For any artist, there is a constant need to balance the personally creative with the professionally required, that which rewards spiritually with that which delivers financially. It’s doing work for you own self while also doing work for others.
It’s a tricky balance, and one that photographer Tyrone Lebon has intently sought after recently. While seeing his profile rise with work in international publications shooting for global companies, the London-born photographer opted to take a step back from the work to ensure he was still doing enough for himself artistically.
“I was trying to find out why I was interested in photo, to remind myself,” said Lebon of his latest project, which takes the form of a 30-minute documentary film and a subsequent exhibition. “I’d been working really hard nonstop, job to job, and it really exciting. At the same time you just feel a bit fried.”
Lebon sat down at the Gladstone Hotel one afternoon ahead of the opening of the showcase, where his film will play on a loop, and the artwork featured in the documentary will be on display at the exhibition. He spoke of an endeavor that turned the camera on his colleagues so as to perhaps be reminded through them why photographers specifically and artists in general do what they do.
“This is kind of an antidote for that,” said Lebon of the uncertainty that comes with such work. “I could sit back and observe some other people. I started asking people, ‘what urge does photography satisfy?’”
“We ended up talking about whether directly or indirectly there was a truth they were searching for in their pictures.”
Running through the documentary are phone conversations between Lebon and his father Mark, also a photographer as well as a massive influence on his life. It opens on Mark, for as the younger Lebon narrates, “if this is a film about photography, it should start with him . . .”
Still, the film, titled Reely & Truly, is sort of the middle step in bigger project.
Lebon admits he had the beginnings in motion about a decade ago when he was twenty-one, with the idea of interviewing and documenting other photographers. When he returned to finish it more recently, he set out to fund the project himself, making something more episodic and ultimately longer. Fortunately for Lebon, he found a grant in the form of Grolsh Film Works, a platform the Dutch lager brand has utilized to support and showcase independent film.
Across nine months Lebon reworked and edited his project, which contains snippets of photographers from around the world talking about themselves, their work, and how they arrive at what they are doing. The finalized version of this project will find itself in a book complete with a DVD expanding on the interviews and artists.
“To me the content of the film is fully about exploration, and the people who have the need to do that. It’s timeless; the tools may change, but not the spirit of it,” said Nick Sethi, an American photographer of Indian descent. Part of the exhibition his work speaks to the presence of a third gender written about and only recently federally acknowledged in his home country.
The exhibition, poignantly titled ‘a lie about a lie, a truth about the truth,’ a portion of a quote from his father that opens the film, is really “about reflecting on photography itself,” says Lebon. “My hope that people come here and look at this range of work. It’s such a wide variety, I hope it’ll lead them to get more interested in a couple of people, discovery something new.
There is exposure, yes, and hopefully inspiration too. Photographers in the film talk of chaos, of exhilaration, of capturing a moment forever. By taking a step back and reflecting, Lebon feels refreshed, and it stands to reason it would work for any artist.
“I go back now with a bit more distance and space and see what I’d been doing, and adjust things a bit. I just feel more confident with what I was doing and what I wanted to do.”
The film and exhibition run through February 28 the Gladstone Hotel. Catch it now, or follow it to its next stops in London and Tokyo.
Anthony Marcusa is a Toronto-based freelance journalist whose writing dabbles in film, TV, music, sports, and relationships – though not necessarily in that order. He’s simultaneously youthfully idealistic and curmudgeonly cynical. You can follow him on Twitter @MrAnthonyWrites.