Self portrait of Britta-Lena Lasko '99
MS Photography from The Brooks Institute of Photography
Where do you live and work? I currently live and work in Newcastle, Maine.
What is your occupations? Photographer, Nonprofit Administrator, Head Baker at Julia Child's favorite Maine Inn.
What did you do immediately after graduating from Bowdoin? I moved to Santa Barbara, CA to attend graduate school at the Brooks Institute of Photography, often considered to be the best photography school in the world.
What has been your most worthwhile professional experience? I have worked for a number of nonprofits since I graduated from Bowdoin, including a museum, a ceramic artist residency program, a fledgling economics-related institution, and a cult (although I did not know that when I took the job). Each experience has introduced me to the struggles and accomplishments of legitimate, well-designed nonprofits that really try to make a difference and believe in important ideas and causes. It has been a very rewarding past few years and I have been able to greatly contribute to these organizations with my photographs and design skills.
After seeing the meltdown of the corporate infrastructure that so many of my fellow graduates worshipped, I never question the direction that I took after Bowdoin. I can honestly say that by working for a number of nonprofits that I have advanced my career, contributed to some wonderful causes, published my photographs in various magazines that profiled the nonprofits I worked for, made a decent paycheck at the end of the day and I did not sell my soul to the devil (i.e. corporate dishonesty). The flexibility of some of these jobs allowed me to pursue my graduate degree and thesis, entitled, "A Photo Documentary Study of Contemporary Women in the Maine Fishing Industry."
What are the one or two events, courses or people that stand out in your mind from your time at Bowdoin? Please explain. At the beginning of my freshman year, I played an outside concert in the hole of the VAC. There I was with my cello and an assembled group of very cool Bowdoin folk. It was nighttime and there was thunder and lightening. Two minutes into the concert the power went out but I continued to play anyway. The wind was howling, thunder was rolling and the hole of the VAC was like a wind tunnel. People thought it was the wildest thing that they had ever been to.
One of my favorite courses was Caribbean Literature with Professor Irlene Francois, a visiting Professor and Haitian native. The class was wonderful and we read so many great books. Professor Francois' insight on Haiti ad the Caribbean brought a depth to the class that no other American English professor ever could have. Best of all we had the opportunity to meet two of the authors that we read, Edwidge Danticat and Michelle Cliff. I will always remember meeting Edwidge Danticat, and paying close attention to her braided hair, a topic that she had written about in great detail and one that I truly believe is an unrecognized art form. Still to this day, she is one of my favorite authors.
Has studying sociology or anthropology impacted your perspective? (personally, professionally or other?) If so, how? Definitely! I decided to combine my photography skills and my knowledge of Anthropology when I set about completing my thesis for the Brooks Institute. My thesis offers a look at women in Maine fishing through oral testimonies and photographs. I was able to use some of the anthropological research methods that I learned about while at student at Bowdoin. The union of photographs and oral testimonies offers a more in-depth view at the culture of women in Maine fishing - one that even suggests a visual anthropological perspective.
No other thesis that has ever come out of Brooks has ever approached the idea of valid documentation because the photographs are usually taken with a commercial purpose in mind, a commercial style, and the photographer barely attempts to get to know the people in their pictures. I am not saying that I completed a perfect thesis, but I took a bigger leap than most in my program. I traveled on lobster boats. I culled lobsters in between snapping photos. I accompanied urchin divers out to sea in December, on an unheated boat. I did not build a photo set to emulate a fishing scene. Instead I got down to the nitty-gritty and met real fisherman with real boats and worked with what I had. I did not create an artificial environment to achieve the ideal "commercial scene." I went shooting when they fished, even if the weather was poor.
My degree in Anthropology was certainly reflected in my Photography thesis. There is no way that I could have just photographed my informants. There is so much more to them and what they do. Additionally, they also have opinions and important ideas to share, and I couldn't ignore that. Someone who understands Anthropology does not simply drive to Boothbay, snap a few pictures of female fisherman unloading their lobsters and claim that they have a better understanding of the women in Maine fishing. They are driven to ask questions and learn as much as they can about what it is like to be a woman in fishing. Only then will they realize that it is not a "picture perfect" lifestyle. With that attitude, a photographer is no better than a tourist.
Is there a piece of advice you wish someone had offered you while still an undergraduate student in Brunswick? I wish someone had told me not to take out any more student loans!