BRUNSWICK, Maine — Photographer Lauryn Hottinger is in self-imposed isolation. She’s even staying away from her family for a few weeks amid the widening coronavirus pandemic. It’s the safest thing to do right now given the uncertainty, she said.
But Hottinger is not completely alone. She still has her camera. With nobody else around, Hottinger is pointing it at the only person she can find: Herself.
“I’m a photographer,” Hottinger said. “I have to take pictures.”
It’s not out of narcissism. Her sudden series of meaningful, creative self portraits are growing out of a need to keep shooting, to stay sharp. They’re also a way to deal with a steady stream of alarming news. They help make it go away, if only for a few moments.
Normally, Hottinger makes her living shooting magazine stories, weddings and portraits. She’s also the house photographer at the State Theater in Portland, making pictures of the touring musical acts playing there.
All that is on hold for the moment. For now, she’s alone — but still making pictures and posting them in her social media feeds.
Q: So how are you holding up?
A: I’m OK. Ups and downs but I’m really grateful to have a warm, safe home filled with art supplies — and the internet.
Q: How is this shutdown affecting the business side of your photography?
A: It’s had a pretty substantial impact. I’m not going out on assignment, and the State Theater has shut down. Most of my weddings are later in the season but I’ve had two cancellations. My regular life has completely stopped. I’m just in this weird purgatory. Everything is suspended.
Q: But you’re turning some of that suspended energy into some really cool self portraits. Tell me about those.
A: Yeah, thanks. The first one I did was with a bunch of newspapers that I plastered all over the room. I’m nude in the photo but everything is covered up. I’m laying on a floor covered in newspapers. The entire background, everything, is covered in newspapers and there’s a newspaper covering my face.
Q: I won’t include that photo with this story since it’s not our newspaper — I’m kidding.
A: Ha, ha. I was just feeling really overwhelmed — there was just news everywhere. The only thing that was in the air was news about this pandemic. I took those feelings and tried to turn them into a portrait. I’m not usually very intentional with self portraits. I’ll usually just see a frame and insert myself. But the pictures in this series have personal meaning for me — which usually isn’t the case.
Q: Then there’s this one with cards up in the air.
A: I’m not sure I want people to know how much effort goes into these — but I think I took 74 pictures before I got that one right. I was just throwing the cards up in the air, trying to get the timing right on the shutter. At first, it was going to be me, in a mirror, in an empty room playing solitaire — but I couldn’t quite get that. For me, it’s about a house of cards being very fragile. They represent chance. You know, I feel a little bit silly having meaning behind my photos.
Q: I feel the same way. Totally. It’s hard to talk about. Maybe the rusted out cars in this junkyard photo represent how useless some folks are feeling? You know, a car that can’t go anywhere?
A: You’re discovering metaphors in my photos that I didn’t realize existed. Thanks.
Q: I was an English major. I can’t help it. What about this one here? Is that a betta fish you’re looking at in the jar?
A: Yeah. Right before the quarantine, I went and got myself a fish to have some living thing to take care of and talk to.
Q: To me, that looks like how we’re all feeling right now. Like fish in a bowl. Swimming from one side to the other, trapped.
A: For me, it symbolizes boredom, nothingness.
Q: Is that boredom what’s driving you to make these?
A: No. When I’m photographing — when I’m in that frame of mind — everything else just completely falls away, everything but what I’m doing right in front of me. I’m totally immersed in the moment of what I’m seeing. This portrait series is allowing — for a few moments — everything to get absorbed into the background. There are other photographers out there telling other people’s stories of survival and here I am doing this completely self-centric series on my own self isolation — but I don’t know. People seem to like it.
Q: I think you’re definitely connecting with our collective experience right now.
A: I’m really grateful that people like these photos.
This conversation was edited for length and clarity.
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