Ian Lewandowski is a photographer from Northwest Indiana, who now lives and works in South Brooklyn with his husband Anthony and dog Seneca. Ian’s work negotiates picture and body histories. He has exhibited photographs at Kimberly Klark Gallery (Queens), Skylab Gallery (Columbus), and Lamar Dodd School is Art (Athens). He has been published in Hyperallergic, The Fader, and Capricious. In 2017 Dashwood Books released “Vigil (RHYTHM) Vigil”, a volume of his photographs alongside paintings by Anthony Cudahy, which was in 2018 featured in “Queering Space” at Alfred University.
KB: You are coming from Indiana and live in New York. How would you say these places have shaped your work?
Ian: Yes, I was born and raised in northwest Indiana, in a working-class Catholic farming community. I lived there until 2011 when I moved to New York to finish my undergrad degree and then ended up staying here. I’ve started to notice more recently, in the last few years, how much my upbringing in the Midwest has shaped how I work as a photographer. There wasn’t a whole lot of advocacy for an interest in photography there growing up — I remember that my high school had a non-functioning darkroom that the yearbook committee used to use. I drew from a very young age, before I took pictures, and I actually received an award from a local art council for it. But I think my approach to photography now has more to do with the model of work ethic I grew up around. Not that other parts of the country and other artists aren’t like this, but as I get older I notice how proportional my self-worth is to how hard I can work. I certainly think this is residual and plays out in my life in New York. In certain ways I think my work ends up being about that very feeling.
KB: As a photographer, what moves you to arrange a shoot? How do you know you wanna shoot something/someone?
Ian: Speaking of my upbringing, the first real revelatory experiences I had with photography were looking at family albums from before I was born. In my family I’m sort of known as the archivist of many of these pictures. Sometimes poses I conjure are directly from this quasi-archive. Beyond family photos I collect a lot of images on my computer or phone in a similar way. The pose and posturing of bodies in existing photographs carries so much significance and information for me that I try to invoke in my own pictures. I usually start with one or many photos and sort of pick someone to “star” in the resultant image and then ask them if they’d like to participate. I show them the photos I have in mind as well. More recently this has been an integral part of the shoot — we’re working together to make the picture happen, and it’s important to me we always are on the same page, so to speak.
KB: What are your influences in terms of photography, but also in general?
Ian: Recently I’ve been looking at Julia Margaret Cameron, Tina Barney, and Arlene Gottfried who was a New York street photographer in the 70s. Also Elsa Dorfman, one of a few photographers who had long-term use of one of the 20×24 Polaroid Land cameras. There’s an amazing doc about her on Netflix — The B Side. I’m amazed by her persistence and sort of hijacking of such a stuffy, precious medium toward her own ends. She really got me thinking about the “B side” for which the documentary is titled: the photograph that’s in the reject pile, or the one that doesn’t get shown. There’s so much power in that for me. I also used to work for Deana Lawson, whose wisdom and visual intelligence affects me daily. She has amazing things to say about photographing people, having a rapport. More generally, I’d say most of my inspiration comes from non visual artists. I’ve been obsessed with Tori Amos recently, thinking about the power of manipulating such a rigidly defined realm as classical piano.
KB: How much does your work help define who you are?
Ian: When I use my camera, I think I feel the most like myself. It feels like the most appropriate thing that makes the most sense for me to do. I don’t know if other photographers feel this way, but when I found my camera and was using it for the first few times and seeing the film come out, I would be thinking like, yes, this is exactly what I meant. I was talking recently to my friend Caiti Borruso, also a photographer, and she said something like, it’s just a part of who I am and it comes with the experience of knowing me and being around me. I think this is an apt description.
KB: Do you believe that art is political? In what ways?
Ian: I don’t think it could possibly not be, even though some artists like to say theirs isn’t — actually I don’t know if any actions we take can be apolitical.
KB: What are you working on at the moment?
Ian: I start my thesis for a graduate program at the end of the month. I have to start early given how long everything takes with my work — it will most likely change over time and go through some iterations, but right now I’m thinking about it like a sort of Chapter II to the work I’d been making from 2014 to last year. Here are some tentative words on it: “I want my pictures to approach a fantasy alternate world, but also to acknowledge the persistent need for support and generosity in its lack. That generosity, the places I’ve noticed it, gets digested surprisingly simply: fingers hooked into belt loops, disembodied caresses, a piece of elastic digging into the skin or holding on a pair of wings; a single hoop earring, silver or gold, left or right. In my experience, and in that of other queer people with whom I’ve been afforded shared space, posturing can be a vehicle toward self-defense and toward glamor. We are both working. It feels like a radical exchange and hopefully a mutual gift. I’m giving you …”