I am looking at a photograph of Lanna. It’s a warm, sunny day. She wears a breezy lavender top and her hair is pulled back into a low ponytail. She has a slight smile on her face as she lands an impressive skateboard trick, with both arms in the air under a Brooklyn overpass. She appears composed while maintaining an effortless cool. Whether she is on a skateboard or photographing the CEO of a major company, Lanna exists to me as she does in this photograph, vibrant, warm, energetic, and poised. Unsurprisingly, Lanna’s photography exudes these same radiant qualities. Her portraiture, aside from being incredibly striking, is unique in it’s honest, positive, and empowering view of her subjects. You can draw a line from her work with these skaters directly to one of my favorite images. Kabrina, the subject of the photograph, stands with her arms lazily folded outside an L train stop in Bushwick. The sleeves of her purple tie-dye shirt are wrapped around her fists, suggesting a crisp evening air. Kabrina stares candidly into the camera, partially illuminated by the unmistakable glow of a late-night taco truck. This sort of compelling image is not a rarity in Lanna’s work. Her masterful abilities to manipulate lighting and capture one-of-a-kind scenes makes looking through Lanna’s portfolio a treat. I hope you will enjoy looking at her amazing work below.
Intro by Fiona Veronique
What attracted you initially to photography? (when did you first pick up a camera?)
It’s funny, I can’t exactly remember when I first picked up a camera because growing up, my family always had them around. They were constantly documenting our personal lives, my gymnastic competitions, family gatherings and food, always food! Photography just felt like a natural part of everyday life so it’s hard to pinpoint when I picked up a camera. However, I do recall getting very excited about photography in high school when I’d photograph friends in my parents garage. We’d dress up in crazy outfits and conduct mini fashion shoots with my 35mm point and shoot camera. Getting the film developed and seeing the results was always a thrill.
My obsession for photography continued to grow as I went off to university and studied art and photo history. I eventually discovered the darkroom and that is when I really took to image making. Back then, I was shooting a lot black and white film and experimenting with double exposures. I photographed my personal belongings, skateboarders, people on the street and musicians. In a way, I feel like I’m just picking up from where I left off at in college since I’ve started to re-examine similar subjects.
Why did you choose photography over other art forms?
As a young adult, I was always drawn to images in fashion magazines and art history books. Photography always felt more accessible and emotive to me than any other medium. It’s the quickest way to record a moment in time and I’m able to get access to people and places I’d never imagined I’d meet or experience. In many ways photography has allowed me to be more of an adventurous and empathetic person by connecting me with new places and people in a very human way. It’s the best!
Have you always been shooting professionally or did you have other jobs before you became a photographer?
Before I arrived to photography as a profession, I was actually working in digital marketing for about a decade promoting music apps, video platforms and creating content for brands. I was making a lot of money but I wasn’t feeling satisfied with what I was doing. Whenever I was shooting on the side, I would get so much joy out of it and daydreamed about doing it full time. So when social media started to blow up, I jumped at every opportunity to shoot content for the brands and companies I worked for. I started out photographing beauty products, promotional giveaways and eventually models for a beauty campaign. One thing lead to another and I left my full-time marketing career so I could pursue photography professionally. So far, it has been a hustle but the experience has been extremely rewarding and I have no regrets!
Where or from whom do you get your inspiration?
I get my inspiration from everywhere! Books, magazines, films, the streets of New York City, skateboarders and especially from my travels. A few years ago I started making travel photo essays every time I visited a new country or city. It helped me process the experience and trained my eye on how to edit a series. I worked a lot with Sara Fox, the Photo Director at literary travel magazine Nowhere and she really helped me with refining my vision.
I still love making these essays and would love to publish a book of them some day.
I’m also influenced and inspired by my fellow creative friends and my husband who is an experimental documentary filmmaker. I really admire his work ethic and drive to create work that challenges conventional filmmaking. He introduced me to a lot of wonderful documentarians including Frederick Wiseman which has been a wonderful source of inspiration for me.
Working as a photographer:
I’ve always loved Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s cinematic portraits, Saul Leiter’s painterly street photos, Nan Goldin’s intimate work of lovers and friends, Mary Ellen Mark’s Streetwise, and Stephen Shore’s color photography of American life in the ‘70s. I was blown away when I saw his retrospective at MoMA last year. Five decades of incredible work. I have a long way to go!
What keeps you motivated to keep producing new work?
The awesome support and feedback I’ve received from my peers, friends, family and past instructors definitely keeps me going. The photo community at BKC and Seeing Collective has also been encouraging and has definitely kept me motivated to shoot more. (Shout out to my awesome mentors, Justin Lin, founder of BKC and my past professor Curtis Willocks at FIT, they’ve both been wonderful supporters since my leap from marketing to photography!) I also feel that the hustle of New York City keeps me motivated and has given me a lot of opportunity to work and connect with amazing people. There is no place like it!
Do you make time for personal work, and what new projects are you working on?
Lately, I’ve been focused on commercial work because I need to pay the bills but I always try to make time for personal work because that’s the stuff that is most interesting to me. Most recently, I’ve been documenting a group of amazing students that attend a fashion high school in the city. Their ambition and drive to create is incredibly inspiring to me and I’m hoping to continue with that project and see where it takes me.
What has been a big learning lesson for you in the photography industry?
Basically, that there is no cookie cutter answer for determining your rate for a job since there are so many variables to consider. You basically have to look at each project case by case and develop a creative and production fee that will satisfy both you and your client which isn’t always easy. This is why photo collectives and communities like BKC and Seeing Collective are so beneficial to photographers. We’re here to help support and guide each other when we have tricky questions from both a creative and business perspective.
Tell us about a project that changed the way you work in photography (did it force you to create new work? did it expose you to new challenges? did it open you to a new community?)
I recently took on a big commercial client and that forced me to be more organized on the business side of photography. I had to get insurance for the shoot, hire a lawyer to help with contracts, create call sheets, production schedules and hire assistants. It was a great exercise in a big production and now I have a solid template to work with moving forward.
Who is your ideal client? Explain.
Basically anyone that trusts my eye, my ideas, has a sense of humor and is excited to collaborate with me. An individual or a creative team you can jive with is always the best.
Where would you like to be in 5 years?
I try not to think too far ahead because it can be overwhelming, but I’d love to have one of my documentary projects eventually shown somewhere or published in a forward-thinking magazine or arts/culture/news publication. Hopefully I’ll have the freelance life more figured out by then too!
Where do you see the industry going in the next 10 years?
Well, we’re already at the point where people are experimenting with 360 video and crazy VR content, so perhaps the next cycle will be a rejection of it all and a return to analog photography? Seems like it’s already happening now with the re-release of instant film cameras and brands adding a film look to their campaign images. A lot of my peers are picking up their medium and large format cameras again and the teenagers I’ve recently photographed are starting to experiment with film now too, and that’s pretty awesome.