LOST ART: What's old is new for throwback photographer Lara Porzak '
by Jessica Ritz for Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, issue Nov/De 2018
"I suck at digital," confesses Lara Porzak. "I just don't get it."
In a world fullof pixels, Porzak is a hardcore analog adherent. Without formal training, she's mastered her craft through years of obsessively tinkering with vintage equipment, much of which dates back to photography's 19th-century origins. She has held onto hard to find film stocks and pr in tin g paper for more than a decade, and she has sources in Los Angeles and Santa Fe, New Mexico, for ot her specialized supplies. 'It's not called 'collecting ' when you are a hoarder ," Porzak deadpans.
Ethereal tintype images and film prints lined the white wallsof her temporary gallery in Venice, Californ ia, last summer. The tintypes are created on metal using a process that's well over 100 years old. Her portraits and photographs of animals and nature are rendered with paint erly imp erfect ion. Whether it's an over sized butterfly metic ulously material ize d through manipulating close-up lenses and 1860s photo-processi ng chemist ry or a hazy, forested landscape, there's a haunting quality and spiritual depth to her work.
"Beauty is beauty. If l see it, I'm going to do it," she says. "I go to Yosemite and photograph Half Dome. Am I going to do it as well as Ansel Adams? Hell, no. Will I do it differently? Yes."
After graduatingas a theater major, Porzak - daughter of Brian
Porzak '65- moved to Santa Fe, in part because of the awe-in spiring light. There she found movie production work "I always had a camera, but I didn ' t know you could make ends meet with it," she says. "I'm still not convinced you can." In the early 1990s she was an assistant director in Roman ia on a ser ies of slasher movies. Subsequent nnglamorous gigs in prop departments and on sets took her to Los Angeles.
In 1994 she was a bridesmaid in the wedding of he r friend , actress Elisabeth Shue, whom Porzak met through Shue's brother, Andrew '89. '1 didn 't know what to give her, so I took some pic tures," Porzak says.
She quit the movie business and eventually shot enough high-profile weddings- including t hose of Elle n DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi and Annette Benin g and Warren Beatty - to pay the bills and plow ahead with her film, tintype, and daguerreotype projects. If couples want traditionally framed, razor-sharp Technicoloresque wedding portraits, she's not the one for the job. Instead, Porz ak's images have a dreamy aesthetic, which she captures on film with inexpensive plastic Diana cameras. She has numerous Dianas, each with "its own voice," she says. "I decide which voice and which lighting to articu late" what's in the frame. "It's like a painter picking which brush and which color to use , and that'swhere the magic begins." ■
JESSICA RITZ is afreelancejournalistbased inLosAngeles who has writteuforpublicationsincludingthe Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.