It's not surprising to find Lydia Lutz completely smitten with photography — the self-described hopeless romantic hails from generations of photographers in her family. Outside photography, her passions are just as timeless, ranging from classic literature, classic cars and motosport, to music (she's a classically-trained musician who can play different instruments). "Aside from photography, I have lived an art-centered life. I enjoy reading sheet music as if it were a novel. I have suffered from insomnia since I was a child, and music has always been something cathartic I do to pass the time. When I’m not reading sheet music, I indulge in my other love of reading classic literature."
Lydia says that her visual work has one overarching theme: the dichotomy of beauty and darkness. "I enjoy shooting vanitas-like projects, exploring emotional vulnerability through art history and literary-inspired structures, and contemplating time in archival work."
How did you get into photography?
During my undergraduate studies, I found a year-long program that focused on art history and classic literature of Greece and Italy with traditional film photography as the creative component. I joined this program a quarter late, had never worked with film before, and was thrown to the sharks with zero instruction and had my first project deadline approaching quickly. I rented a 35mm camera from my school, read every tutorial I could find online, and started shooting my first project. I filled a large tub with black ink dyed water and gently placed metallic brushed flowers on the surface, shot my photos, and immediately ran to the lab to process them. By some miracle, the negatives turned out on the first try and I had a solid first project to show at critique. The photo professor who I had never interacted with before walked over to my images, stared closely at them for an unnervingly long time, turned around, and said: “This was your first time working with film?”. I made a joke back that I was mechanically and instrumentally inclined, so working with this old camera somehow came naturally. After that first critique, he became like a mentor to me and I ended up taking his programs for the next couple of years until I graduated. This professor inspired me so much as a person and as an artist. I feel so fortunate to have gotten to work with someone like him and hope to have professors like him in the future.
What do you like about film photography?
The joke I made at my first critique was more truth than a joke. I believe all my experience with classic cars and playing instruments has made me able to pick up tactile skills quickly. Like playing an instrument, you work to practice and perfect your technique and have to be creatively vulnerable when working with this medium. Having something tangible to work with was the first thing I fell in love with about film! I enjoy picking out the film type I want, loading it into the camera, having manual control over every setting, hand developing, and having physical negatives at the end to work with.
After some experience, I started to inherit old German and Russian camera gear from my great-grandmother and discovered that I have multiple generations of photographers in my family. This last year I got another large shipment of gear, this time it included a special box of hundreds of loose negatives, some dating back to 1900. I started a personal archival project to bring these lost photos back to life for myself and my living relatives, and in doing so I feel like my love of film was destined to be. Film photography is something that I feel I can endlessly learn from and grow with.
We heard you got into your dream art school. Can you tell us more about it?
During my first undergraduate film photography program that I mentioned earlier, the program concluded with a study abroad to Greece and Italy. In Italy, we studied at an amazing international art college in Florence called SACI that was very generous to let us use their classrooms and live in their vacant student apartments. I arrived at my apartment building that dates back to the Renaissance era, threw my stuff on the bed, and walked a few blocks to see my first glimpse of the Duomo. Gelato in hand, I must have walked around the cathedral in circles for hours that night. At that point, I already knew I wanted to find a way back to Florence to continue my education there. This last November applying to SACI became my only focus. I worked tirelessly for two months to re-edit every project that I intended to show, carefully curated a portfolio, wrote a show-stopping application essay, short pieces for scholarship opportunities, and statements for each project included in my portfolio. I had worries that I was applying to my “ultimate-fantasy #1” college and that I might be taking a long shot to even apply, but while putting so much effort into this application, it changed how I viewed myself and my work. I started to only seek internal validation and accompanied that with positive self-talk, which shifted my sole focus to build something that I could be proud of. Fast forward to about two weeks into quarantine: I got offered a video interview with the leader of the MFA program. She called me from her quarantine home in Florence, we had an amazing, bubbly, laugh-filled conversation about our lives and our work. The way she spoke about my work was so lovely. She had said some of the nicest compliments I have ever received, and I was thrilled that I did all of this to make myself proud and that it successfully came across that way to an outside viewer. The next morning I was admitted into SACI’s MFA in Studio Arts for Photography program. Due to the current state of the world, I decided to defer a year and am thankful for the extra time I will have to save money and search for more scholarships and grants.
What's the story behind the instant photos you took during the quarantine period?
As a child, I was always out creating adventures, binoculars in one hand and a branch-sword in the other. Over time, my appreciation for where I live waned, but now that I’m spending so much time at home I feel as if my child-like sense of wonder has returned. Instead of binoculars and a sword, now I carry a Lomo’Instant Wide camera and a book. The inspiration to document my quarantine life came from wanting to share the range of mood that my home has from romantic meadows and orchards (where I lay in the sun and pretend I’m a character in a Jane Austen novel) to the eerie pet cemetery and abandoned old barns. In the past, I have documented important memories in my life with instant photos. I have taken instant photos while traveling, at events, and other times spent at home. I have even submitted a couple into my portfolio for graduate school! This time of my life has been no different, I think I will always lean towards this medium to capture memories. I want to keep building on the large stack of photos that I have and create larger projects with Lomography!
How does the current global situation affect your productivity/creativity?
Going into quarantine at first was jarring to my life and routines, I was temporarily laid off from my job due to the virus back in March and days began to blur. After the initial shock, I realized that I was being given an opportunity to do something I’ve never done before: focus on myself. The gift of this unexpected free time has caused my creative productivity to exponentially increase. With each project at home, I’m reclaiming and rediscovering my passions, who I am as a person, artist, and as a professional. I now cherish solitude and will never take it for granted or sacrifice it again. It has given me newfound confidence, independence, and an unstoppable drive within myself to create and learn. I decided that part of this independence should include finding ways to exclusively rely on myself to achieve every step of a project at home, so I built myself a partial black and white darkroom in a barn.
Even on days where I feel less productive and just want to sit inside, I watch and study things that are meaningful to me. I binge-watch all my favorite films, movements, and genres: nostalgic Italian films, French New Wave (specifically Left Bank directed), Soviet Montage, films directed by Akira Kurosawa, Wes Anderson, endless horror classics, and anything A24 has to offer. In April I discovered that a photographer I greatly admire Gregory Crewdson is offering a series of online photo lectures through Yale School of Art. This series includes many interviews with inspirational guest speakers and features a variety of different artists. This amazing free online resource can be found on the Yale MFA Photography YouTube channel. For those who have had to defer acceptance into MFA programs for a year or more (like myself) and want to continue finding ways to learn, resources like this make life feel just a little bit more normal and inspire me to keep pushing forward.
Follow Lydia on Instagram: lydialutzzz to see more of her work.