We catch up with the photographer Laurence Von Thomas to speak about his curatorial blog, pensive final book and the inspiration of Romanticism from Friedrich to Turner
Last year, when Dazed Digital spoke to the photographer/curator Laurence Von Thomas who was releasing the second book of photographs from his blog If You Leave - the blog had little more than 3,000 followers. A year later, the numbers have hit 100,000, and Von Thomas is back in London to launch his third and final book - with a selection of the best images from 95 global contributors.
The If You Leave blog started in 2009 as a platform for young photographers to submit their best work. The name, If You Leave, is inspired by three words Von Thomas scribbled down on a piece of napkin, and seems to have consequently become an apt guideline for the stream of submitted photographs, as they incorporate similar themes and aesthetics drawn from the title. Loneliness, vast landscapes, distance and intense expression have all been inevitably present on If You Leave over the years.
Dazed Digital: Tell us a bit more about this year’s selection. How is it different from previous books?
Laurence Von Thomas: I've learnt to always believe what my mom says is true when it comes to intuitive exploits... last year's selection was "more positive" than the first... she hasn't seen the new book yet. This said.. she might retort with a full blown Baudrillardian essay about colours and frequential energy in the comment box. Please mom.. don't.
DD: Can you list a couple of words or phrases that would characterise the selection?
Laurence Von Thomas: I'll leave that up to personal interpretation, but I would like to try and define the style of If You Leave, since it has often been asked and I never felt able to accurately respond. Me and Berlin-based photographer Lena Grass spoke about this during the summer and we felt there was a definite style/subculture going on and that maybe it was time to create some sort of manifesto and then give it an eccentric name... alas, in the absence of this glorious pamphlet, I think the term neo-romanticism might come close, since a lot of the imagery seems to relate to many of the characteristics of Romanticism in terms of mood, composition, theme or even technique. Turner and Friedrich return frequently as a source of inspiration.
DD: With so many submissions, is your selection just instinct based? Are there any guidelines?
Laurence Von Thomas: There are no guidelines. I prefer it this way. My selection is not based on objective parameters, so it wouldn't make sense to dictate any.
DD: Do you know how many submissions you had overall?
Laurence Von Thomas: I had to look it up, but it seems over 4000 since the start of the blog, though I would say 1/3 of these are images I invited.
DD: I can’t help but notice there are a lot of soft coloured images of women in a certain type of mood. Do you think that is a natural reaction to the theme and title of the blog?
Laurence Von Thomas: Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me that, in general, women like to explore the visual in a different way (and at a different pace) than men. I think a lot of the photographs you refer to are in fact self portraits or images of close friends serving as study objects.
DD: Can you pick a song that would suit If You Leave Vol III?
Laurence Von Thomas: Today it would be 'One more cup of coffee' (the White Stripes version). But over the last 2 years I've been putting together a playlist for each book launch. The list is a collection made out tracks from Spotify playlists by If You Leave photographers, so in a sense you could say it's the soundtrack to the book. Here's one for Volume III (though it seems to only show the first 30 tracks).
DD: You started If You Leave in 2009 on both Flickr and Tumblr. Have you sensed some kind of retreat from the Flickr community in general? Are artists moving to their own blogs, tumblrs, websites?
Laurence Von Thomas: Flickr has most definitely suffered some fall-back since Tumblr has boomed. For me personally, they have their individual qualities... Flickr still has many groups, is very useful as an archive and feels less curated, blogs work better chronologically or as a diary and a website still works well as a showcase.
DD: You mentioned this would be "the third and final instalment of If You Leave". Does that mean this is the last book for If You Leave? What’s next for the blog?
Laurence Von Thomas: I don't want to give the impression I'm milking it. I've been exploring the aesthetic you've come to expect of If You Leave for almost 4 years now, and while I still really enjoy it, it feels like it is time for something new. The blog will still run on and a few 'established' galleries, and more recently museums have been showing an increasing interest in the blog, but none of this will happen before the next season. Maybe we'll put on some sort of retrospective in combination with new images.
Do you think If You Leave has influenced your personal photography? Or vice versa?
Laurence Von Thomas: Undeniably yes and yes.
DD: Any future projects you’ve been working on?
Laurence Von Thomas: I've been working with Arthur-Frank, the publisher of If You Leave, and we have two magazines in the pipeline. One is purely visual reference, based on a pop-up project I ran during the summer. The second one is a heavily content-based concept. That’s all I can say for now! Maybe by this time next year I will publish some of my own work, take it on the road and hopefully combine it with a film project I've been working on for ages.
Books are available to pre-order online exclusively via if-you-leave.tumblr.com and will hit London and UK stores by December 16th