Hearing about Lori Pond’s life exhausts me. Just when you think she’s conquered another challenge — like learning the craft of old school tintypes, or dissecting dead bird bodies in a taxidermy class — she tells you she just bought a drone, and with it, she and plans to document the levels of drought plaguing southern California. All in a day’s work.
Her current black and white photographic series, “Menace” is chilling and profound. It’s presented with extraordinary attention to detail, and backed by uncompromising research, compassion, and wonder. Lori never seems to stop exploring –which is jolting by itself, since she already has a full time job: she is an electronic graphics artist on CONAN – the nightly television comedy show on TBS.
She is one of the most weirdly gifted artists I know. I mean that as a compliment. You might agree after you read our interview. Then, make sure to visit her solo photography show at Gallery 825 in Los Angeles. You will no doubt find it dark – and very, very deep.
Q and A with Lori Pond:
TLR: How did you end up as a photog?
LP: I started photographing because that’s what my Dad did a lot of in his spare time. I was enthralled with anything my Dad did, so naturally I took up a camera, too. He had a little darkroom in our garage and taught me the basics. I was hooked right away. He taught me to notice things that other people would walk right by. We went to Joshua Tree a lot in the springtime to capture the ephemeral beauty of the wildflowers that sprang up from that harsh land.
The road to getting here has been weird. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Music Performance and Spanish, and a Masters in Broadcast Journalism. I thought I wanted to be a classical musician, but when I encountered the competition, I decided I would be a music critic. When that idea seemed unappealing, I got into making documentaries. When I realized that wouldn’t pay the bills, I somehow ended up delivering lunches at a post production house and from there they put me in the hot seat with one day’s training on a Chyron. I’ve been producing text-based graphics since. At “Conan” my job is “Electronic Graphics.” Another stupid title. I prefer “Digital Overlord.” Anyway, it’s a really stressful job punctuated at times by humor. I was on the show once in a bit about Qaddafi after he died. Conan said, “She’s having a celebration in her office now that she doesn’t have to figure out how to spell his name!”
TLR: Describe your show, “Menace.”
LP: When danger flares, what do you do? Since humans first experienced the fight or flight reflex, the subconscious brain has told us what, when, and whom to fear. This remains so. When faced with peril, our bodies respond with intensified adrenaline and racing heart beats. Survival depends on our instantaneous emotional response instructing us to run or stay, a millisecond before our rational self can decide. While our brains have not changed, what we fear has.
It is rarely a carnivorous beast that triggers our instinct to run. It is pictures of burning skyscrapers, reports of schoolchildren crouching behind desks to dodge bullets, or a gathering of teens in hoodies that make us tremble. But are these threats real? I hope that “Menace” will challenge us to question what we know.
The series confronts us with frightening, darkened, wild animals that trigger the ancient instinct, while our rational mind knows we are in a safe, civilized space. We look longer, closer, and realize the threat was never there: these are preserved, “stuffed” animals, their images captured in bright sunlit shops, manipulated later by an artist to ferocity. They frighten, but are impotent.
TLR: Tell us about the animals in this series. How do you feel when you see their faces?
LP: Most of the animals in the series I found at a local taxidermy shop that rents out the animals for TV and movie productions. In fact, the buffalo at this place was used on “Conan” quite often as our faux Ted Turner’s “ride.” I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with these creatures. I was just generally curious about taxidermy and thought to go over there. For the most part, I feel incredibly sad when I see these animals. Taking a taxidermy class did help with that, believe it or not. Taxidermy can be a real art.
TLR: Describe the taxidermy lesson experience? Morbid?
LP: In my class, we got to work on frozen European starlings that were killed as part of an urban pest abatement task. They are really beautiful birds, with opalescent black feathers. We had to rip them apart, take all their guts, eyes, sinews, etc. out. That was the first half of the first day of the workshop. When we were done with that, the teacher broke us for lunch. Strangely, I had no appetite.
I ended up really bonding with my bird, which I thought I had ruined with my ineptness, but he came out really well. I made my teacher give me bigger glass eyes than were normal, ruffled his feathers, and made his beak permanently open wide. I named him “Angry Bird.” I took him on a road trip with me to Santa Fe one summer–not sure why I did that, but it happened. A while ago, I found a wet, long feathery mass in my hallway. I soon put two and two together and figured out Kellie my dog had consumed my precious work of art.
TLR: What motivates you to constantly LEARN new techniques?
LP: I remember a classmate of mine in junior high gave me some really good advice: She said to take every opportunity that comes along. That could go very badly in some cases, but I’ve tried to be somewhat selective about taking opportunities. Out of that advice I developed my own mantra, “I’ll try anything once.” And, I certainly have a curiosity about the world around me and the people and other sentient beings who inhabit it. I’m an omnivore when it comes to devouring new ideas, art, almost anything. Mainly, because I get bored so easily.
TLR: Are you willing to do anything for your art?
LP: I WILL do anything for my art. I constantly put myself in precarious situations to “get the shot” and will spend any amount of money and time to perfect my work.
TLR: What do you hope visitors take away from your exhibit?
LP: I hope viewers will get the sense that to be an artist of any kind only takes a keen sense of observing the world around you and be curious about it. Living in the moment is also a sure-fire way of beginning a path toward becoming a more interested person. There are plenty of “interesting” people in the world, but a rare few who are “interested.” Those are the people who become artists, thinkers, inventors.
For more on Lori’s work, check out her web site here: www.loripond.com.
“Menace” will run at the Los Angeles Art Association’s Gallery 825 from October 17 — November 20. Reception: Saturday, October 17th, 6p to 9p.