Matt Lara

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  • Club Friendship with Lisa Bierman and Company

    A few weeks ago, my friend Lisa Bierman staged a new theatre piece in the 92-year-old carousel house on the Santa Monica Pier called Club Friendship. I've seen a few immersive theatre experiences in my time, but this was one of the least expected spaces I'd ever expect to see a play in. It wasn't really a play as much as it was an evening of contributions from friends and collaborators. There were scenes, music, monologue pieces...all taking place in various locations around the carousel.

    It made me very happy to be asked back by Lisa to photograph the evening.

    The audience got to sit on the floor, stand around the actors, or even sit on bar stools as part of the scenes.

    There was so much to love about this show but hardly anything could beat the finale which had the entire audiance riding the old carousel to "Cherish" by Madonna.

    This was a much needed positive and uplifting experience in a time when something like this is much needed.

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  • Adventures in Summer Camp

    I make it back every year...Camp Bravo is my home in the woods for a week every summer. I've posted on Bravo before, but basically it just fills up my tank with inspiration and joy. And every summer it's as if my tank is on "E" right as I make my way up the mountain to our host campsite, Camp de Benneville pines near Angelus Oaks, California.

    From the few snapshots I got this year, Camp Bravo looks like your average summer camp. We have a lot of those camp things that kids love, but we are mainly a performing arts camp. Our emphasis is on collaboration and creativity, rather than auditions and putting up a show.

    No show. No auditions. No pressure on the kids. We mainly hold three or four workshops, plus activities, each day. It's theatre training from morning 'till evening.

    We have some amazing campers, and the folks who keep it all going are these crazy camp counselors (see above images). I just love these guys and they keep me young in many, many ways.

    There are a few hundred more images I could post, but please enjoy these few.

    Our summer season is pretty much over, but if you feel like showing some support for this little non-profit (founded in 1995!) head over to our website!

  • Retreat

    "You have to go to Burning Man.”
    Words I’m a little too familiar with. I remember about 10 years ago I was working as a dancer in a corporate entertainment company. We were in a limo en route to a gig on Long Island (or lord knows where) and one of my castmates kept going on and on about her week at Burning Man. I was intrigued. It sounded really cool to go out to the desert in the middle of nowhere and do nothing but make art and be creative all day. I never made it there, though. Time passed and along came social media which pretty much ruins anything trendy. Nowadays I might roll an eye or two if anyone even mentions their "Burn.”
    To be clear, I actually don’t have any hate for Burning Man. Perhaps a little FOMO about it, but that’s really it.
    I get that us creative folks need a retreat of some sort. A space to disappear for awhile. Some people really do need that week in the desert. People save up for the entire year to go pretend they don’t live their mundane, day-to-day lives. Me, I need a week in the mountains every year teaching at Camp Bravo. I’m lucky to have been able to go there since I was 14.
    Then there's this thing with social media that makes us to want to go to these places and post about how authentic we are. How we’re having such a great time while we take selfies.
    Again, I don’t hate that. But it’s not what I’m necessarily for. Make that escape whenever you can. Take the week off. Go to the desert, the mountains. A tiny hotel room to go finish the novel. The point should be to come back home to the life you have now having felt enriched by the escape. Maybe you come to some realizations or decide to make a few changes. Maybe you just made some memories. The point is to eventually come home, not constantly escape.
    So really, I don’t have to go to Burning Man. Stop telling me I do.
  • My afternoon coffee.

    I paused for a moment to capture my afternoon coffee. Seems to be a basic Instagram subject. People seem to love pictures of coffee. It’s a lovely, temperate Spring here in Southern California and the warm coffee on a slow afternoon was a comfort to me. Nothing profound, just comforting. The afternoon light made it better.

    As I navigate out of the plights of my last few years—my family loss, and figuring out what steps to take next—these moments are worth taking the time for. Thankfully, I am armed with a few good cameras to see me through.

    Matt

  • Poster photos for Hurricane Bianca 2

    Earlier this year I worked on the sequel to Hurricane Bianca, directed by my good friend Matt Kugelman and starring Roy Haylock as Bianca Del Rio. It was a fun day shooting behind-the-scenes stills, and we also set up a small studio for poster shots. While there's never a guarantee that your photos will be used for the poster, the production ended up using my work. I couldn't have been happier with the way it turned out. Check out some of the poster shots below featuring Bianca, Kristen Johnston, Cheyenne Jackson, and Dot Marie Jones.

    And here's the finished poster for the film!

    I really can't describe how thrilling it has been to see a few photos that I shot all over the internet and printed large on movie posters all over the country. As someone who makes photographs, having that many people see it is truly moving. Thanks to my friends for having me on set for the day.

    Hurricane Bianca is currently making the rounds across the country with selected screenings and will be available to veiw online on May 18!

  • A Verdant Spring to Lift My Spirits

    As much as I want to be the go-getter type, I realize that this moment in my life is not about achievements or getting things done. Coming out of a big family tragedy like I have means my day consists of getting up, doing the work I need to get done for the day, and making sure I'm keeping a slower pace. I'm lucky to have the space to do so.

    The green all around me has inspired me. A few weeks of steady rain in Southern California (a brief, but necessary winter around these parts) have transformed a normally dry landscape into a verdant one. I'm old enough to remember when Spring actually felt like Spring around here. So to see it brings me such joy.

    A few images...

    A walk with Wally.

    The lovely California Poppy. These flowers actually close up in the evening time.

    A quick Sunday trip to the local farmer's market.

    Friends in the city ask me "where have you been?" and my answer is that I've been here. As much as I want to run from all that has been going on in my life, I actually run to these images. This much green has given me so much renewal.

    -Matt

  • Uplifting Spring Colors

    I've been going through a major shift after dealing a with a big family loss after the start of the new year. My family and I have been dealing with it fairly well, though we were in a battle with cancer for a good year and a half. We were rather worn out. Much of our community has come out to lift us up, even bringing flowers. I never was a big flower person. Sure, they are pretty and I like photographing them up close for a Georgia O'keefe moment, but I was never sure why people brought flowers when someone passes away.

    Now I do. Their bright, wonderful colors are so incredibly uplifting and inspiring to a visual person like myself. I have been spending time picking up the pieces after this family tragedy, and these blooms have been a big help in that process. Coming out of a fairly dark winter for Southern California, noticing more color in the Spring is also giving me new life from within.

    My longtime friend, full time mom, and fellow photographer, Punam Bean, invited me to my first ever Holi celebration at her home in Atwater Village. Part of the Holi festivities is throwing colored powder all over the place as a celebration of Spring beginning. Holidays like this are all over social media these days, but like I've mentioned before I tend to get a little uncomfortable appropriating a tradition that I never grew up with. The beauty of this day was that Punam made it a cultural education experience for the children and guests as part of her homeschooling program. It was an invitation to participate and not just snap photos.

    Winter light in California can be intriquing in it's own way, but once the days got a little longer and more light lingered in the evenings, I found myself enjoying smaller moments around the house.

    Feeling such inspiration from Spring colors was a bit unexpected for me, but I'll take it as a sign of brighter days to come.

    Matt

    Insta: @mattlara

    Twitter: @mattlara_

    My photography: www.MattLaraPhotography.com

  • New Year's Day in Echo Park

    I've never been affected seasonal depression, but these short days of winter in California--along with what turned out to be a very stressful 2017--have me pretty down. I decided to meet up with some friends for New Year's Day on the lake in Echo Park.

    These folks have way of lifting my spirits. I'm lucky to have had these friends since I was in high school. They have been my mentors, my collaborators, and my biggest support.

    It was a good start to the new year. I don't really believe in the "new year, new me" approach. I've done that in the past and I don't think it is the most helpful or the most productive. Still, i can't help but feel that 2018 has a fresher energy than last year. And instead of starting from scratch, I am taking the time to build bridges to what I want from this year. Like I said, this was a fabulous start.

    Matt

  • En Memoria at the Pomona Fairplex

    Last weekend I walked through the Pomona Fairplex, which is local to me, for En Memoria. This was a special Dia de los Muertos celebration that combines the traditional altar-making with Southern California lowrider culture.

    Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) has made a huge re-emergence in popular culture lately, though it is considered a rather sacred holiday in Latino cultures. Being of part Mexican decent, it is a holiday that was lost to me by a few generations. My dad's side of the family didn't celebrate it much when they were growing up, mostly because they were looking to assimilate to standard white American culture at the time. Celebrating an holiday, traditionally held in a cemetary adorned with elaborate decorations and altars, wasn't the thing to do.

    The celebration, usually held around November 2, involves constructing complex altars (ofrendas) honoring deceased family and friends. The altars are decorated with skull motifs, marigolds, and favorite foods of those who have passed. Sugar skulls are also a tradional treat served.

    Though I grew up with an appreciation for certain Mexican culture, like ballet folklorico, this holiday was never quite on my radar until the last few years. It has become hugely popular again, which has prompted some backlash from Latino communities raising concerned about cultural appropriation. In the age of social media, many have referred to it as the "Mexican Halloween", which it most certainly is not. To some, it has become a hipster holiday purely for social media content and to adopt the traditions and decor that many communities consider to be sacred.

    It was for this reason that I sought out a celebration that was not only close to my home, but more off the beaten path. As opposed to hipsters and LA-types wandering around on an extended Halloween weekend, it was mainly families, communities, and lowrider enthusiasts.

    Lowrider culture is something I know nothing about, not that I knew anything about cars to begin with. Walking through the celebration, camera in hand, I found an appreciation for the creative effort that goes into creating these vehicles, despite the environmental impact. The tradition of altar making and lowrider culture really seemed to go hand-in-hand.

    As I reconnect to this holiday, I still feel like much more of an observer. At first I had reservations about even taking my camera. Why go and take pictures? Just for Instagram shots? I realized there are several ways to appreciate something. Photography is not only my livelihood, but it is a means by which I can open windows into places and experiences I know little about.

    This was the community altar at En Memoria. A place for everyon ein the community to honor a loved one who has passed. This to me is what the celebration was truly about. While I walked the space alone, I felt the strong presence of community and art. On my way out they had local Pomona artists creating graffiti art right in front of the people, reminding us that the death of loved ones can also inspire new life through creativity.

    Like I mentioned above, many communities consider this holiday to be sacred. With the rapid commercialization of it, I encourage anyone wishing to partake to do their research and learn how to respectfully honor this tradition.

    En Memoria was presented by Mi Poco LA, featuring local artists and vendors.

  • I'm not an ideas person

    I have been making more of an effort to post more on this blog, even though I'm fairly certain few peopel read it. For some reason I am drawn to this process, trying to flesh out a more meaningful presence on the internet in an attempt to better share the million things I am about.

    Ideas have never come easily to me. In fact, I'm not sure if I've ever been an ideas person. I have a good friend who can think up something clever, funny, and interesting at the drop of a hat. I realized that I've becomg much more of an observer. I think that's why I enjoy street photography, and why people tend to hire me to shoot events in a photojournalistic style.

    I enjoy the spontaneity, and the thrill of finding a decent moment even in the most bland of situations. Waiting at the DMV becomes a chance to explore. I've been known to stop a number of times on a routine drive home to snap a few shots.

    So while I may not be bringing up any major new ideas in this space, you might see a number of everyday moments, some street photography, and maybe a few ideas explored.

  • Breaking Through Artifice

    I come from a musical theatre background. I'm still fairly obsessed with musicals, although I can't keep up with all of them like I used to. I've been fortunate enough to be in many local and professional shows, and I've seen many shows on Broadway. Like a lot of young theatre kids, I graduated with a BFA in Musical Theatre and spent a few years in New York City trying to break into show business as a dancer and singer. I didn't get very far, though I consider myself lucky to have been able to live in Manhattan just a few steps away from most of the auditions, shows, events, and nightlife I could ever want.

    Trying to become a professional musical theatre actor involves a level of artifice. You have to sort of construct this machine-like persona about you. You have to know your musical theatre skills--from tap dancing, to hip hop, to opperetta--and you have to know how to keep your wig on while leaping across the stage in high heels. You have to be in tip-top physical shape, and appear to be a ready-to-go powerhouse doing eight shows a week.

    Like I said, I didn't make it very far. I had fun, but found it impossible to keep up. Much of the actor's life is about appearing to be successful. You always want to be making it look like you're working on something, or wrapping up a big project, or signing with a big agency. Of course, that is rarely the case.

    Becoming a photographer has allowed me to work through that persona of artifice. Though my work is often commercial, it requires me to be an authentic person in the moment. The same with my journey with dance since my musical theatre days. I study contemporary dance now, which is still challenging, but often doesn't require you to push your body to the extremes that jazz, tap, and ballet do. I'm not forcing a giant plastered smile in contemporary, I am trying to find a grounded sense of movement.

    Both of these art forms have become conduits for my own self to show through without that machine man thing going on. I am slowly learning to break down the walls a bit--those walls that I thought I had to have in order to be a professional. I don't have to be a powerhouse at all times, though I still work hard. And there is authenticity in vulnerability. Bit by bit, I let down those facades that I spent so many years trying to uphold.

    I still dream of having that big musical theatre moment, but my photography and dance performances are still incredibly satiating for me. I encourage people to find that space because really, you can't rely on artifice forever. I've learned in life that people want at least a peek at the real you deep down. Discover it, nurture it, and find a way to let it come through.