Last February, I was walking through one of the Synergy events that is held at the GIC. The events are always a great showcase of local talent, where a combination of art from all mediums is available on display in one of two rooms. One room is more geared toward performances, such as music, poetry, monologues, and even interactive games. In the other room, attendees can feast their eyes on paintings, sculptures, photographs, and other visual artworks. I found an abundance of truly unique pieces up on the walls, and stopped to pause at this photograph of a small, translucent vase, containing a few delicate clusters of white flowers, accompanied by two loaves of bread. I’m not sure exactly why, but there was something very comforting in this photograph.
I never have been around much home-cooked bread, but it felt like home. This setting that is so seemingly ordinary, exudes a crisp, clean honesty that soothes over the hectic spinning of the world for a few brief moments. The photographer is Gwangju’s own Lex Asbury. She’s always a friendly face around town, and an obvious supporter of the arts. Our battling schedules prevented us from meeting up this week to delve into her art, but we were able to correspond through a series of messages and emails that led to this interview.
JG: How did you initially get into photography?
LA: To make it simple, creativity runs in my family. My father, mother, and sisters all have creative talents in drawing, music, and craft. It was bound to also be with me as well, however, before middle school, I wanted to be an author. When I met Samantha Uphold, a close friend of my late brother’s from his high school days, I was intrigued that she was a photographer as well as an elementary teacher. I looked into her work and was mesmerized. It was then that photography as a career and investment clicked. I, then, picked up a camera and haven’t put it down since middle school.
JG: I read the biography on your website. I see you earned your Bachelor’s of Science in Photography at Indiana Wesleyan University in August 2014. Is there anything else people should know about you?
LA: There is a lot that isn’t mentioned in my biography, but some of the most important things that you should know about me are that I am a people-person, extroverted on the extreme end of the Myerrs-Briggs evaluation test, and really value connection and relationship between people. I cannot drink coffee or have chocolate, so that’s why tea’s my go to drink. I also have a deep love for cacti and succulent plants, cooking, and corgis.
JG: What are your philosophies to photography? What do you look for? What do you want to capture?
LA: It’s never simple when I ‘look’ for something. I like meaning, symbolism, and simplicity whenever I style, plan and create a piece. Just like when I look for a book to read, whatever I photograph or research needs to capture my interest. As most of my work reflects, that test to revolve around people, food, and the relationships between things, products, and possessions, and how people integrate them and other people into their lives. Now, when it comes to my commercial work, I want to photograph what I idealize, the way I see people and how I want to synthesize my taste in design and food, as well as lifestyle. With my conceptual work, however, I want to touch on relations and all the dynamics of them. The good, the bad, and the ugly, because that’s a more accurate depiction of what connections with people are. It’s never simple, easy, and ideally ‘picture-perfect.’ Relationships are messy, difficult, and always with the obstacles that come. These things should never stop us from the pursuit of connection. I want to explore why we are social beings, and what that means for my life and as well as a general reflection for others to ponder.
JG: In what ways has your approach to the art changed over time? Any certain phases?
LA: I don’t think that I went through any extreme phases where I changed what I wanted to photograph. I can say that when I started looking into photography I would photograph anything and everything. That’s no longer the case. As I began my education with photography and began developing myself as an artist and person, I realized that my time, thoughts, and talent are extremely valuable. I need to treat it as such, so I began to be selective and intentional with my photos. Sociology began to have a strong influence in my work, and in university, the more sociology courses I took, the more I changed my approach to why I photograph people.
JG: In the day of age where everyone has a camera on their phone and is able to Instagram their way through life, how has the art of photography changed? Has the role of professional photographers been cheapened or devalued in any way?
LA: I believe that art has been evolving right along with how technology has been advancing. I think the only thing that really gets depreciated is the idea of what separates artists from everyone else. All of these apps and easy access to programs for editing and instant results blurs the lines between those who are intentional with creating artwork and those who are utilizing what advancements have given them. There will always be other factors, like professional experience, reputation, and education that separates those groups of people. You can’t stop the way that people utilize what is offered to them. But, the message and quality of the art will always speak for itself.
JG: In relation to that question, are there certain technical aspects that average person is oblivious to? Is there an example of a photograph where a professional photographer would love it, but the average person may be unimpressed?
LA: I think the main thing that people don’t tend to understand is post-processing stage. Everything that happens after I take a photograph. I have to upload all of the photos, make a more narrow selection, then, I go through about 2 to 3 stages of editing for the images after that. Film photography is different but the editing can take just as long. It takes time to go through the rigmarole of making a final image. It’s not just clicking the shutter button and the image is completely perfect. In regards to preference between professionals and others, I believe other artists can really evaluate and see the design and techniques more closely and discuss the pieces on a more theoretical basis. People who are not experienced in art may only be able to appreciate the visual aspects of the work. It’s just a general opinion of the question.
JG: What equipment do you use? How important is equipment?
LA: I currently use a Canon 5D Mark II for all of my digital photography. I mainly use my kit 50mm because I like the sharp focus. For film, I use a Canon AE-1. Personally, equipment can only do so much without any purpose or intention from the user. You have to make the camera take the kind of photos you want to take, and use the editing programs to your own devices.
JG: I see on your website that a lot of your artwork seems to be personal (people and places from your life), how do these series come about?
LA: Most of the work on my website was either created entirely by me, or along with someone I know, whether that be family, friends, or clients. All in all, if I didn’t have any of these people encouraging, influencing, and investing in me, there would not be any of these pieces of work nor would I have pursued the craft at all. There is no one single situation, but a multitude of many encounters that have made this work more personal. Another tell-tale would be my name of my photography site. It’s my name, Lex Asbury, because this is all a reflection of who I am and what I hope to present myself as as an artist.
JG: Which ones are more candid and which ones are staged? How do you feel this affects the final result?
LA: To be honest, all of my commercial and conceptual work is staged in some way. you can’t avoid having even a little bit of staging when you have either a certain look or goal in mind when crating an image or a message. Candid work is usually easier to capture in weddings and some portraiture. There is nothing wrong between images having the ‘candid’ aspect or being staged down to the most minute detail. Photography has changed since it’s conception long ago, and it’s days of being held as absolute truth and transparent reality. We know that there is some form of editing and manipulation in a photograph from start to finish. I think that it’s up to the photographer or artist to define what their truth is and what photography means to them. For me, the camera is a tool that helps me facilitate the conversation that I have with the rest of the world about what I want my photography to say about myself and the perspective that I hold. It doesn’t change what I hope to communicate, rather, it helps me improve and enhance that thought or moment.
JG: Who are some of your favorite photographers and/or series?
LA: A really inspiring series to me is what Angelica Dass did with Pantone and portraiture in “HUMANAE”. It’s a beautiful way to incorporate the international archive of color, Pantone, and appreciation for the diversity of humanity with their skin tone. It’s such an amazing way to look at people in a positive way. I studied sociology in university as well, so this series speaks to what I believe about making connections far and wide with people.
Another person who has really influenced me has been Diane Arbus. She was a documentary photographer during the 1960s and took such poignant portraits of those who were extreme outcasts of society at the time: transvestites, dwarfs, giants, nudists, and a plethora of odd individuals. There was only black and white film photography, so people upheld the medium a little more so than they do now. It wasn’t so much the subjects that captures me, but her direct approach to them. She framed them front and center, in such a way that you couldn’t shy way from who they were. Not only was that dynamic, but she was always respectful, intentional, and always gained consent and continual approval from her subjects to use them. She never demeaned or humiliated them with her photography. I value to be able to do similar with my work in the day of extremely connected people.
JG: Goals for the future?
LA: Currently, my photography has been on a hiatus as work here in Korea, but I hope to pursue high education in the future. I also hope to create some more personal series that I’ve been only researching and planning at the moment. One that I can mention is a more involved food series that pays tribute to the symbolism and intentions of old Flemish and European painters of still life pieces. Those beautiful, simple paintings held great reflection and retrospect of life and death through what seems to be rather unintentional arrangements of food, dishware, plants, and other seemingly unrelating items. I adore those paintings and want to make work just as intentional.
[End of interview]
Check out Lex’s official photography page at lexasbury.com for her entire portfolio and the most up to date information.