Matt Lara

  • A bit of desert sky

    A quick New Years getaway to the Colorado River out in the Arizona desert. A second home to me.

    As the year starts off it seems life is punctuated by personal loss and grief, in a world already literally on fire.

    I carry with me a few cameras, a few ukuleles, and a lineage of storytellers who taught me to bear witness and do what I can to help.

    A moment to take in the beauty of the desert serenity is helpful for the moment, too.

  • En Memoria: Dia de Los Muertos Meets Lowrider Culture

    I'd had enough of death last year. October had come around and I decided to skip Dia de Los Muertos. It was never a big celebration on the Mexican side of my family. You could say it sort of skipped a generation or two. Still, I had been wanting to connect with this tradition in a way that was meaningful--not in a hipster way. 

    This year I went back to En Memoria at the Fairplex in Pomona, this time located in the area of the Fairplex I always referred to as the Mexican Village. I've been going there since I was a kid.

    Rather than attempt at addressing issues surrounding cultural appropriation, or mislabeling it as the "Mexican Halloween", I'll just say that I was once again very happy to find a local celebration of Dia de Los Muertos in the city that I was born in. A celebration with local people, local artists, and the creators of these intensely intricate lowriders.


    I know I said I'd had enough of death, but this holiday is a reminder to continue celebrating life. Listening to the beauitful mariachi music playing that night, I felt the many loved ones I've lost recently with me encouraging me to keep celebrating.

    All photos shot with a Leica MP Typ 240.

    My Insta.

    My photography website.

  • My first Vidcon

    It may be my recent birthday, or my penchant for books, or just my overall grumpiness but the world of the social media celebrity mostly baffles me. How did they get there? How do they maintain that level of fame? Why are young people so eerily obsessed with watching them? I get it if there's a YouTuber who wants to teach you a certain skill, but the ones who simply talk to the screen are a mystery to me.

    My curiosity wasn't necessarily satisfied as I worked the Fullscreen creator lounge at Vidcon this year. To be clear, the creator lounges are completely seperate from the main conference at the Anaheim Convention Center, where the main floor is. The main floor is where the hoards of fans and aspiring content creators line up to meet their favorites, attend panels, and walk around the various attractions. I left these shoot days still curious, but also impressed.

    Just about all the young content creators I met were very nice people with a very apparent sense of creativity about them. Despite what older folks see as just full-blown narcissism, most of these people were present, chatty, and interested in what was happening around them. I'm someone who knows what it's like to be around a lot of creative energy, and honestly most of these kids had it.

    My photography portfolio.

    My Insta.

    All images are Copyright Matt Lara Photography 2019 and may not be used without permission.

  • Street shots at LA Pride

    My tradition every Pride is to drive into West Hollywood and park on my old street in the Norma Triangle. It always takes longer than usual to get there because the main avenues in LA are blocked off for the parade. I always manage to park, walk towards Santa Monica and Robertson, and catch one or two floats going by at the end before I simply wander the crowd lingering, all the while snapping away with little Leica.

    This year was different. The organizers changed it up, putting the giant stage at the end of the parade route which not only made the crowd much more intense and congested, but it made the entire afternoon of Pride Sunday in LA feel like a big dance party.

    I'm not the only person around who has conflicting opinions about the entire affair. The adult Spring Break vibe to it all has never really appealed to me (see previous post). A few years ago I realized my place in the crowd was not as a party-goer but a documentarian. I love street photogaphy but shooting street photography is a challenge for a tall, gangle-y introvert like me. Pride is one of the few times of year I can vanish into the crowd and shoot without having to vanish into the crowd.

    It was a hot, intense Sunday afternoon. This is my way of celebrating the festivities.

    My photography website.

    My Insta.

    Thanks for checking me out!

  • Coachella Weekend in Palm Springs

    I have my own mixed feelings about Coachella. The crowds of people on some substance or another. The problematic ownership at the top. The cost of it all. I know there are people who really love it. I'm not sure I'm one of those people. Personal feelings aside, I followed my curiosity when I had the chance to shoot a couple of events in Palm Springs during the first Coachella weekend, including the YSL Beauty Station. This was a pop-up shop installed on an empty plot of desert land off Highway 111 in Cathedral City. I know rather little about the beauty industry and/or makeup products. But it turns out the pop-up was a massive hit for YSL Beauty as well as the many, many, many social media folks who came out in droves to check it out.

    I shot a few more events that weekend, and got to see the power of social media at work. I've been aware of just how influential the social media influencer is for some time now. I know people of the non-millenial mindset try to shrug them off, thinking of them as just silly and selfie obsessed. I have to say there is a lot more sophistication behind the influencer machine these days. Gone are the selfie arms, and selfie sticks for that matter. I saw pro photographers and camera crews. I saw some really well-crafted interactive events that were truly very impressive. The influencer crowd is going to be here for quite some time.

    With the influencers came...everyone else? I'm not really sure who is an influencer anymore, to be honest. All I know is that for your typical, generally curious photographer, Coachella weekend brings out the fashionistas and they who seek to be photographed. A few street portraits at the YSL Beauty Station:

    Some of my photos were featured here at the BizBash website.

    My photography website.

    My Instagram.

  • Be My Friend

    I'm the only person I know who reads The Paris Review. So if you do, please be my friend.

    About a year ago, the Review announced a new editor, Emily Nemens, in the wake of a disgraced former editor's departure--and I have to say the difference is noticeable. I'm a painfully slow reader and inconsistent at it, but The Paris Review is my way of keeping somewhat current with the latest happenings in the literary world. The visual art portfolios are always a joy to dive into as well. Prior to Ms. Nemens, I had been finding myself rather frustrated with the short stories published in each issue. I'm no literary critic, but lets just say there always seemed to be some story centered around marital and/or sexual frustration.

    The last few issues (I'm always one behind) have felt fresh, exciting, and much more interesting. And it's always a challenging read, of course.

    So where do I find a friend to read with?

  • Street Shooting in Downtown Pomona

    As I said in my previous post, I'm trying to shoot more between clients this month. This area has a sort of classic small town feel, and has been making a big comeback in recent years. Still, not much was happening during this day. It felt a little empty and many of my shots were missing the human element.

    I don't know what it is, but I have a hard time doing any kind of street photography around where I live. Maybe because I am too familiar. Drop me off in the middle of New York City, or another place where I am a stranger among millions and I'm fine running around with my camera all day. I was born in Pomona, and even though I hardly ever go downtown I still feel weird shooting there.

    These reflection shots was the one that struck the most that day. I'm continually inspired by Vivian Maier's vast body of work, only she never seemed to be bothered by shooting in her own locales.

    My Instagram.

    My photography site.

  • Marching

    My marigold bud waiting to open after a rainstorm, Matt Lara, 2019

    I know I’m not the only freelance artist who experiences the slump at the start of a new year. The end of the previous year is like a mad dash to the finish line—deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. Then it’s just about nothing for January and February. I could crawl out of my skin during this time, not that I don’t have plenty to do. Here in LA the rain has been coming down and the weather not so great. The days are short and I feel like I can’t get anything done. Then March comes in I start counting down the days until we get those extra hours of daylight back. (Why do we ever give them up to begin with?) The rain still pours, but I find I have that extra bit of stamina to get through the end of each week. And with the extra daylight, I find myself pulling out these cameras I’m lucky to shoot with.

  • Portraits: Tomas Decurgez

    A few weeks ago I met up with my friend, actor and artist, Tomas Decurgez. We shot new portraits for his upcoming film work. He's an experienced commercial model, as you can see, but our goal was to capture a casual, sexy, essence. A few selections below.

    Tomas on Instagram.

    My Insta.

    My photography portfolio.

  • Tell them to just take the photo.

    Tell them to just take the photo.

    Last year about this time we sat in a restaurant trying to celebrate. The treatments had worked. They weren’t fun by any means—he had lost all his hair, became weak and skinny, and looked nothing like himself—but they had worked. Except we weren’t feeling all that celebratory. What did the future look like with our new best friend, cancer?

    I sit here now with the holiday decorations up, the festive music playing, the loss still lingering in the air as these holiday memories come back to us.

    The loss has been devastating but I feel lucky. Lucky because I have memories of over 30 years locked in these photos. Physical prints cover almost every wall. Boxes of photos fill the closets and cabinets. Our photos albums are thick with stories.

    I'm a big believer in the shoebox of photos, those random pictures just thrown in together. It’s times like these when the shoebox comes out. The collage of places and people is held in the hands of each person around the table laughing and crying and reminiscing.

    We all have that one relative that won’t stand for a photo. “No pictures,” they always state firmly. The reasons why are buried deep in feelings of insecurity, vulnerability, or even just plain self-loathing.

    I’m begging of you—tell them to just take the picture. The shoebox of photos has become the camera roll on the smartphone, except smartphones die. Hard drives fail. Computers crash. And we have a way of forgetting the cloud passwords.

    Tell them to take the photo. Once you have the photo, keep it and print it. Even better, hire a guy like me to come take the photo and make it nice. Keep the photos because in the end that’s all you really have of them once they are gone.

    I’m lucky. I have all the photos I could ever want after 30 years of a life shared with my dad, Bruce. If he were here now, he’d be charming as ever, surreptitiously taking your photo.

  • the changing seasonal light

    I'm not at all a fan of Standard Time, but I love the way the light shifts this time of year. I just wish the days would last a bit longer so that we could enjoy them more.

    I took my camera out for a walk this afternoon into the waning golden time hours. The light was warm, and made even more amber by the SoCal skies choked with smoke. (For many people, life is a literal hell right now.) The light was so beautiful, except all of a sudden it was evening, then immediately nighttime. Little light to be had.

    It's a good time of year for me to curl up with a book and disappear, but in fact I'm out there working more than I have been so far this fall. Many shoots and events for different clients. I mostly make images now, and I have to fight my own urges to just nest and not worry about it unless it's for a client.

    The shifting light keeps me going back out for more each day.

  • Notes on a year of grief and change

    This going to be a personal post. As my family and I head into November there are so many things to reflect on. Up until now I haven't used this blog an outlet for personal feelings. I've kept much of it to my own family circle, and have found an odd comfort in grieving publicly on social media. That is not normally my speed. I am usually a rather private person, but as some of you know, my stepdad Bruce was a larger-than-life person with a large circle of work colleagues whom he withdrew from as he got sick from cancer. My family and I felt it was appropriate to draw many of them into our circle as we dealt with his loss.

    As I write this, I think of how spending so much time online reading about other people and their lives makes me want to sum things up in some pretty lesson. The Insta-lesson with a pretty sunset pic to wrap it all up. The truth is, there aren't that many neat, tidy lessons here. Loss is just as messy as life, and trying to tie up a million loose threads of a complex person is a job in and of itself.

    So I don't have any "top 10 tips" or "3 things learned", from a year and a half of disease, loss, and all with political turmoil as the backdrop. It all seemed to constantly pile on. I've been spending some time trying to clear the pile and carry on. Bruce would never want me to just sit at home weeping. He'd want me up and out of the house with the cameras on. He'd want me creating as much photography as I can, and to keep doing all the creative things I always do. He'd want me to continue the work I do with Camp Bravo, which he was a big part of as well.

    There's a keep-it-going rule I'm implimenting here. I can get stuck in the grief, and the enormity of trying to manage an entire photo studio's worth of stuff left behind. But I have to keep going. Even as I type this last sentence, I feel Bruce poking my shoulder and urging me to get up and go about the day.

    I came across a letter via Austin Kleon's blog that resonated with my feelings today as I wrote this post. From the blog The Red Hand Files by Nick Cave, his thoughts on grief:

    "I feel the presence of my son, all around, but he may not be there. I hear him talk to me, parent me, guide me, though he may not be there. He visits Susie in her sleep regularly, speaks to her, comforts her, but he may not be there. Dread grief trails bright phantoms in its wake. These spirits are ideas, essentially. They are our stunned imaginations reawakening after the calamity. Like ideas, these spirits speak of possibility. Follow your ideas, because on the other side of the idea is change and growth and redemption. Create your spirits. Call to them. Will them alive. Speak to them. It is their impossible and ghostly hands that draw us back to the world from which we were jettisoned; better now and unimaginably changed."