Between 2 Ferns: A Conversation with James Kegley and Lawrence Getubig.
This month we feature APA “Educator” member, Lawrence Getubig. Lawrence has been in the Washington, DC region for a little over a year and has become a staple at APA events where he is known for his passion and enthusiasm for the art of photography. His work can be found at lawrencegetubig.com. Interview and Portraits by James Kegley
James: Let’s start with your background as an educator…what courses did you teach and to who?
Lawrence: I’ve taught a wide gamut of classes. There are still college programs that teach the fundamentals through black and white darkroom processes, so I’ve taught this at the beginning level through advanced. I’ve even taught color film using enlargers, but that process, the machinery and supporting chemicals are hard to come by. It’s been years since I’ve taught that. It’s status quo to have a digital photography program of course, so I’ve been asked to teach digital photography classes as well.
Which ones did you find the most interesting to teach?
Well, I’ve really enjoyed teaching at art schools with photography programs that go beyond the technical aspects of the medium. I once had to steward a senior thesis class at an art school in Michigan. The assumption in that class was that these were maturing artists proficient enough to create work that is executed well. And so the challenge had more to do with formulating a cohesive body of work with a message that goes beyond the idea of a pretty picture. I’m really passionate about lighting, and I’ve taught quite a bit of studio lighting and strobes set-ups to art and design schools spanning Boston, MA to Grand Rapids, MI to rural Virginia, even!
You have an MFA. How does that influence you now as an artist and as a person?
In hindsight, it’s rather strange to have an MFA in photography, no? I became interested in photography only after getting my BS in Molecular Biology. So instead of going through undergraduate studies again, it made sense to pursue an MFA back then. In the vast world of photo production, one conduit is in academe. Many photographer luminaries teach. Stephen Shore, Gregory Crewdson…Barbara Kreuger. That’s a stratosphere I’m definitely not part of (chuckles). But having an MFA is one mode that qualifies artists to teach. So I started teaching and attending associations that focus on art production in the context of academic institutions. College Art Association, CAA is major one, as is Society for Photographic Education, SPE. Actually, SPE is a great organization and resource for any early career photographer. Their connections span beyond what their name implies.
The MFA has really steered me into academe and its associated institutions. I understand that’s just one aspect of making photographs and art. I can’t afford to just be an artist, so I have had to figure out other passions in conjunction with my interest in the visual arts. Teaching is one of them. But the more I think about it, the more I think I enjoy the connections and relationships I build, and being a teacher somewhat narrows my community. So I’m currently exploring ways to branch out.
This leads me nicely to my next question! You mentioned that you might be moving into a new phase for your photography and photographic life. What direction do you see that going in and how do you see the evolution and change occurring?
I’m keen at trying my hands as a commercial photographer in the future. For now, I’ve been able to put my people and photography skills to work as an assistant for local DC photographers. I hope those that I’ve assisted spread the word about me! And I’ve been trying to network with the photo editing community. Both assisting and reaching out to photo editors and fact checkers (a fascinating behind the scenes aspect of editorial magazines) allow me to employ my passion for image construction, art and research, as well as helping out people with their own goals, and in doing so, connecting with them. People skills – these soft skills, if it hasn’t been said already, I’ll say it again, plays such an important role in any industry. Oh, yeah, and luck!
You are drawn to classics in many fields…movies etc. Want to talk about that and its importance to you?
Are you referring to my homage photo of George Peppard? While I was in Michigan teaching, I discovered that George Peppard’s grave was located near Detroit. As you and I know, he played Audrey Hepburn’s paramour in the movie. I was so excited, so I took my 4×5 camera and capitalized on the photo op. The photo references a scene where the two of them don dog and cat masks.
I am particularly drawn to how American film, especially the genre of science fiction and romance, past and present, constructs our ideas and aspirations for love, desire, home and family. Breakfast At Tiffany’s is such an iconic film, more so than the novella. The film really reached the hearts of many, including those of us who grew up outside the United States. Although from the 60’s, I saw B at T and films such as Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. back in the 70’s. I’m fascinated by how American imports like these grip the imaginations of people beyond the borders of the US. All these movies are about home, about belonging, about finding a greater purpose. It definitely resonated with my immigrant self, then and now. They were so escapist, they were flickerings of silver dreams, a way of emigrating out of the Philippines and economic hardship for many, albeit temporarily.
So how does this tie-in with your love to photograph the dioramas you construct?
Most of the art work I’ve done these past 5 years are cut-outs and dioramas that I photograph with my 4×5 film Toyo camera. I try to design these mini sets to mimic the iconography of these movies that I watched growing up in the Philippines. I’m examining and reliving how they specifically resonated to the aspiring migrant I was, with the idea of home, love, family, belonging and greater purpose. Hopefully, these photographs resonate and are appreciated by others as well, even if the associations are different.
You moved here not so long ago. How has living in the DC metropolitan area formed your ideas about where you are heading with photography.
DC has influenced me by…well, actually, I’m still figuring out how and what DC’s rich landscape of possibilities are leading towards. For the immediate present, the door of opportunities I’m knocking on are assisting other commercial photographers, but also, figuring out how I can apply my visual skills in this city. There are many editorial institutions, museums and archives. I’ve expressed interest, but so far, no bites! APA DC has been an unbelievable professional support group. And I like that there’s enough cross-talk between the other photo trade associations. So I’ve been able to connect beyond APA because of this. Hmmm. The future is too fluid for a concrete answer! I doubt Yoda could do better.
You are a pretty outgoing and positive person. What are you excited about in particular?
Other than photography and art-making? I get excited when I meet interesting, engaging people! Advances in science and technology are always in my radar. The last exciting event I’ve attended here in DC: the city’s 10th Annual Short Film Festival. Who knew the film community was thriving here!
All images copyright Lawrence Getubig