On Allowing Flow to Find You: 2019 Resident Artist Leika
Leika is a photographer in #BBATX’s 2019 Residency. In this interview, she talks about how to tell diverse stories through art, allowing flow to find her when she creates, and helping people find comfort in front of her camera.
This interview has been condensed from a conversation with #BBATX committee member Tess Cagle.
MEET THE ARTIST
Leika is an Austin, Texas, based photographer whose collegiate studies in French and Literature inspire the philosophy, romanticism, and spirit of rebellion within her work. A modern romantic, her photographs explore the the gentle and chaotic wildness of nature both terrestrial and human, alongside the harmonious dichotomy of proverbial and literal darkness and light. Self taught in digital photography, Leika creates a classical feel with anachronistic details in her still life and portraits, inspired by painters such as Artemisia Gentileschi. Through her work, she seeks to embolden her audience to create, to share their unique perspectives and stories, and to answer the call to close the gap between the privileged elite and the systemically oppressed.
Cagle: Tell us about your background. How did you get into photography? How did you get to where you are now?
Leika: I’m a Texan born and raised, though the “raised” portion has to come with an asterisk to clarify that as much as Texas raised me, I was also raised simultaneously within the Filipino culture. I actually did not get into photography as an art form until the last few years of my life, my formal eduction being a major in French studies with minors in literature and chemistry.
I mostly saw photography as a hobby, documenting fun times with friends in the pre-smartphone era with a hand-me-down point-and-shoot. I graduated to a borrowed DSLR in college for a now defunct style blog I ran, and eventually learned to shoot manual on a secondhand DSLR I bought from a friend of a friend.
I think the big turning point for me was a photography workshop in Iceland. Up until that point I was mostly documenting moments with the twins I was nannying at the time, along with some shots of nature around town, and then bam! I’m in a magical land with magical instructors who basically told me what I never thought of myself: that I’m an artist and that I’m more than capable to pursue photography if that’s what I really want. And that’s basically how I got to where I am today: by people who I respect believing in me more than I had believed in myself. If I didn’t have a community that lifted me up as an artist and photographer, I would more than likely have placed photography on the back-burner.
Cagle: How do you use your photography to collect and tell diverse stories?
Leika: This is something on which I’m still actively working. I am naturally fearful of human interaction, yet I crave to make space in the world for marginalized voices. I’m still looking for the right infrastructure in which to make this dream a sustainable, ongoing reality, but I’m fortunate enough to have worked with organizations that have allowed me to capture a beautiful array of diverse humans. Verbalizing that I actively want to highlight diverse peoples and perspectives, and working with organizations who also value diversity has been a great starting place.
Cagle: What kinds of themes do your photo projects explore?
Leika: The overarching themes of my photographs mostly fall under the umbrella of Romanticism. The ability to find the beauty and light within hardship and darkness; the rejection of religion and discovering the divine in nature and man; the exploration of the self and individualism; the dichotomy or fragmentation working together to create a whole; all these themes I loved in romantic literature have really informed the themes in my visual projects.
Cagle: You are also a maker, right? Do you still find time to craft and use your hands to make art? How does that art form differ from your art as a photographer? (Does it explore different themes? Have a different purpose for you?)
Leika: I am! I’ve always loved textile art, and when the wind blows just right, I get swept up in watercolor. If photography is first, then knitting is a close second. A few years ago I would have classified myself as, ‘knitter who dabbled in photography,’ and now the roles are reversed.
I haven’t picked up wool and needles too much after the 2016 presidential election; I have a belief that each stitch absorbs some of the maker’s energy, and there was no way I could infuse my knits with all the negative energy that was oozing from me. However, I’m starting to carve out more time for knitting, especially as I transition from my day job into freelancing.
When I create a knit, it is quite different from my photography. Whereas my photography takes on the darker and more serious themes, my knits are meant to be joyful and lighthearted. Knitting allows me to step outside the seriousness of being a socially aware, depressed, anxious adult, and to simply focus on cuteness.
Cagle: This season at BossBabesATX, we’re exploring flow. How do you find your flow and how do you know you’ve found your flow when you’re making art?
Leika: I find it very difficult to find flow. I feel like I don’t so much find flow, flow finds me when the stars, planets, and chemicals in my brain align. For me life is a Sisyphean feat in which I’m unendingly battling entropy and the dwindling will to live, so when I’m finally in the flow, it feels like having that proverbial boulder actually make it over the proverbial hill. I know I’m in it when I lose time. I set up a still life in the afternoon and suddenly I realize it is well past dinnertime, or I’ll turn on a series for background noise while editing and suddenly I’m at the season finale. I recognize that waiting for flow to find me is not a sound practice when wanting to create, so if ever I need to artificially generate some flow to start or complete an art project, music and chai tea are usually my launching point.
Cagle: How do you make your subject feel comfortable and authentic in front of your camera?
Leika: I have no idea how or why people can feel comfortable in front of any camera, much less mine, because I am always petrified. I think being open about my nerves helps to ease the nerves of others. Since I know from experience that if one is not confident in front of a camera, hyperawareness of the camera is a killer, I will oftentimes stop shooting and have a small conversation to shift and reset the focus. Because I shoot digitally, the knowledge that there is essentially an unlimited number of frames can take some of the edge off as well.
Cagle: What other photographers/muses inform or inspire your work?
Leika: I’m woefully lacking in my knowledge of the photography world, not because I think I’m above it, but because I would drive myself insane by comparing my work against others, driving my self-worth and desire to create down into a never-ending abyss.
That being said, I do know and respect the heavy-hitters Annie Leibovitz and Platon. Leibovitz for her use of color and light; Platon for his ability to take his simple set-up and draw us into his subject. I’m also inspired by Jamie Beck of Ann Street Studio and her work in Provence, along with Nadia Dole who has the incredible ability to make an iPhone photo look like a painting with her use of light and composition.
Cagle: What are some mini or monumental objects or opportunities that you consider a key part of who you are today?
Leika: Who I am today is so different from the human I was before, but the things that seemed to have stuck are:
The Redwall series by Brian Jacques
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
The works of William Blake
So much science fiction from Bradbury to Okorafor
So much music from Enya to Kendrick Lamar
The French language & philosophy
Mike Brown and the Black Lives Matter Movement
The No DAPL water protectors
About #bbatx's The Residency: We annually work with 10 to 15, Texas-based women-identifying and nonbinary visual and musical artists to produce site-specific work, commissions and exhibitions throughout our programming and events. Through these residencies, we invite the public to learn more about their process, approach and sustainability of their practice. Click here to meet this year's artists.