I always knew that I wanted to be some sort of visual artist. When I was 10, I sketched the nude model with my Mom at The New School. When I was 16, I studied with photographer Larry Fink. His instruction revealed to me that with the camera, I could go out into the world, interact, and have experiences specific to the photographic process. This type of artistic way of working was more appealing to me than being isolated in the studio. I could create art about the world while interacting with the world.
“I was born with an offbeat sense of humor, which I find ingrained on my retina.”
Left: Miles Ladin, Stephanie Seymour & Peter Brant at the CFDA Awards, 1995. 17”x 24”, digital pigment print.
Right: Miles Ladin, Blass & Co.(Bill Blass, Nancy Kissinger, Mica Ertegun and Duane Hampton at the Seventh on Sale benefit, New York City), 1993. 44””x63”, digital pigment print.
Around the World: Leah Oates Interviews Miles Ladin
Leah Oates: What is your background and when did you know that you would be an artist?
Miles Ladin: I always knew that I wanted to be some sort of visual artist. When I was 10, I sketched the nude model with my Mom at The New School. When I was 16, I studied with photographer Larry Fink. His instruction revealed to me that with the camera, I could go out into the world, interact, and have experiences specific to the photographic process. This type of artistic way of working was more appealing to me than being isolated in the studio. I could create art about the world while interacting with the world.
LO: Please explain the themes in your artwork and your working process.
ML: Sometimes my pictures are commissioned by publications such as W Magazine and The New York Times, other times they are self-willed. No matter what the situation, however, when the camera is in my hands I use it with impulse and intuition. I am in the moment, not thinking about where the image will end up. I feel that all of my work is tied together in that it is a subjective investigation of the world around me. I become an observer while I am a participant. My desire in making pictures has evolved from documenting parties where I noticed moments and gestures to a loftier intention of commenting on the new American Dream and the aspirations of 21st Century capitalism. Due to the subject matter of a lot of my work, the themes of access, wealth, and celebrity can also be found.
LO: Your images deal with capturing intimate and off kilter moments at private parties attended by the rich and famous. How do you capture so many bizarre, funny and insightful images that are also piercing social commentary? Please elaborate more.
ML: Photography for me is about the split second…1/8 of a second to be exact. But it is also about the creator and the experiences that form one’s consciousness. Once I find myself in a given setting, I riff off the energy in a similar way that a jazz musician improvises. I am intrigued and excited about the human condition. I am intuitively attracted to moments that reveal a type of truth. If I am shooting at a specific time and place with a specific type of subject this is also revealed in the picture. I was born with an offbeat sense of humor, which I find ingrained on my retina.
LO: How do you get such candid shots of celebrities and the rich in NYC? You are at the parties photographing but some of the images are not that flattering. Do any of your subjects see the images you take of them?
ML: For the most part, I am an invited guest, facilitated by major publications. This provides me with special access that would otherwise escape me. I have been very fortunate in having access to a world that is very exclusive. While at an event, the guests are expecting to be photographed, so I am there, usually perceived as the hired help. I am both out in the open holding my camera and flash, and somehow also invisible. I am certainly not trying to take unflattering pictures, just to capture the reality of the moment as I see it through my eyes. I almost never have heard from any of my A-list subjects. One time the well-known Creative Director, Paul Cavaco, who I captured in a picture along with Linda Evangelista, Anna Sui, and Steven Meisel, commented to me “We know we look that way, but did you have to capture it?” I was a bit startled but also very flattered. The image had affected its subject in a manner I had not anticipated.
LO: Please tell us about your new series of work “Bathing Beauties”.
ML: My most recent series “Bathing Beauties” originated from a commission in 2009 by the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach. They asked me to shoot local contemporary bathing culture to compliment a historic swimwear exhibit. The seven-day shoot resulted in the solo exhibition “Sun Stroke Stimulus” at the museum. The bathing culture that I discovered is all about displaying the body in the hopes of being noticed and admired. Sun, surf, fabric stretched against buttocks, cleavage, and biceps are all tactile elements that give our eyes pleasure. The acquisition of the tan, the physique, the affluent lifestyle, are all means to entice the viewer to desire what is beheld. In these pictures I witnessed the natural beauty as well as the “aspirational desires” presented in the display of flesh. I was so intrigued by the subject matter that I decided to extend the project and shoot in Los Angeles and the East Coast. I feel that the work is an extension of my desire to document what I perceive as the new American Dream.
LO: Who are your favorite artists and why?
ML: I am influenced by a lot of different art forms, but at the moment three painters come to mind. I studied at Connecticut College with Barkley Hendricks, a painter who, after a lifetime of making great work, has recently broken through into art stardom with his work being on the cover of Artforum. He paints people in a way that combines the traditional with the contemporary. His subjects are from the African American community, a group that has been historically underrepresented in art. The other two painters I think about often are Francis Bacon and Anselm Kiefer. Bacon perceived his work as reality, cutting to the bone the animal that is man. He disdained illustrational work and thought that it was dead and false. While I feel that I know how Bacon physically painted his canvases’, Kiefer’s oeuvre astounds me-from his molten metal books to his enormous canvases that integrate plants. I have no idea how one would even conceive such things. Kiefer is also a hero in that he has been relentless in holding up a mirror to society (specifically the German people) and revealing a history that was for a long time not spoken about. His connection to poetry is also in kinship to my own process, which on occasion has revolved around poets. Lately, I have also been a little obsessed with the anti-establishment ramblings of cartoonist R. Crumb.
LO: What advice would you give other artist who have arrived in NYC and want to break into the art world?
ML: My first suggestion would be to not come to New York and not try to “make it” into the art world. I just feel that there are so many more interesting scenes out there and NY is just so tough on creative people these days. As an artist it is so helpful to find a community that fosters creativity and growth and I think that it has become very difficult in this city. I was born and raised here and as a photographer in the 90’s it was beneficial for me to be here. The most important thing for an artist to focus on is the art. Make it and make a lot of it…don’t worry about “making it” in the art world. That will either happen or won’t and for the most part it is out of your hands.
LO: What shows and projects are you working on and what do you have coming up in the future? ML: I am editing the Bathing Beauties project. I am also working on a couple of book proposals and hoping to create enough space in my life to make new work.
*** This article was published by NY Arts Magazine, 2011. NY Arts Magazine is published by Abraham Lubelski. Sponsored by Broadway Gallery, NYC and World Art Media.