If you leave

PHOTO  .  February 1st, 2013

Interview with Laurence Von Thomas – photographer born in Belgium and now based in London and creator of curation project If You Leave.


First off, where are you right now?

I’m in the middle of a triangle shaped room with a very low ceiling and no doors and the words ‘where to next’ written on the walls. I’m wearing a pair of shoes that belong to Buddy Holly… I know he wants them back.

You’re the creator of If You Leave (IYL), a curatorial project which features the work of young photographers from around the world. Do you work alone on this great project ?

I curate its content, but I’m not alone when it comes to all practical things involved… When I started working on the first volume of IYL, realising I might want to publish more things, I set up [arthur-frank] as a small publishing company. There’s a few of us now running around the place.

You’ve just published a third and last volume which is collection of work by 95 independent artists. Is it easy to manage and complete a project like this ?

In the case of IYL, I guess it’s not that hard, because I gather content on a daily basis for the blog. Then when time comes to start working on the publication, I only have to make a selection of a selection… Content and design are avid, but then of course you need to deal with all the practical things involved, starting with individually addressing 95 people, over finding the right printer, to ideas on how to get the book out there.

Where did the idea come from ? And what’s your intention ?

IYL as a concept doesn’t really have a clear origin as in ‘I woke up one morning and there it was’… . I set up a blog little over 3 years ago and with not much knowledge of the unwritten rules of blogging, started mixing my own work with images which I found arresting and inspiring. Next thing, Facebook and Twitter come up with automated cross-platform re-posting which decontextualises the content and friends or followers get confused about what is your own work and what not. So it happened a few times that people dropped really generous comments on images that where not mine therefore I decided to keep IYL as a visual reference blog only. There was never an intention really, but it has definitely found a purpose…

There is something very particular coming from all these images, they share a really specific atmosphere. Can you describe what you are looking?

I can’t really describe it in words and that for me has been the joy in doing this project. I’m not very comfortable when it comes to expressing thoughts or feelings in words (on top of living and working in an environment, removed from my mother tongue) and when I have to, it demands great effort. I’ve always found it easier to reference an image to an emotion or a specific meaning, so in this case I felt (and made the decision) I wouldn’t ever have to describe it in words, not even to myself.

Was it hard to find these several artists ? Do you have a specific process ?

Not really. I guess IYL comes in at another angle. It focusses on an image first… a singular image.. before looking at a photographers name and the rest of his/her work. Of course, the luxury of being able to work this way is because content is widely available via blogs, groups, profiles, ect… . At first of course, I had to source all of the content, but after the first publication, submissions started to come in as well.

How is it to talk to people from all around the world ? Have you learned things ?

I guess that for me is the most rewarding part of the whole project. When I started to play with the idea of publishing a first book, I stopped myself for a minute, knowing I would have to get serious about it, invest a lot of effort, get a loan, ect… so I asked myself, what it was that I hadn’t been doing enough over the last few years. One of them was travelling and the other one was getting to know new people. I used to work in film which has a very intense and intimate social dynamic and when I moved to London and focussed more on photography, this turned out to be much more individualistic… something i do enjoy, but at the cost of human contact if you don’t actively work on it.

So this is the last edition of If You Leave, is it totally over ? Do you have others projects for the future ?

Ah yes… this seems to be a reoccurring question. IYL never had any intentions as a blog or as a book (let alone 3 books), but it felt right, even tho after the second book, I had to be convinced to do another one. I would hate for it to turn into ‘more of the same’… so I hope 3 volumes have been a good balance between seeing it reach its full potential and boring the shit out of every one ;)

On the other hand, I do realise that a lot of people (including myself) are still getting inspired by a certain aesthetic which can be found in IYL and ties in with publications such as Ryan McGinley’s ‘You and I‘ or publishing projects like Alec Soth’s ‘Little Brown Mushroom‘, focussing on a recognisable style, we (as a subculture) might create enough momentum to leave an impression… So yes, this was the last publication in its form, but we’re continuing the project, steering it into a new format.

As for other projects, i’m putting together the first issue of a magazine called Mood | Board and we’re selecting a bunch of new publications under a project called ‘Arthur-Frank Editions’ for which we team up with a London gallery and a print space to promote them.

You are a photographer yourself and you work with important and well-known clients. Are these commissioned jobs as interesting as your personal photographic projects ?

On one hand, I really like commissioned work, because it forces you out of a comfort zone where you have full control over a situation and its content and on the other hand I sometimes hate it for exactly the same reasons…

Give us a song you want to listen right now.

What are you going to do after having answered this last question ?

I’m going to bed… it’s 3.38 in the morning.”

Thanks a lot for your great answers Laurence :)

[Selection of some of Laurence’s pictures in the following]