Matt Lara

  • 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."

  • On The Streets in Las Vegas

    I took a quick trip to Las Vegas a few weeks ago, and managed to escape for a few street shots. Enjoy.

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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.


  • 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.