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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Vincent Laforet - Improbable Reality

Vincent Laforet's photographs are rarified, captured milliseconds caught in an artist's light

Says Laforet, “I looked at CNN and saw images of protests in Pakistan, where effigies of President Bush were being burned. The images ran again and again. I was there when the protesters came up to me and asked what I was thinking. There were so many forces at play. The Pakistani government was pulling strings; they got a huge financial package a few weeks after 9/11. They had an interest in what the media saw, how violent the protests were allowed to become. I wanted readers to see that it was a minority of extremists in Pakistan who were protesting. This was a complicated news story that shouldn't be simplified to a newsbyte.”

Laforet took a picture of a young woman, uprooted from her home in Afghanistan, standing in shadows of uncertainty. He received 2,500 e-mails for the work he did in Pakistan. There were letters from World War II vets and Hiroshima survivors. He received letters from people in Muslim nations, saying thank you for pictures that showed they weren't a country of terrorists. Laforet received a Pulitzer Prize.

Laforet loves New York City, a place where he has spent the majority of his life. For the first anniversary of 9/11, he photographed the two symbolic blue beams, “The Towers of Light,” from the top of the Empire State Building.

“I didn't think it was the best spot to be, but as it turned out, I made a very simple, straightforward image commemorating the unprecedented devastation on U.S. soil,” he says. “That image introduced me to the people who built the beams. I later gave them a plate of the Times front page and they invited me to shoot from a unique perspective the following year. There was a full moon that night rising between the blue shafts of light.”

Laforet didn't want to make a picture of grieving that year. He saw the beams bathed in moonglow as a cosmic message of hope. The Times' editors went with a picture of a man crying.

It was an assignment to shoot New York real estate from the air during which Laforet made the image Me and My Shadow. Says Laforet, “We had covered my shoot list and were flying north over Central Park when I asked the pilot to loop around the ice skating rink. There appeared to be a family, maybe a father, a mother and their child. There were a lot of interesting things happening simultaneously and then the pirouette happened. A lovely ice skating scene became a memorable image of the connectivity of light and shadow.

In August, Laforet leaves for Greece to cover the 2004 Olympics. “I'm going back to where it all started,” he says.

And what will he do when he's over there? “Take chances, break rules and try to bring my work to a new level. I'm teaching a graduate course in photography at Columbia University and will make a point of telling my students not to repeat things they've already done. I'll encourage them to make situations their own, to see with their own vision and not to worry where other photographers are positioned. One of my main themes at workshops is to learn the rules, master them and break them.

And the great thing about photography? Says Laforet, “You're expecting one thing to happen and then something better happens. You've just got to be ready for the unexpected.”

To see more of Vincent Laforet's photography, visit www.vincentlaforet.com.



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