Local photographer Lauren Ray captures youth, rebellion and nostalgia with a sharp eye and deep love for the magic moments of the everyday. This same subversion of the mundane can be heard in the playful, sarcastic lyrics she belts out with her band Jock Tears. Not only does Ray create art, she also curates it. She has been organizing the monthly event Mixed Gems for over a year now, bringing together a variety of new and established artists from all over the Lower Mainland.
Kelly LaBounty: How did you get into photography?
Lauren Ray: It all started when I was gifted a sparkly pink Spice Girls polaroid camera for my 7th birthday. Initially, I was stoked to have another treasured item that I could add to my collection of Spice Girls paraphernalia, but once I started actually using it, I couldn’t stop! I liked the way the film would just pop right out at the bottom, like magic. I covered my bedroom walls with dozens of Polaroids (several of them were just photos of my other Spice Girls-related items) but I took lots of my friends and family as well! Eventually, the camera broke and so did my little heart. I guess I went on a bit of a hiatus from taking photos due to devastation, so I’ll fast forward a few years.
I felt like a total weirdo in high school. I wasn’t very academic but I loved choir, music got me through my teen years. I lived in the suburbs and I begged my Mom to drive me out to Coquitlam in her minivan to go see D.O.A. play an all-ages show at a community centre. After that, I realized that I could have way more fun at shows than I ever did at any high school dance.
All-ages shows weren’t very common at the time, and since I was only fourteen years old, I paid this girl’s older sister for a fake ID. I would bus out to the city to see bands play and I usually went by myself. Although people were mostly nice to me, I was just a nervous teenager who didn’t really know how to make friends.
I felt as though I needed to be contributing to the music scene in order to give myself some sort of purpose while trying to be a part of it. I couldn’t play an instrument, but thought I might be okay at taking photos. It seemed easier to click a button than to play complicated notes. I took one of the cameras from school and brought it with me everywhere. I started taking lots of pictures and developing prints at school to give to people in the bands so I had a reason to talk to them.
KL: Was there ever a defining moment where you felt like you’d made it, that this was going to be your career?
LR: It’s a tricky question to answer because I still don’t quite feel like I’ve “made it.” When do you know if you have or not? I wouldn’t say photography is my career at this point in my life. I have to work lots of side jobs so that I can pursue my creative projects. Lots of artists I know often do the same. My roommate gets commissioned to paint all kinds of things, like huge walls and basketball courts around the city, but on her days off she works at Budgie’s. I have another friend who is a full-time dog walker during the day, but is also a freelance designer for lots of fancy magazines and websites. You just make it work however you can.
To be honest, I have a bit of imposter syndrome. I still have moments where I attribute most of my success as a lucky break and nothing more. As I get older I’m trying to take things at face value and recognize that photography is something I’ve worked hard at. I feel very lucky when I am offered a photography job that contributes to my livelihood, because I love doing it anyways and it means I can buy more film.
KL: How do you capture the sense of authenticity and comfort present in your work?
LR: I bring my camera with me almost everywhere I go. I even wear it around my neck like a dorky tourist. My photos are simply small details that decorate my daily life. I’d rather shoot on an $8 camera held together with duct tape than a Hasselblad or something. I’m not very focused on technicalities. I guess that’s why you might see authenticity in my work, because I just don’t know any other way to go about taking pictures.
KL: Is there a specific subject that really inspires you?
LR: I like taking pictures of everything. I especially love taking photos of my friends and family because they mean the most to me. Sometimes it’s not really clear to me at the time as to why I choose my subject matter, it’s just whatever happens to pop up and inspire me! It’s almost always in retrospect that it starts to make more sense or become more cohesive. I’ll start to notice patterns within my archive and then I can categorize the photos into different projects or a series of some kind.
KL: What’s next for you - where are you headed?
LR: Big question! I’m currently headed to California because I’m on tour with my band, and I’m writing some of these answers from our soccer mom van (full of instruments and road snack wrappers, very glamorous!). We’re also writing a new album!
When we get back from tour, I’ll be speaking on a panel at Capture Photography Festival. It’s a discussion about the commercial revival of analog photography despite the digital technology we have available to us. I’m a bit nervous, but very stoked to have been asked. It’s on April 4 at Massy Books.