There was a time when I was living in Baltimore in the copycat building, a warehouse space. Next door to me then was a loud pit of chaos. In general, a rough bunch of guys lived there – who were also damn good printmakers. One day I stopped in and there was a high school kid hanging out who had just moved in with them. This was the first time I met Andrew Laumann. Baltimore Andrew. A few years later I came across some of Andrew’s photos as I was starting up Gottlund Verlag, my small publishing house. I was struck by his sensibility, eye, the breadth of subject matter and his even handed approach to it. Within that short time Andrew had shot a massive amount of film and developed an archive which documented a world in great detail.
To Arrive Where We Started – A Conversation with Andrew Laumann
Let’s start near the beginning. What was the impact of living with those guys in a warehouse space during high school, both on your outlook in general and towards art?
It was the first real choice I made, to leave my parents home and start living on my own. I left while I was still in high school because of an unhealthy situation at home. I was reading a lot of books on the beat generation and it gave me a thirst for freedom. Living with a group of guys who were seniors in college while I was a senior in high school made me mature a lot faster. I feel like I advanced through social situations faster, I was everyones little brother but I was a friend and treated with respect. They were my first teachers, I didn’t know shit about art, nor did I give a fuck about art until I met them. I grew up in a very anti art anti music home and community, it was extremely suffocating but I couldn’t tell why until my options widened.
You’ve traveled across the US a few times. What did those trips do to you mentally?
Those trips were dreams of mine throughout high school. I went into all of my travels with the mindset “no expectations, no limitations”. The trips usually lasted around 3-4 months and I would make a loop from Baltimore to LA and back. It sort of became a ritual, the idea of heading west. My experiences ranged from ecstatic to suicidal. My luck and my life changing with each new city I came too. I guess what I wanted to accomplish was just living, but I wanted to live as many ways as I could. I’ve woken up on a park bench and went to bed in a mansion within a day. It taught me to be optimistic, you control your fate, you can change your situation. Most importantly it taught me patience and how to struggle, it’s something that I use in my daily life and influences my work practice.
About the photographs in New Messages…much of them you mentioned were shot a while ago by now. Do you still have undeveloped film from that time period? How does developing film from such different times and places affect how you think about your photo work as a whole?
No I don’t have undeveloped film from that time period, I usually develop everything every 6 months though. Photographs that weren’t relevant for me at the time of putting together the book have now gained perspective. Giving space from when you’ve shot something to when you work with it is important. From the time of shooting to the time of developing to the time of having it actively in your body of images, significant changes occur in what you want to accomplish. I end up cutting out a lot of beautiful images because they don’t fit with the vision I’m currently exploring. Seeing a picture you took 5 years ago, now loaded with personal historical power can recharge a images power.
How much shot / undeveloped film are you sitting on right now?
Probably 10 rolls or so.
I’ll Be Your Prison, 2009
I know in your own art practice you’re moving away from the photo work that people most associate with you. Can you explain what you’re working on now and where its come from?
I’m not dismissing photography, but rather expanding it’s definition. I was making pictures last year and I was trying to work on things that just weren’t translating through a photograph. There was the self pressure of having to be out and about, in the situations to photograph them. I noticed I was missing out on my life and moments by constantly trying to document it. My thought process for the last year has been less about making a photograph (or a painting, sculpture, installation for that matter) and more about creating a vision. Freeing myself of the burden of being a ‘photographer’, opening my mind to appropriation, sculpture, production.
Conceptually I’ve been gravitating more towards art about art, art of culture, and social consciousness. Aesthetically I’ve gravitated toward minimalism and punk imagery. I’m interested in the power of contrasts and extremes. Black, White, Left, Right. I’m also interested in cultural symbolism which have worked its way into my work, the smiley face, the anarchy sign. Making the present history, referencing the past without delving into nostalgia.
Punk Monument (Intentional), 2009
Dope Body. Photo: Melody Often
Dope Body. Photo: Allie Semenza
How does the band you’re in, Dope Body, figure into the mix for you right now?
It’s a way to communicate vocally but physically as well, kind of like sex. I wanted to give myself a venue for exploring socially unacceptable behavior.
Where do you think your work and artistic practice will be when you’re older? I ask because so much of it seems to be centered around the emotions and sentiment of your current self.
I can’t say and I wouldn’t want to know. My work has always been a way to organize my present and my past. I aim to be highly personal yet vague to the point of abstraction. As time goes on, my interests get more specific and I feel like I’m getting closer to a more focused vision even if I’m not exactly sure how to articulate it. I’m fine with leaving the future a mystery, I don’t believe in fate.
How does it feel to be back in Baltimore? There are a lot of facets to this city and it’s portrayal can be heavy on one side or another depending on who’s telling the story. Can you describe for those who don’t live here what it’s like from your perspective?
After years of traveling around and coming to the conclusion that everywhere is “basically the same” I couldn’t think of somewhere else to be my home. The city is extremely dirty and extremely dangerous. It puts a chip on your shoulder, it forces you to be tough and street smart. I feed off this abrasive atmosphere in my work and my philosophy. I’ve always learned more through struggling, like in traveling, living in Baltimore makes you more aware of the fringes of society. As an artist, I’m connected to a certain world mainly comprised of upper class educated people. But as an artist, I feel like it’s of the upmost importance to also be connected to the other end of the spectrum. The poor downtrodden neighborhood I live in is frequent to machine gun fire as well as art shows and studios. The atmosphere can sometimes be tense, but overall as long as you watch yourself, Baltimore can be a beautiful modest city.
There is a quote by T.S. Elliot that seems more relevant in my life now then it did when I had it included in my first monograph New Messages back in 2007,
“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
Sky Self Aware, 2009
I know we’ve spoken about shows you would like to put on or are planning for your space here in Baltimore. Do you see yourself spending more time within the role of a curator?
Curating gives me a break from my own work, but is something that I do just as passionately. It’s been a tool for bringing out of town artists to Baltimore, while allowing me to use spaces in other cities to promote the work of artists I respect.
What do you personally find interesting or captivating within an image? What holds your attention?
Something vague yet specific, something natural that feels natural. An image at total war and total harmony within itself.
Any final words?
You don’t have to like me, but you have to respect me.