A devil’s bargain—do all you can to get everything you ever wanted and see at the end that all you ever wanted isn’t what you gave your life for. Ask for eternal life and get a life remembered in pictures. Your image will outlast us all, the bargain goes. You will be eternal. You will always be here. And that’s the moral of it. Nothing is as it seems.
Take what you see in Louise Parker’s photographs for example. Of course, you’ll see a world most of us will never know. You will see beautiful people and beautiful lands. Everything you could ever dream about, yes. But if you look closer, and if you really give a damn about what’s being shown to you, you’ll see the other side to the bargain. You will see frustration, loneliness, and pain.
You’ll get a perspective of what it means to have your life photographed and seen throughout the world just to be a story, or an image, for us to have and one day forget. The consumable life and a fight against it. That’s what I hear in Louise Parker’s photography, and it’s so beautiful I had to go overboard with an intro, once again.
Louise Parker is a Society Management model. She has worked with Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, and Oscar De La Renta, among many others. She graduated from Bard College with a degree in photography, studied for a semester with Stephen Shore (goddamn, can you imagine!?) and has had her photography featured in New York Magazine.
Although there’s a lot of beauty in what you capture, there’s also desperation. It’s quiet but it’s there. This leads me to some obvious and important questions: how do you feel about modeling? Are you enjoying it?
I do really enjoy modeling, and I actually got into it through photography. In college I modeled frequently for the photographers Ryan McGinley and Roe Ethridge. This experience, working with photographers I deeply admired, encouraged me to pursue modeling fulltime when I graduated. However, I don’t always get to work with such inspiring people, and, as with any job, there are good days and bad days. At times, particularly during fashion weeks, it is easy to feel expendable. It’s frustrating when you are not given a voice and unable to be a part of the creative process. In the past, models were muses but now there are so many girls, and it has become so competitive that it’s difficult to create long lasting relationships with designers, stylists, photographers, etc.
Let’s talk about your photography. How did you get your start? How would you describe your work?
My interest in photography began in high school when I joined our student newspaper as the staff photographer. When I began my freshman year at Bard College, I took one semester of photography under Stephen Shore and immediately knew I wanted to pursue it as my major. At Bard, I was really interested in the “New Topographic” photographers. I mostly worked with a large-format film camera and experimented with photogravure printing. When I began modeling, I carried around a Contax T2 and began documenting my day-to-day experiences. In many ways my photography has now returned to my original interest in photojournalism.
I really love this photograph. What’s the story behind it? Could you explain how it was made from start to finish? Again, there’s some pain in what you captured.
This photograph was one of the first self-portraits I took. It was taken at 2 am after a long two-day shoot in the middle of January. The story took place on NYC rooftops at nighttime and involved very little clothing. My hair had also been knotted into disgusting dread locks. The team I worked with was fun and friendly and did their best to keep me comfortable, but overall it was not a good experience. I didn’t believe in the overall direction or vision for the story. When I got home that night I felt exhausted, frustrated, and a bit used. I wanted to capture that pain as well as the unflattering hair and makeup. The story was cancelled and never published.
Could you explain your approach to self-portraits? When do you usually find yourself capturing one? After a show? Before one? Or is it tied to a particular mood? When did you take this one?
I am always taking self-portraits; whether I am sitting in hair and makeup or alone back at my hotel room, I try and capture all aspects of my life as a model. Some photos are very straightforward and documentary, showing these day-to-day routines, while others are more playful and imaginative. I always try and take advantage of what situation I am in – if I’m in a beautiful location, I try to incorporate that into my photograph as well as the styling, hair, makeup, etc. This photograph is actually inspired by a self-portrait taken by the French photographer Claude Cahun. I got home from shooting an editorial in New York and had this big hair and the sun was beginning to set so there was a nice glow in my bedroom. I had my boyfriend help me set up my tripod and camera directly over me in bed and took a series of images to mimic the one by Cahun.
One of your strengths is finding unexplored details. For example, this photo’s one that only someone who photographs and models would see. Why did you include the other models in the frame? What does the grid of faces signify to you?
To me, this grid represents the expendable nature of the job. One tall skinny blonde girl will replace another tall skinny blonde girl the next season. In fact, after being fitted and confirmed for this show (Tommy Hilfiger SS14), I was cancelled, and my outfit was given to a brunette because they felt her coloring fit the clothes better.
What do other models say about your photography? Has anyone ever asked you about your motives? Do you consider the act of photographing escapist?
My fellow models are very engaging and supportive of my photography and they think it’s great that someone is showing our perspective. I am also always very sympathetic and mindful of when and what I am photographing. I never try and portray a girl in a negative light and understand that no one wants a camera shoved in their face early in the morning or when they are eating. In some ways my act of photographing is escapist because it gives me a task or purpose during long periods of downtime and solitude. However, it also gives me a voice. It is much more than just a hobby because it allows me to regain control of my image and illustrate my story.
You’ve mentioned that a dream of yours would be to shoot an editorial where you photograph and model in it. What would that editorial look like? What colors would you use? You have a great eye for color.
I think it would be interesting to do a sort of “behind-the-scenes” editorial that follows a model (me) throughout a shoot. For example, this would include a photo of me sitting in hair and makeup to me standing on set being touched up. I think I would use bright colors and graphic shapes but try and keep each image pretty minimal. The styling would obviously be very important. Though, I would need to learn everything there is to know about studio lighting overnight because this was something we were never taught at Bard! Maybe, a location shoot would be an easier place for me to start.
Since you travel a lot, could you describe what you see when you answer these questions? How is the light? What mood does it inspire? What is all around you?
Right now, I’m sitting on an airplane on my way to Costa Rica for vacation with my family. To be honest, the environment is not very inspiring. I find airplanes in general to be very dull and uninspiring, unless you’re lucky enough to catch an early morning sunrise or evening sunset. I have tried many times to make photographs on planes and have succeeded in only one semi-decent self-portrait during sunset. I think William Eggleston’s photograph of a glass and hand holding a cocktail straw may be the only successful plane photograph I’ve ever seen.
Who are your greatest influences? Do you have any loves greater than photography or modeling?
In terms of photography I am greatly influenced by Nan Goldin, Cindy Sherman, Mike Brodie and Claude Cahun. My favorite photographers include Lewis Baltz, Robert Adams, Philip Lorca DiCorcia, Lise Safarti, Alec Soth and Roe Etrhridge. Lee Miller, both as a model and a photographer, is an inspiration to me. Apart from photography and modeling I love painting. Before I became serious about photography I actually wanted to be a painter. I also love to ski!
Check out all of Louise’s work on her website!