Betinal La Plante is one of my favorite portrait photographers. I was hooked by her artistic and aesthetic sense from the time I had a chance to look at her pictures. In her introduction, she has been very humble and just describes her as a full time mother and occasional photographer.
This interview is an attempt to explore her, an attempt to understand person behind the persona.
For social networking, she is mainly active on the facebook. It is where she will be posting her all new work. You can add her page https://www.facebook.com/BetinaLaPlante2
and keep up to date with her latest contributions.
1. How would you describe yourself briefly (including your equipment and editing program)?
I used to say that I’m a full time mother, occasional photographer. But as my boys are growing up, I have more time to take photographs now so the occasional is becoming more habitual. I started shooting with film when I was younger, just as a hobby, and moved on to digital in 2009 when I became more serious about photography, solely for convenience and practicality – and less expense, of course. I now shoot mainly on a Nikon D800, with several prime lenses, but every so often I will use my film cameras and a beautiful Polaroid camera I was recently given by a friend. I edit primarily using Photoshop, but using very few and basic tools, such as BW converter, levels and curves, dodge and burn, and healing tools, when required. The digital process I use tends to mimic what I used to do in the darkroom for the most part. But every so often I do enjoy experimenting with other software and plugins that are available.
2. Describe your photographic vision in a few words?
Hard to describe because I’ve never considered it a vision per se. I take photographs because I love the medium, and I predominantly take portraits because I love the interaction between the subject and myself. There is an intimacy that develops, and continues beyond the session and into the processing phase. The resulting images are as much about the photographer as they are about the subject, a communion of sorts, which can make the work very personal and unique.
3. Do you think a formal training in principles of art and elements of composition is as necessary for a photographer as for a painter? How did you learn this art? From books , academy or just from senior photographers?
I don’t think it is necessary but it can be a wonderful foundation. I studied Art History at school and it gave me a real appreciation of the different art movements throughout the centuries, the events that led to changes in style and interpretation. As I became more interested in photography, I tried to expose myself to as many ‘masters’ as possible – Irving Penn, Erwin Blumenfeld, Paul Leiter, Elliott Erwitt, Lee Miller, Man Ray, Sally Mann, William Klein, Daido Moriyama… the list is endless. But really any exposure to art, regardless of the medium – be it literature, movies, museums, galleries – can only enrich the creative process.
4. Art has been influenced by various art movements originating from philosophy and literature. Do you find similar influences in photography as well
Photography is another art medium, and goes through its changes influenced by many factors, including those you mention.
5. What type of art movement is currently in vogue? Who are the most prominent exponents of that trend?
My knowledge of art and photography is somewhat limited to what interests me so I’m not sure I am informed or qualified enough to answer that question.
6. Have you been influenced by any literary figures in shaping up your photographic vision. How and what type of influence you received from them?
As I said above, influence and inspiration can come from many different sources – be they moving images (film), still images (painting, photography), 3D structures (sculpture, architecture), or the written word (literature, poetry). I can’t pin point a single one, they all contribute.
7. In your collection, we mainly see dark and grim portraits rather than smiling faces. Most of faces appear in a state of emotional stress. Do your subject are symbols of social pressures in modern materialistic society?
I disagree with that statement. Portraits that don’t depict smiles are not necessarily portraying the subject in a state of emotional distress. I hope that my portraits convey emotion, but I don’t believe these are all necessarily indicative of social pressures. We live in an age where most people have a camera of some sort – from professional equipment all the way down to a phone. And most people react to having their photo taken by trying to put forward what they wish to portray themselves as, how they wish to be seen, or they take photos of themselves as they wish the world to see them. My goal, when I photograph people, is to get beyond that ‘performance’ and try to capture an honest and spontaneous moment. When the guard is let down, and the act is abandoned. These moments can often be more serious in tone, but not always. Joy, laughter, shyness, introspection, anger, melancholia, and yes, even stress and despair… Every emotion will resonate if it’s genuine.
8. Why do you prefer black and white pictures?
As humans we see the world in colour, it’s what we are used to. Stripping that element from a photograph forces us to look beyond the normal, what we take for granted, and see the essence, stripped bare. For me, black and white photography has more dramatic and emotional impact, places more emphasis on the character of the subject matter, whether it be portraiture, landscape, street photography, still life, etc. Photography also started as black and white, and it has endured through all the changes and advances to the medium, so even if it may be considered more of a niche market now, more for artistic purposes, it has a draw for me for all those reasons.
9. From whom you have been most impressed in photography? Do you still keep learning from the work of masters or do you feel they hinder and blunt your innate personal vision?
I listed some of the photographers I admire above. They will always be a source of inspiration. But there is a wealth of contemporary talent out there, that may not be considered the work of masters – yet – and that talent is just as inspirational, and humbling. It is important to know what you’re passionate about and follow your own course, but I am always learning from others.
10. Do you feel photography influences one’s personality as literature and other genres of art do? How it has changed your own personality and world view.
Unlike literature, where things can be lost in translation if not in the original language, or cinema, where you guided through the story, or paintings, where the artist depicts their vision what he or she sees, the wonderful thing about photography is that it is a real moment captured in time. I am talking about ‘pure’ photography, photographs that have not been digitally manipulated, altered or enhanced, other than with the processes that would have taken place in a darkroom. Cloning, adding or removing things that weren’t in the original frame, creating an atmosphere with textures, enhancing and creating elements through post processing, is a departure from photography as I interpret it. It is digital image making, a form of fine art, and it guides the viewer because it is the artist’s vision, no longer the original. A true photograph’s language is universal, so even if it is also a subjective medium, it can be appreciated, understood and interpreted by anyone. It is also immediate, especially in this digital age. The power of photography in depicting world events and informing the public as to what it going on around us is unparalleled.
11. Why you have limited to portrait photography?
I wouldn’t say I have limited myself to portrait photography but it is definitely what I gravitate to. I love working with people, the relationships that develop. But I do explore street photography, landscape, still life… I like to experiment – I just don’t have the comfort level in those areas that I do in portraiture so don’t always make them public but I keep working on pushing myself beyond my comfort levels, encouraged and inspired by artists I admire.
12. What is your photography routine? How much time you spend in it and how you are able to manage it with your busy professional life?
Photography is a passion and I try to shoot as often as possible. I am a mother first and my children always take priority. But they are now getting older (oldest will be in college in a little over a year), so it is something I hope to be able to dedicate myself to more often.
13. What do you think are the benefits of social media in promotion of today’s artist? There is a frequent complaint that most of the celebrities are not personally present on media. Their publicity managers keep them alive on social media. How you can manage so much time on social media?
Marketing and promotion seems to be all important in today’s over-saturated market. It seems that talent is not enough to get noticed, you have to have a social media presence. With so many platforms available, it is no surprise to me that people hire PR professionals to stay on top of their online presence – it can be a full-time job! And let’s face it, not everyone has the ability to self-promote. I find it all a bit overwhelming, actually. I have accounts on most obvious platforms, but I can’t keep up with them all on a daily basis, and I remind myself – quite often – to not lose sight of what is really important. Taking photos comes first. The social media follows when you can fit it in, but I try not to let the ‘business’ of promotion take over.
14. What are your future plans in photography?
Apart from continuing doing portraiture, to collaborate more with other photographers and artists on projects. There are several in the pipeline which I’m very excited about. As I mentioned, I am constantly learning from other artists, so it’s a privilege to be able to work with some of those I have such respect for.
15. Lastly any other lesson/advice you would like to give to an aspiring photographer
I can only repeat what has been said to me by photographers I admire. If you truly love photography, then find a way to do it. Like all the arts, it is not an easy path. Keep shooting, keep expanding your horizons and experimenting in all areas, keep your outlook fresh and don’t resort to taking the same photograph, push yourself beyond your comfort levels. But ultimately stay true to what you find exciting – whether it be street, portraiture, still life, photojournalism, etc. and do it because you want to, not because you think you will make money from it. But if that happens, then it’s a bonus…