you document that via film or anything, I think that’s really what’s valuable about it.
Do you think there is a difference between documenting that on film versus digital—because you do shoot primarily with film?
Definitely. With digital, I just feel like you’re not really syncing the shot
What do you mean by that?
In the sense of digital, yeah, you’re taking a photo, yeah you have the physical evidence of you taking the photo but I feel like it’s almost as shallow as an iPhone photo. I don’t see the difference in that besides quality. With film, you’re burning this image into a piece of film. You have the physical copy of it. This physical copy is the document that you, in fact, took this photo and not like a digital photo it’s literally just on your digital camera—on your memory card or whatever—and in the sense of that it can be created, it can be stolen, you have to watermark it in order for it to be a real thing. So with film, I feel like it cuts through all that unnecessary stuff by giving you an actual physical copy of the solid evidence… of the solid—it’s your solid memory or whatever it is that you shot.
Getting back to your subject matter—you are very specific about what you take, in your images, and it usually seems to revolve around colour—or colour theory. What do you feel in particular draws you to photograph certain hues of colours?
Everything that I photograph is nostalgic, usually. If it’s not something that I’ve already felt, it’s something that I’m trying to create. My nostalgia comes from very specific things that lead me to take pictures of pinks or things like that. Pink will always remind me of my dad. Blue will always remind me of my mom.
So do you feel like your personal experiences and growing up in the environment that you grew up in—that really influences your work—specifically with colours and colour theory? Do you attribute these colours to memories and that’s part of the reason you photograph them?
I photograph the memories just because growing up I had a lot of time, I didn’t really have an active life or friends really. So I feel like I have such a vast memory of everything growing up because I didn’t really have anything else going on. I spent so much time in my head—and figuring out why it is I had so many problems growing up, you know.
Like why it is… why it was so hard for me to just live back then. So I kind of like to incorporate that with different ways or different thoughts of things that have been from my childhood until now I guess? The different hues really just incorporate a lot of different things.
I usually refer to light inside of a building as someone being home. And I like to photograph that, especially like a huge building and there being one or two lights being on as something that I find to be really touching to me because I spent a lot of my life being home alone and something my mom always taught me was either keep a light on or always keep the T.V. on just to make it seem like somebody’s home so no one would bother you. So just the thought of someone thinking like me or, even better, someone being home was always really comforting to me because it was like you’re not just living this life—you’re not just alone. There might be other people out there that are also home alone not doing anything. It’s just at times it felt like I was so lonely and everyone was doing something besides me. For example, when I was the only one that was home alone or when I was the only one who was… alive really. Something about that was just really warm especially when it has it’s own warm colour or setting to it. And then documenting certain times of the day—like the evening time or sunset or the early mornings—kind of ties into that as well. My mom was always gone before the sun rose so… the morning one was I didn’t really ever enjoy breakfast with my family. I always woke myself up and went to school. Then there were days my mom would get home after the sunset, so the same concept: I was home alone. With that in mind I just tie it together with seeing a house with a light on and a huge apartment complex but then also a beautiful pink hue of the sky was just like the warmth of my dad that’s not there. So I just tie it to very cheesy, diary, parts of my life.
I mean I don’t think it’s cheesy at all. I think it’s beautiful.
Touching back on what you said about your childhood it seems like there’s this continual theme of disconnection and loneliness. Would you mind maybe opening up about what contributed to that?Yeah, I wanna say that mostly racism contributed to the reason I was lonely most of my life. I guess just growing up in a predominately white area really gives you a hard perception of what it may be that’s wrong with you—on top of trying to discover yourself as well. I feel like that put me in a very vulnerable situation because I wasn’t sure if it was… because I wasn’t masculine enough to be around the boys or if it was because I was just too black for everyone. And a lot of that was conflicting to me because I felt like growing up, no one in my family ever talked about how painful it could be to be black so I kind of just thought everyone else was fine besides me and I was the only one actually going through a hard time or rough periods. Obviously, there are other things going on as well like my mom being a single mother having to provide for three and her doing whatever it took to keep us happy. So that does tie-in to my loneliness—my brothers having their own separate lives as well. But I feel like every time I journal about my childhood I always try to make the point that it was never their fault. I purposely left them out of it because I felt like this was something I wanted to do on my own, by myself. At times it was just interesting: I felt like I would see all these other people living their lives with their siblings or their parents every evening, every morning, and things like that just punched in why it wasn’t the same.
Sexuality has to be part of it as well because I mean the whole masculinity thing and femme thing as well. It’s hard to tell what part you fall under when you’ve never once felt masculine and like you had to force it; and then if you didn’t force the fact that…if you didn’t force this masculinity then it was just considered you’re femme, like, you’re gay—gay being a negative connotation. Everything then was just negative, there weren’t any positives for me so I felt like most of my life I had to find this positive that kept me in the right lane. I just wanted to fit in, I just wanted to live without all the pain that I was receiving for no apparent reason. So I think that’s what’s tied being so distant from everyone—being so distant from myself. Not only was it something I was doing to myself but it was being reflected on others—other people were doing it to me as well. It was like I was distancing myself from everyone else and everyone else was distancing themselves from me.
With your background and your upbringing kind of being this painful concoction of not being understood by your peers, growing up in a culture that really doesn’t cater to not only being different but not being an individual, do you feel like now that you’re older you’ve been able to carve out a space for yourself that allows you to be who you want to be and grow? Do you feel like you benefit from surrounding yourself in a place that feels comfortable or with people that help uplift you? Do you feel like LA is a place that caters to that as well?
I think growing up I… I created a space for myself that not only works in my favour but that I’m not seeking to impress anyone. I’m not looking to inspire anyone with what I do. What I’m looking to do is talk about how I feel and feel better about it. I think LA is a great space for that. Like every city, I believe, that people do get tired of being where there are because it’s routine. I mean for me routine’s very comforting because it’s a guarantee that I’ve never had, guarantees are always really nice. But I like LA because I don’t necessarily have to explain myself. I don’t have to be someone to do the things that I wanna do. I don’t have to prove myself to anyone. If someone likes who I am, if someone likes what I’m doing, they’ll let me do it. They’ll take my word for it. That’s why I like LA. I don’t have to have the knowledge; I don’t have to have four years of some bullshit degree or anything like that to do the things that I wanna do. It’s really just if I try to do whatever I want to do it can work or it can’t. It’s just very simple. I can do the things that I wanna do in my area… everything’s here and it’s just a matter if the opportunity presents itself to me or I present myself to the opportunity. I’m not sure if that answered the question fully?
Yeah, it did. Perfect. I feel like I haven’t asked any cliché-ass questions so I just wanna get one in there.
Yeah, hit it.
What kind of things do you feel you would tell someone growing up in a similar position or feeling the same things that you felt growing up? Maybe someone who’s between the ages of 13 and 18—do you have anything that you would tell them that you feel would be beneficial to have known when you were young?
Definitely. What I would tell someone who was in the position I was in is… I feel like there’s an expression for it. Really just be real to yourself. You need to be the person that you’re trying to impress. I mean this is also just something that I feel like doesn’t necessarily apply to this question but I feel like you should think of yourself as someone that you’re trying to become or someone that you’re trying to be instead of thinking of others as someone that you’re trying to be because you’ll never be the person that you want to be ideally. If you think of it in the fact of I wanna be myself, but the best that I can be, then that should be something that should inspire you the most not like… I wanna be the fucking Rock.
I mean all that stuff is really cool, I think it’s important to have aspirations, but I think it’s also really important to be the person that’s boosting yourself up and not have a person that does that for you. Being in full control of how you feel and how you control your life is really the most important factor. Seeking knowledge—seeking anything from anyone is cool, it’s validating for sure but being able to provide yourself with everything is the most satisfying feeling ever. Also, I feel like it’s the most beneficial thing because you’re not looking to impress anyone anymore, you’re not looking for validation anymore. Whatever question you have you can answer yourself and live your life, ya know. You don’t have to seek out these things from people or go through all these shitty or poisonous traits when you could just be the one that’s providing it. So yeah, be yourself.
One more question. You said that your work really isn’t about impressing anyone and it’s more about catering to your own self-exploration—do you still have goals for your work? Things that you’d like to ultimately do with photography and your subject matter?
Ultimately yes—there are always things I wanna do and improve on. Sometimes I feel like chasing or setting a standard of improvement for me causes me to try to develop at a level that I’m not at yet. I feel like setting goals and standards for you is unreal and you’ll develop at your own pace no matter what. It doesn’t mean that you’re not moving, it just means that you’ll have slow periods in your life where you’re not really moving at the pace you would like to. For a lot of people, I feel like that’s what causes them to stop chasing their passion, or put a really negative hold… or reevaluate themselves like there’s something wrong with them when realistically it’s just you can’t dock your growth—your development. It’s just something that happens on your own. You can’t tell a plant how it’s gonna grow, it’s gonna do its thing, you know? You can feed and nourish it—you can do what it takes for it to grow but you can’t tell it how it’s gonna grow and you can’t expect it to grow a certain way when it kind of has its own pattern. Obviously, it’s different because you’re the plant. I just feel like that’s how it is. I definitely do want to develop, I definitely have goals, I definitely have ideas and everything but, I feel like with time, everything’s gonna grow. I will get better of course… obviously… I mean I hope so. I’ll do the damn thing.
|Photographer:||Parker Woods assisted by Karla Ramiro|
|Stylist:||Jerrod La Rue|
|Make up / Hair:||NA|
|Model:||Jerrod La Rue|