LERENZO TOLBERT-MALCOM

Interview by Punish Shah

Shhhh3

Punit Shah: What is the topic of your project and what form does it take (i.e. book, set of individual prints, etc.)? What did you hope to achieve or show through your photographs? 

Lerenzo Tolbert-Malcom: My project is the beginning exploration of the topic of self-perception and seeing into one’s inner world. It’s a project I would consider to be “in the works” because I began with this much later in the semester than I had originally planned.  I started the semester hoping to document a theater production that I was helping with and these photographs were mostly random ideas I had on the side concerning a long-term project that I had thought of starting at another time. These are those beginning ideas and are meant to convey the theme of our inner thoughts of ourselves and others.  

PS: What do you believe you were most successful at achieving in this project? 

LT-M: I think I was quite successful at being lucky. I want to show strong emotions in my photographs and that’s particularly hard to do when you stage the image. I found it really takes a lot time, a lot of film, and a lot of luck to get just the right feeling out of an image.  

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PS: Light seems to be something that fluctuates significantly between your various photographs, often emphasizing or deemphasizing various subjects or setting a general aura for the image. Were you conscientious of these variations? How do you feel they enhance the images and project as a whole? 

LT-M: I definitely tried to achieve different lighting effects to create different moods and atmospheres. I want to use this extreme lighting to effectively create a separate reality, almost like trying to make a stage to view one’s imagination. I think the lighting really makes you take a second look at the photo because you see a real object or person but at the same time the light creates an otherworldly feeling.  

PS: You seem to concentrate on people, but specifically their faces. What sorts of emotions are you trying to capture? How did you intend the fabric sheet to influence these emotions? 

LT-M: I wouldn’t say that there is a specific emotion or type of emotion that I want to capture, but I want the displayed emotions to be very real. In the end, I hope to convey the entire range of human emotion: love, happiness, sadness, self-consciousness (if you count that as a feeling), anxiety—because they all play a part in how we see our world. I hope to make the sheet something that acts as an intermediary between us and our dream-world, a sort of dividing line between reality and imagination. At the same time it is a physical object, and a sort of tool. It should represent the fact that we use our imagination and we create our dreams, hopes, and fears.  

PS: In other images, you concentrate even more specifically on the lips, while in other images you completely hide this facial feature. Did this have a special significance for your project? 

Lips

LT-M: Lips, specifically, are not a central theme of my project and simply serve to convey a specific message. Through the blue lips image, I hoped to replicate the “Shhhh” sound that we make and evoke the feelings associated with it. Also I like to take photos like that in order to retain the anonymity of the subject; I feel that photos can connect with the viewer more easily if the subject is unidentifiable.  

PS: What experience do you have with photography including previous classes? 

LT-M: This is my second class photography class; my first was the intro class with Chris Killip.  

PS: What role did Sharon play in guiding you through your project? How do you think your project would have been different if you were doing the project without any outside guidance? 

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LT-M: I think Sharon definitely helped me explore this project as a project in itself and not simply an extracurricular indulgence. She also helped me realize that I love working with strobe lights and that opened up a side to my photographic style that I never knew existed. Through Sharon I realized that I actually enjoy setting up my photos to convey specific ideas and messages.  

PS: What were your greatest challenge areas when shooting and putting together the project? 

Mask-face-closed-eyes

LT-M: Trying to impart a specific message in one photograph is a lot more difficult than I thought. It’s hard to know what you want to say to such a degree that you can articulate it artistically. For me, I have ideas of the way a photo should look in my mind, but those images are hard to put into the camera. For example, in the blue lips picture I originally thought of the color being that specific hue that you get from a computer screen in the dark. It’s interesting that even though I have a specific image of the photograph in my own imagination, it won’t come out quite the same but even so it might articulate the message equally well.  

PS: Do you intend to continue working on this project and continue taking photography classes at Harvard? 

LT-M: Definitely! This is the beginning of a project that I hope to develop more fully in the future.

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