(Above: Nora Lowinsky, shot by Michelle Romo)
Nora Lowinsky is a talented, free-spirited visual artist and film photographer from NYC, currently based in California. A true devotee to the technical craft underlying analog photography, Nora develops all of her photos herself in her darkroom, hand-printing and selenium toning her silver gelatin prints herself to control their creative process from the beginning to the very end. We caught up with her about her life, her art and her inspirations.
Follow Nora’s work here and on Instagram.
AC: Who is the artist behind your lens?
NL: I’m Nora.
I was born in San Francisco, grew up in New York City and now I am living in the Bay Area again, shooting analog photography and making prints in the darkroom.
AC: Why did you choose to work exclusively with film? What do you find appealing about analog compared to digital photography?
NL: I naturally gravitated towards film because it is inherently enigmatic and rooted in the history of the moving image. The fact that I can practice the same art using the same tools that very early photographers did is a gift. These tools and processes might not be available in the future-they will be relics of the past-so right now I am relishing my ability to use them, creating a stamp for myself in time. Things occur with film, that have to do with your roll of film or with your camera or in the printing itself, that are unexpected. I enjoy imperfection and error. I find beauty in what is unexplained. I also love that working with film connects me with the philosophy of acceptance and the embrace of calamity. There is magic in film.
AC: Which cameras do you use? Do you have a favourite camera, lens or film that marks your signature style?
I started with a Contax T3 with a sweet Carl Zeiss lens-my gift for graduating from UC Berkeley. Then, a generous and loving friend lent me her Canon Elan 7e with a beautiful lens. I just use those two right now. I have very little equipment, but of course I would love another camera. I think that my style has become distinctive in using old rolls of film and experimenting with film speed, which affects the grain. The fact is- I never actually bought any expired film. One person gave me about 14 rolls of expired film-slide, b&w and color. I also just happened to be around when someone donated some old film to my lab, which I received with open arms. You can’t say no to the universe. I have often had no money to pursue this costly journey, yet materials would come to me. So, my style has actually been influenced by generosity from people in my orbit and from strangers who just support me in the arts. I think my eye is mine, developed since childhood, and that actually has little to do with what tool i am using, whether it be old film or new, any sort of camera, digital or analog. That moment of taking the shot is so important to me. What I am feeling gets transmuted into the image.
AC: Do you ever adventure into the realms of experimental photography? (film modification, damaging, toy cameras, etc…)? If so, can you let us in on one of your secrets?
NL: I use old expired film, slide film and I make accidents while shooting (for example blurring the foreground, focusing the background.) I can get excited by my mistakes and what happens unintentionally because I am learning.
My mishaps often feel fated. They lead me to realizations.
AC: Do you consider the dark room processes to be an integral part of your photography?
NL: Yes. Since I began darkroom printing, I think of it like a season. I shoot a lot, then I like to go in the darkroom and print. I get excited for both practices, just as I do for the change of seasons. It is a meditative practice. I never liked church or synagogue growing up, but I love the darkroom. It feels natural to me- that and being outdoors.
AC: Who or what are you most influenced by?
NL: Energy and feelings
AC: You moved to California from New York. Did those two locations changed you as a person or an artist?
NL: Both states are part of me. My family has lived in California for generations-both sides actually. We moved from San Francisco to upstate New York when I was a baby and then to New York City, where I lived until my twenties. Then I moved to Los Angeles and ended up back in my birthplace- the Bay Area- after getting into university here. I have always had the tough spirit of a New Yorker. I think New Yorkers really own that ability to live through anything- they are survivors. People are genuinely shocked at my backbone. The easiest explanation to tell those who are surprised by this side of me (because I am a quiet, unassuming if you don’t know me, person) is- I’m from New York. On the flip side, I have always identified with the pace, the space, the light and the opportunity of the West- particularly California. It’s historically where men from the East of the United States go to find wealth. I like that as a woman I went to find another kind of wealth- the internal kind. A few years ago now, a kid I was in kindergarten with found me on social media. He messaged me that he thought it was so amazing I was in California because apparently when I was three years old I told him that I wanted to go live there- that it was the best state in the world! I couldn’t believe he remembered my words- I must have been an impassioned little girl. As much as I love New York City, I was not able to tap into my creative self there very easily. Everyone goes to New York City to make it- to prove they can hack it, to be someone. When you are from there, that race seems really pointless and tired. In California, I was challenged to relate to new land and culture and to take a good look at myself. I still rambled through my twenties here, but I have emerged much more in touch with my senses, my creative self and that little girl who at age three knew what she wanted.
AC: What projects are you working on at the moment? Any exciting plans for the near future?
NL: Being published in print- I will be in the coming months and I am striving for it to happen more and more. I would love to be part of some group shows in the US or abroad- anybody out there reading? I showed my father my recent body of work and he had some advice for me. He has had a long career in photography as an art dealer and I respect his eye and his opinion tremendously. He said, why don’t you try to shoot no people for awhile? He gives me advice very gently, which I find so sweet. He speaks softly and says you don’t have to listen to me, I’m just an old man, but.. I actually want to try his advice of no people. He said it would be an exercise in my visual acuity and that I can go back to the ladies afterwards. I am up for a challenge, so I wonder what my new non human project will be.
AC: What advice would you have for young photographers pursuing their dream?
I am still a young photographer pursuing my dream, still really new at it, but if I could talk to myself ten years ago I would say- Don’t be afraid, it’s all for you anyway. I would say, go listen to that Bob Dylan song you love and think of the lyrics that you sing loudly, think of what they mean; When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose. You‘re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal. How does it feel? I would say nobody’s opinion of you really matters. And you are most beautiful when you let yourself be you.
AC: Thanks Nora, for your insights , your time and your beautiful images. Keep exploring, keep discovering, and keep being you!