Varese Layser is my new favorite local photographer, born and raised on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. We met at her recent opening, Illuminations, curated by Jasmine Moorhead of Krowswork Gallery in Oakland. She has two series in the show, both simple, stunning, and poignant.
Varese says that she often hears her portraits and images “take pictures of the inside,” and that’s just how it felt to me. Of her two series in Illuminations, Equity was a particularly moving body of work. Her images are full of time, space and measured reflection. There is a noticeable absence of people, and it seems as though what interactions she does have are insulated by an intense barrier of space; there is the outside world, and the internal world Varese travels within.
See the series here. Click the “Older” button to advance forward.
Kim Sikora: Can you talk a little bit about your series Equity?
Varese Layzer: I wrote it and shot it within the same few days in April last year. I was visiting home (home is the Upper West Side of Manhattan). My mother had died the previous year; this was her home too. Everything about these few days was breaking my heart. On the plane on the way back I wrote the poem that is the text of Equity.
KS: You have a lot of images here that seem like they arose from wanderings. How long were you working on this project?
VL: These were all shot within two days; maybe it was one day. You can see how it’s raining in almost all the shots. The idea to combine the photographs and the writing came a little later.
KS: How did you decide when and where to shoot in NY? Were there destinations with history you tracked down, or was it more or a fluid exploration?
VL: It wasn’t so much a decision. I feel compelled to walk to the same few places every time I go home. So I was walking around unslept in the rain very sad and taking pictures of whatever caught my eye. My hometown happens to be famous but it’s just where I’m from.
KS: What was your biggest challenge with this project during the shooting period?
VL: Keeping the camera dry.
KS: I’m sure most people remember the amount of internet discussion surrounding the incident with your work at Ritual Coffee last year. Now that some time has passed, how do you feel about what happened?
VL: I feel very lucky. I never knew before that anyone would respond to the things I need to say; this knowledge was, and is, a revelation to me. I learned this both when Eileen Hassi insisted the work be removed immediately and when people around the country reached out to me, telling me their experiences. Those people would never have seen the show if its removal had not made the “news.”
KS: A lot of photographers struggle with the balance of personal work and commercial work. How do you make the time and money to photograph consistently?
VL: I have always made time to make art, whatever that art is and however little time that is; I sacrifice “earnable” money for that time. Most artists I know sacrifice more such money than I do and devote themselves even more.
KS: Is there a new project you’re working on you’d like to tell us about?
VL: I am immersed in understanding and processing the loss of my parents and my household and my home base and that is my work. To be less mysterious, I suppose I am working on an exploration of the “60 notebooks in my cellar,” which I mention in Equity. It’s more than 60 notebooks, actually. I hope that this work may be shown. And I hope it’s available not just to people who can relate to my story but also on a surface level: It’s been wonderful for me seeing people look at my pictures up at Krowswork Gallery without reading any text and still responding to them because they like the way they look.
Varese’s series Equity and Making Room currently on view at Krowswork, through May 5th. She and artist RKDB will be having an informal talk at Krowswork April 28th at 4 pm. Stop by to meet her in person at the gallery on May 4th, between 6 and 8:30 pm.
(Pro Tip: Stop by SF Camerawork’s Monthly Members critiques! Varese is a great member of the group, and I had the great pleasure of joining in the last crit, along with Erik Auerbach and other local photographers. Next Critique, Wednesday May 16, 6:00-8:30pm)