Q&A: Lara Shipley — The Passerby


Have you recently been living by any life philosophy? I’ve been anti-dogma ever since I was able to leave the Bible Belt (where I grew up). But I do believe in the power of listening to and telling stories.  
What will baffle future generations about our day and age? Our lack of concern for our privacy and the environment. The amount of interest we put into social media. 
What is it that interests you about photography? There’s an indirectness of communicating through photographs that appeals to me. You don’t have to just say what you think, you can let it unfold visually. People don’t realize that they know how to read photographs. They work on the subconscious and they are very convincing. I like that in this form of communication, there is more room for the viewer. You can let them have an experience. That lack of directness opens the door for connecting in a more intimate way. We can “see the world feelingly” through photographs. To me, that is powerful. 
What is the worst thing about city life? Not enough trees. 
What part of the planet would you like to explore? South America, Mexico, Newfoundland. I want to get to know my hemisphere.  What do you think is the most plausible of the supernatural? I think most of our monsters are metaphors for the demons that live in people. I also believe that ghosts are very real in the sense that pain can resonate for generations through people and places. I’ve been thinking about this a lot . It relates to two of my projects in collaboration with Antone Dolezal, Devil’s Promenade and a new series in the works. I’ve found that people externalize and personify pain because it’s easier to deal with, easier to talk about. True horror is acknowledging the ordinariness of pain, the pervasiveness of systemic oppression and the exploitation of the vulnerable. We’d rather talk about ghosts and monsters because we can convince ourselves they aren’t real and that they don’t surround us. 
Pick a field of science to be an expert within. Psychology.

What moment have you most wished you’d had a camera when you hadn’t? Because I spend so much time thinking about photography, I’m never taking pictures of the people I’m closest too. There are too many times to count that I wish I had made a photo. 
Choose a job you would be willing to do for free on the side. Working estate sales. I’m very into estates sales. The biography you can create through people’s things is so fascinating. Describe the most important photo you’ve seen. 
How often do you take other people’s advice? Way less often than I ask for it. 
Describe a personal hell. A world with only practical people. A Michigan winter that never ends. Which living person do you most admire? In all the projects I’ve been working on these days, in rural Arizona, Iowa and Arkansas, I’ve met many incredible people who are finding ways to advocate for the vulnerable people in their community and to challenge harmful narratives against them. Whenever I feel overwhelmed by the exploitive and hateful actions and rhetoric coming out of the Trump administration, I think about these people and imagine how many others are out there like them, quietly working in their communities to make this country safe for everyone. 
On what occasion do you lie? I’ve given up lying a long time ago. I always get caught. 

What is the best way to educate yourself? Read books! Lots of them. Talk to all sorts of different people. Ask them questions. 
What is the next book you want to read? The Power, by Naomi Alderman. It’s about teenage girls who develop the ability to electrocute others and the ensuing destruction of society. Also The Magician and the Cinema, about the use of illusions borrowed from magic in early cinema. Both were recs from smart friends.

What object do you want? Designer shoes. They are beautiful like tropical birds that you can wear on your feet, but impractical for Michigan, the budget, and being pregnant, which I am.  
What object do you need? A breast pump. Because pregnant. 
How would you explain the internet to someone from the 1950’s? The shopping is amazing but in return you are always watched. You don’t have to remember things anymore. You can also read/see truly incredible, eye opening things, but mostly you will spend hours staring at garbage. 
Are you satisfied with your level of physical strength? Sadly no. I wish I had tried harder when I was younger. Now I’m creaky, cracky, and have chronic neck pain. 
Describe a cheap thrill. Anything from my neighborhood pie shop, a meal cooked by someone you love and then served on the couch, red lipstick, watching my dog run really fast, blowing off work on a Wednesday. 

Which talent would you most like to have? Patience. Is that a talent? Better musical skills. 
What is your plan for the next 24 hours? Blow off the rest of this Wednesday.

Lara Shipley is an Assistant Professor of photography at Michigan State University. She is a photographer and bookmaker who primarily makes work about rural culture, identity, mythology, storytelling and photography’s relationship to evidence. She has had major exhibitions in galleries across the United States, as well as part of the recent biennial at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC and GuatePhoto International Photography Festival in Guatemala. Her work is in collections at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, IL and the Nelson Atkins Museum for Art in Kansas City. She received a Masters of Fine Arts in photography from Arizona State University and a Bachelors of Photojournalism from the University of Missouri.

To see more of Lara Shipley’s work visit — Website