Q&A with Photographer Leika

First, can you tell us a little about yourself?
The first thing I can say about myself is that I find it very difficult to talk about myself! I suppose the easiest way to describe myself would be a Renaissance woman. I’m a photographer, knitter, artist, and nanny who has a love for music, films, activism, slow fashion, and travel. I’m what I would like to think of as a composed mess; my brain fires and connects things in strange ways, but my life seems to be held together by some sort of magic.

What were you born into?
Long story short: I was born into duality, tension, confusion. Because of my upbringing I am cohabitating with my depression that drains my energy alongside my anxiety that fuels a frantic need to please others.
That’s the short story, but if anyone is curious for the longer, more in depth one, I did a write up for Heather Gallagher’s Born Into This Series answering this very question which you can find >here<.

You took some beautiful portraits of birth workers at DTI’s Born Into This Conference. Tell us about what you intended to capture with each portrait.
Thank you! Well, typically with portraiture there is research involved beforehand so that a photographer can try to elicit an expression that corresponds with the story being told. In this case, I had the story: born into this, but I had no way to research who, if anyone, was going to be in front of the camera. That being said, my main goal was to capture something true, any one true thing about these beings who emerged from their unique experiences to become the person in front of me. Each person gifted me with a little sliver of themselves, running the gamut between joy and sorrow, strength and vulnerability, hard and soft; and I wanted to take that gift and reflect the beauty of it back within the photograph.

Can you share with us two or three of your favorite portraits, and why you chose them?
This portrait of Carmen, to me, is so special. The gaze and style with the pocket square, pen, hat, and glasses are visually pleasing; but for me, the real magic lies in the androgyny. I love that for pronouns, Carmen simply wrote “Carmen”, and though that can fluster and confuse some, it fits so perfectly. Carmen exudes this confidence that I wish I had, and when I see this photo of Carmen, it shows that if you get too hung up on how to label or categorize someone, you run the chance of missing the beauty of the human in front of you, that there is a beauty in not knowing and just simply accepting. I think I may have freaked Taylor out in my e-mail about why I chose this particular portrait, because I could not help but gush and nerd out about how artistically pleasing the lines of this photo are. I cannot tell you exactly why that is, but something about the combination of the angles of her hair, eyes, nose, cheek bones just seems so expertly arranged. It’s hard for me not to feel like a weirdo while gushing about it, but I feel like there is something truly divine within the geometry of Taylor’s hair and face here. Can I cheat and give you several more photos? It is seriously so hard to choose! I had warriors, mermaids, Mona Lisas, light bringers, royalty, mothers, and ethereal beings sit for a portrait- it hardly seems fair to limit me to two or three!

What surprised you that day with the attendees you photographed?
I honestly don’t surprise real easily because I live by the idea that everything and anything imaginable is possible and can happen, but I was actually surprised that some attendees knew who I was. It was a little jarring (but, of course, flattering) when a few people told me that they had been following my work for a while. I guess in my weird brain everything is possible aside from people thinking positively about me, which, now that I think about it, definitely pairs perfectly with my anxiety.

Who or what inspires you?
Oh, so much – I am definitely a product of my environment. I’m visually inspired by Renaissance and Baroque paintings that utilize chiaroscuro – the interplay between the light and the darkness, the sharpness between detail and obscurity, the way the shadows can lead the viewer’s eye to what the artist deemed important. Caravaggio certainly comes to mind, but recently I learned about Artemisia Gentileschi, and her life and work completely blew my mind. I’ve also been really inspired by Annie Leibovitz, Platon, and Jamie Beck. Not only do I love their visions and styles, but learning about their methods and the paths that led them to where they now make it seem possible to me to really pursue photography.

Also, music definitely plays a key role in forming pictures in my mind’s eye. Last year I started a series based on Kendrick Lamar’s song “DNA”, and I’m hoping to kickstart another photo project based of Aurora’s song “Queendom” this year. When I’m in the zone of making a still life, I’m usually listening to a playlist that is about seventy percent Enya.

I feel like I could talk forever about the music and books and films that inspire me, but I think it important for me to acknowledge how inspired I am by the black activist community. I feel like I was living in a happy post-racial bubble until news hit about Mike Brown in Ferguson back in 2014. I believe that the heightened activism and cries for social justice we see today is because of the black community speaking out, organizing, and rallying against police brutality. Black activists place their bodies on the line with little to show for it, yet inspire other disenfranchised groups to rally together and create movements. They have inspired me to try to use my voice and my art to affect change, even when it feels like I’m screaming into empty space, prayers falling into a void. They inspire me to be patient, knowing that racism has yet to leave our country’s systems (judicial, school, health, etc.), but not to be silent. I’m trying to take that inspiration and channel it into a photo project, though I’m still trying to find the best way to highlight black and minority voices without overshadowing them.

Now that we are all fangirling your work, where can we follow you to see what you do next?
I have my site http://leik.co which I try to regularly update, and I also post work and sneak peeks on my Instagram @leik.a.

Finally, tell us something fun about yourself that isn’t necessarily associated with your work.
Something fun? Hmmm… I’m a bit of a science fiction/fantasy nerd. I think my path to becoming a nerd all started with the Redwall series by Brian Jacques and compounded tenfold after reading Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I’m also a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and will usually go to the movies on opening day. I’m trying to expand my sci-fi/fantasy horizons beyond the white male authors with whom I’ve grown up, and recently, thanks to the podcast LeVar Burton Reads, I’ve discovered Octavia Butler, Lesley Nneka Arimah, and Nnedi Okorafor – all of which have been a breath of fresh air and have made my nerd heart even more full. I suppose when I cannot travel and explore this physical world, it is nice to know that I can expand my fictional horizons and leap into new worlds with fresh, new perspectives.

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