Benjamin Lurie is a Chicago native who began photographing the world around him as a hobby but that passion grew into a profession. For nearly 10 years he traveled across Asia, Africa, and Europe exhibiting his photographs at numerous galleries and group shows. He returned to his home city Chicago to finish university with a degree in photography and then shifted his work to architecture. He balances his professional work of architecture with sharp angles and straight lines with personal work focusing on the soft curves and imperfections of nature.
What’s your artistic background?
While traveling with friends and living abroad I learned how to use a digital camera and did my best to learn about composition then I spent all my free time taking pictures on the streets of Beijing looking at the people in these interesting places like temples, parks, and street markets. When I returned to America I enrolled at Columbia College of Chicago to learn the craft and become a professional photographer.
What’s integral to the work of an artist?
That is difficult to say because there is so much that is integral to the work of an artist but it won’t be the same for everyone. In my experience, it always begins with curiosity. My curiosity about a place or a person has led to some interesting situations and sometimes pretty good photographs.
What role does the artist have in society?
Artists are the mirror and the megaphone to society. We reflect our vision of society back at it and amplify the messages of those we stand with.
What art do you most identify with?
It is a little funny, but I am in love with two photography movements that are not opposites but definitely in conversion with one another, I love the formalism movement where everything is broken down into the design of the image rather than the subject matter, but I also love the work of the pictorialists where it’s centered around the subject as opposed to the formal elements. I would say I try to incorporate aspects of these movements into my work.
What themes do you pursue?
The inherent beauty of the human form its fragility and the role of nature in our world.
What’s your favorite art work?
Pretty much any piece of art that makes me stop and go oh wow that is incredible. I’m fickle like that with my favorite pieces, sometimes it is a beautiful painting at a museum like Starry Night by Van Gogh, and sometimes it is just a powerful portrait I see in my Instagram feed.
Describe a real-life situation that inspired you.
While traveling I saw that a gallery I follow was putting on an exhibition of Albert Watson while I would be in Amsterdam and I knew I had to go see it. When I entered the gallery, I was awestruck by the reverence the space had for these pieces and they were all huge prints of exquisite quality that showed artistic skills that I could only aspire to. Seeing such fine works displayed really gave me the itch to create pieces of art worth being displayed in a similar manner.
What jobs have you done other than being an artist?
I worked in the service industry as a server and a bar back at a popular bar giving me the opportunity to people-watch, which was a great experience all while I was building portfolios and finding work as a photographer. Working as an English teacher abroad I had so many opportunities to travel that otherwise would have been impossible that would not have been possible expanding my world view.
The act of creating something is so primal to me that I cannot help but do it even when I am supposed to be relaxing. I find such joy in creating art in a multitude of mediums and methods that it is just a part of who I am.
What is an artistic outlook on life?
For me what could be considered an artistic outlook is simply looking and questioning.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
A friend of mine bought a little zine I made and while I was less than thrilled with the printing quality, they were enamored with the zine and really seemed to like it. What continues to be memorable is that the things I put great care into, lighting certain elements and having the focus fall off in a specific way, are the things that she really praised. The importance of those elements came through and was received.
What food, drink, song inspires you?
Inspiring isn’t quite the right word, but sometimes just cooking some rice can be really meditative and can help me think through a problem or just hone in on something I have been mulling over. The repetitive process of washing the rice and bringing the pot to boil is really a nice process, but of course, there are times you just want the rice to be cooked already.
I’ve been listening to the Tiny Desk Concerts series they always bring on a really interesting artist usually I’ve never heard before but the performances are so intimate and the artists bring their all and it is almost always so inspiring to see musicians really put themselves into their music.
Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
It can be, but it can also be such a great community. What is so interesting about collaborating with people is becoming greater than the sum of the parts. I have collaborated with dancers in the past and I absolutely love working with them because of the different skills they bring to our sessions. It takes work to collaborate successfully but when you find people that you work well with it is important to keep that connection to the greater arts community.
What do you dislike about the art world?
I have had a few really unfortunate encounters with people who are essentially crooks, they offer to do a show, buy some of my work, or offer a residency that is too good to be true. Unfortunately, they were too good to be true. Emerging artists who are hungry for opportunity are easy targets because of their passion and sharks know that.
What do you dislike about your work?
I guess I dislike how expensive it is to produce the final product.
What do you like about your work?
I love everything about it! I love the process of making art, maybe not so much when things don’t work out perfectly.
Should art be funded?
Art absolutely should be funded, particularly public art, that way it is accessible to everyone and anyone can become inspired to be the next great visionary. Making art more accessible has such a positive benefit not only for the individual but also for the community.
What role does arts funding have?
Arts funding is an enormous part of the process, unfortunately.
It allows an organization or person to work with an artist to create something that otherwise would not be possible. By getting funding to do a specific project, an artist has an opportunity to create with a purpose, and the organization that provides the funding usually does to their benefit as well. Working with a great artist will result in a different direction than if they had gone with the mainstream popular advertising trends of the time.
What is your dream project?
I’d love to work with a dance or theater company documenting the who process of a performance coming together I think that would be so fun and what a great environment it would be.
Name three artists you’d like to be compared to.
This is not something I can answer. I have drawn inspiration from so many artists and if someone can pick up on that and compare me to the artist I drew inspiration from that is all I could ever ask.
Favourite or most inspirational place ?
This past year I took a trip to Iceland with my wife and it was the most awestruck I have ever been by a place. It is difficult to convey the impact being in a place like that had on me.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Starting out is the most difficult time. It takes time to build inertia in an arts career and while it is nice to be validated that it is tough when you’re starting out, it does not make it any easier to find the next job.
Professionally, what’s your goal?
My goal is not a very precise, but rather an idea; to be able to make the work I want to make how I want to make it and be respected and sought for my craft.
For now, my plans are not the most exciting, but I like them. Look after my dog and work towards my goal.