10 minutes with Lee Towndrow
When did you first know that you wanted to be a photographer?
I started out as a graphic designer and found that I used to continually come up with designs that were largely photographic and less about the design. It was funny; the type kept getting smaller and smaller on my album covers until finally I was producing work that was almost entirely photographic.
Who were some of the first photographers that inspired you?
Jeff Wall was the first photographer that really blew me away. I kept going back to the bookstore and staring at one of his monographs because I couldn’t afford it at the time. Then Larry Towell & Sebastian Salgado were exciting as I was going through a black and white documentary phase. Olaf Blecker was very very interesting to me to me as well in terms of what he did with studio portraits.
Your series ‘paper portraits’ are really intriguing – there is something so collage-y and pieced together and almost painted about them. How did you come up with the idea?
There was an article by Richard Serra where he talked about working with the raw materials themselves when coming up with ideas. I had a lot of paper in my apartment and I started slashing at it with a razor blade, turning it, bending it, rolling it and coming up with sculptural forms. It occurred to me that it would make an interesting experience for my subjects if I hung these things all around them, so they would bump into them or have to lean around them. I’m always looking to create new experiences.
If you could go back ten years and give yourself advice, what would it be?
It’ll be ok, just keep working and be patient.
Any words of wisdom for the up and comers?
Unless you’re independently wealthy, you need to find something to earn a living while you’re working on building something unique with your photographic work. So the challenge is to find work that pays you regularly, but still offers you the freedom to spend some time each week working on your personal work and taking assignments when they come.
(Lee is based in New York. See more work, here.)