C. Owen Lavoie by Molly Dwyer

Posted on February 26, 2011

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Molly Dwyer Tyler School of Art of Temple University in Philadelphia: an interview with C. Owen Lavoie


1. Tell me about your start with photography. What led you to get your BFA?

My interest with photography started when I took a class in high school. It was my very first pinhole camera that blew me away, photography was so magical to me and still is to this day.

After high school, I attended a local community college and signed up for their photography program. It was there that I learned that the medium was going to be a big part of my life. I was lucky enough to have had a wonderful professor that encouraged me within each project that I worked on. At this point, photography became my obsession. I wanted to pursue a broader education and eventually ended up enrolling at College for Creative Studies in Detroit, MI to obtain my BFA.

2. Did you enjoy art school?

I did enjoy art school. It was very informative and I learned things that I had not known. It was through other classes, such as foundations and art history that I discovered there was much to learn. Art school broadened my way of seeing what was around me and to this day I still use what I learned from that education.

3. Your portfolio listed from 1998-2007 would be while you were attending college. It seems like you liked to explore the city and streets around you?

The portfolio titled Detroit / New York 1998-2007 contains photographs from when I was both in and out of school. I was influenced by amazing street photographers such as Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand and Henri Cartier-Bresson. I wanted to experience that same romantic lifestyle of roaming the streets and searching for the perfect moment or as Bresson said “The decisive moment.” When photographing on the streets, I feel alive and connected to what’s happening around me. I love shooting on the street because everything is in constant flux and it’s up to the photographer to capture and preserve moments that can easily be missed.

4. There is a shift in your style, how did that happen?

My approach to photography has changed in the past couple years. Living in New York City and photographing in the streets is challenging because a lot has been done already by numerous photographers in the past.

The Light series is a way for me to engage in street photography without getting caught up in what’s been done before. With that being said, in the past couple years a major change occurred with my approach to photography. I needed something tangible, to have more control over my subjects and that’s when I shifted towards studio photography. Using artificial lights has opened up a new way of shooting for me because I now know what to expect and what the end result will be, I find that very rewarding. The studio has brought on many challenges and I enjoy figuring out what makes a good photograph by using composition and lighting.

5. Tell me about the trophies series…

The Trophies series started in the fall of 2009. I was lucky enough to have access to a friend’s trophy house. The house displays game that was hunted in 1930. The project was both fun and challenging. I think of the series as a way of bringing the animals back to life for the public eye. It’s sort of like a third generation; first the animal was born, then hunted and handed over to a taxidermist so it can be displayed and finally in the end, modified by my lens.

6. Do you work in digital or film?

Since 2009 I’ve been working in digital format. It took me awhile to jump on the bandwagon but I’m glad I did. Shooting digital opened up a new way of photographing. With a digital camera, I can constantly shoot, kind of like making rough sketches and it doesn’t cost a dime.

7. If you could give one piece of advice to a young aspiring artist, what would it be?

To be honest, being an artist can be a hard life but that’s only if you make it happen that way. Be realistic about your goals and truly believe in yourself and your artwork. There’s really not a great support system in this society for artists; everything you do to promote yourself is in your own hands. Personally, I would rather create images and not spend time marketing myself and dealing with paperwork, however, that is not the case because the only person that can make your career happen is you. Keep knocking on doors over and over. I often refer to a book titled Taking the Leap, Building a Career as a Visual Artist by Cay Lang, it’s full of resourceful information to help guide artists in the right direction. Just never give up.

C. Owen Lavoie

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