Jeff Louviere has a background in graphic design and art
direction, winning several national and international awards.
Vanessa S. Brown was 12 when she made her first
photographs, and was exhibiting at 17. Her work gained
international acclaim even before she earned her BFA from
Rochester Institute of Technology. Louviere received his MFA
from Savannah College of Art and Design, and it was in
Savannah, Georgia that Jeff and Vanessa met. Their first
collaboration was a series of photo storyboards for a film they
had written together. The two moved to New Orleans in 1998
and have been exhibiting nationally since.
The Photomedia Center spoke with Louviere + Vanessa to gain
additional insights into their current series of work,
"Slumberland," and discuss their methodology.
Discuss the nature of your collaboration and how working in
a pair influences your pieces.
Jeff: The nature of our collaboration is just that, a natural
extension of our life together. With Vanessa’s background in
photography and mine in painting and printmaking, we were
always crossing over, discussing, critiquing and blending
techniques and ideas. We always had two cents to put in
somewhere. So, we made a conscious decision to become
more focused, distilling certain aspects and languages of our
various mediums. Our work is very much like offspring – there
are definite aspects that are very much me, and some that are
unmistakably Vanessa, but they blend into a unique whole.
Vanessa: The work feels like a natural evolution of what we
might have come up with independent of each other had we
continued in our individual works, it’s just more fun and
happening much faster this way.
Can you describe your working process from conception to
Vanessa: We come to each other with an idea, or an image we
have stuck in our head. We tell stories, and reinterpret each
others thoughts to come up with a concept.
Jeff: Then it’s about setting the stage, painting backdrops or
finding locations, making props and costumes. Once everything
is brought together, we can move through the piece taking
images from several angles, we can explore this image we’ve
had pictured more fully and find new things we had not thought
Vanessa: Next, we decide on the best images and how to treat
them – our technique varies depending on the feel of the image
as well as the composition of the piece. We play and
experiment by distressing the images either before scanning,
or after printing, sometimes both on the same image.
Ultimately, it’s printed on archival ink jet etching paper.
Let’s discuss how the Slumberland series came about. How
long have you been working on this series and is it still a
Vanessa: Slumberland happened as a result of meeting Keith
Carter and attending his workshop. It was an inspiration that
set me in motion for wanting to do more with the medium.
Jeff: The Cobweb Sweeper was our first picture in the series
and it has a more literal connotation in that we were clearing
our minds of past work and focusing wholeheartedly on
collaborating to make something different. That photo was
taken in 2002 and we plan on continuing the series in addition
to new avenues that are beginning to branch out from it.
Vanessa: Muse was a fun photo and very quick from the
conception. We were at our model’s house in the country and
found a recently dead bird. Her family owned a tree service and
there were several giant wire tree baskets for moving grown
trees stacked in the backyard. I came up with the idea of turning
one over and making it into a giant antebellum hoop skirt.
Jeff: After seeing the model as a 12 foot southern belle I
thought she needed the dead bird as though she had plucked it
out of the sky.
Vanessa: The location, with the pampas grass, became the
perfect formal element for the composition to echo her costume.
The works evoke a feeling of narrative storytelling. What
specific themes interest you that you find you keep returning
to and exploring in your works?
Jeff: I don’t think of the images as strictly narrative, but rather
associative. Instead of telling a straight story, we use
unexpected combinations of elements to create their own
history. So, it’s the viewer that "decodes" the image to fit with, or
contradict his ideas.
That’s where the storytelling happens. I guess that would be
one of our themes: ideas and thoughts are useless unless they
are shared, modified and evolved. We collaborate with
ourselves and with the viewer.
Vanessa: We never consciously seek out particular themes.
Because of the associations we create, a lot of the themes are
subconscious. There is a feeling of isolation that comes
across, which is interesting since it’s a collective effort which
also involves the viewer in the story
Jeff: It makes sense in relation to dreams, which are very
personal, yet universal. Isolation in doses is good and
therapeutic. The images are stories of isolation. The have their
own reasons whether we know them or not, that individuals can
relate to. And it’s this isolation that creates the parallel for
The images show a beautiful amount of texture from
scratched negatives and of deliberate blurring which
generates such a rich atmosphere and recognizable body of
work. Tell us about your process and work habits for
achieving this effect.
Jeff: Coming from a painting background, the idea of the artist’
s hand has always been important to me. We think of
photographs more as paintings. Surface is very important and a
way to bring the painted backgrounds into the fore. Distressing
the image has an aggressive quality that is found more in
printmaking and painting than in photography and it works as a
counterpoint to the dreamlike romanticism of the subjects.
Vanessa: Jeff has taught me not to think of the negative or even
the print as precious, but as a step to the finished work. So
when he gets a negative and some bleach I can let go.
What equipment do you work with?
Vanessa: I’m not loyal to any one camera or format. I have a
variety of cameras, ranging from 35mm, Holga, and medium
format to digital. But, the Holga gets used 90% of the time. It
doesn’t hem me in technically plus it gives us a big negative to
play with afterwards. The core of our equipment is centered
around extensive lighting.
Jeff: And sometimes fog machines.
You have mentioned that you are now experimenting with
moving images as a logical outgrowth of your still
photography. What can you share about this?
Jeff: Moving photos. It seemed obvious, but it is a fun challenge
dealing with time based photography. A photo brings
something to the viewer, but a movie takes the viewer in.
Exploring this notion is becoming a passion. In the piece
Totem, I started by taking all the shots from one roll of film and
layering them together, like watching a movie in an instant. We’
ve started using 8mm because it’s prepackaged in 3min rolls
and the film is amazingly forgiving and can take a lot of abuse.
We’ve just completed, what may be, the first motion picture shot
with a holga.
What upcoming events/exhibits are next for you? What are
you working on now?
Vanessa: We have several group shows this month and then
we’ll probably slow down on the exhibits while we work on our
new series. We’re starting to get more tactile with the pieces –
creating more one-of-a-kind works. There are many more
layers and materials we’re experimenting with, as well as trying
new ways of presenting the work.