Roman Loranc: It surprised me too. Politically, I am very not supportive of what’s going on in China and Tibet, but the government is not the people. The people are wonderful and it’s the same if you go to Russia; it’s just great, but the government sucks. You have to differentiate between them. I was always fascinated with China as a child, but it’s because they’re very interested in my work and it began selling there that I have visited. They did a lot of shows, … they invited me so you try to be polite and oblige.
[I have also found it] very challenging to photograph there, due to the lighting, the pollution and the millions of people. Before opening time, there will be maybe 20,000 people waiting to get into a park…[so] good luck! You are never alone, but [photographing] with a view camera? Come on! I am going again for ‘Kings of Photography’, where they select and showcase ten photographers from across the world. It sounds funny, but I am going there [for that], [but while I am there] I will photograph some cities, because a government agency hired me to do that. I’m just going to have fun, but want to take more photos of China and may make a photo book. They also love and buy my work, so its [nice to] support that. Money is always good.
To me, one of the difficulties with travelling is the lack of personal connections and so I struggle there. I do not know the culture that well, or the language, so I can’t melt quickly… I am visible wherever I go, so it’s very difficult. I still think that the best connection is when you stay a long time in the place and get to know it, learn the language and culture. But also seeing things through fresh eyes and from a new perspective is good too.
[Overall], I think the best photographs are made close to home. If you can’t make good photographs at home then you are not a good photographer. When you already proven that you produce quality photography where you live, then you can travel, but if you can’t make it at home then [it’s a problem]. People think you have to travel to make good photographs and that’s in itself is a problem.
TPF: Do you see a connection between the buyers – their location – and the locations you photograph? Do people in the Central Valley buy photos that you have taken in China or Lithuania. Do you find people tend to appreciate photographs that they can relate to as part of their environment?
Roman Loranc: It’s an interesting question, but I don’t know much about selling, because sales are mostly dealt with by my galleries; however, in Central Valley, (surprisingly) people love buying photographs. I also get a lot of emails from kids at school, who say that they thought they lived in a horrible place and that my book changed their perspective. I am proud of where I live now and [I love that] my photography reaches people…. and that I get incredible letters from people. My photos are expensive, but people are still buying them, even if they would not otherwise collect photography. [My customers] are not just collectors who don’t care what they are buying [as long as it’s a good investment]. There is a real connection to the Central Valley, which is moving and very rewarding.
TPF: It sounds like it’s very personal for you and for them.
Roman Loranc: Yes, I have lived there for 20 years, the longest I have ever lived anywhere.
TPF: I remember reading that when you retire a negative you punch a hole through the corner. Can you tell us about that?
Roman Loranc: Brett Weston always did that and I thought that I would do the same, but I later concluded that it was not a great idea. I realised that museums might want the negatives and people might want to see them, so now I put them in a safe. Hole punching was just an idea, but I changed my mind. It was even worse when I glued a couple to the back of photographs… sometimes [we’re] just crazy… you don’t think rationally, but God saved me from it! During the production of my book, I found that for some of the photographs, I did not have a physical print [for copying]. I had to make a new print. Also, for museums, [I realized that] I could still make an artist’s proof print for a museum, for prints that have otherwise sold out. I’m glad I did not destroy the negatives.
TPF: You mentioned Two-Hearted Oak. When I first became interested in your work I gave up trying to buy that book. It was out of print and they were selling for about £500 on Amazon UK [ten years ago or so] and then I picked one up out of the blue about six months ago – not a very clean copy – but the images are still great… and had it shipped from the US.
Roman Loranc: I am not that famous a photographer, but everything I touch grows in value. The book was $39, but within a few months it was selling for $200-$300. It was amazing. And all my books, even the used ones, sell for more than new ones and I like that people appreciate them [so much]…. but I see famous photographers books for 99 Cents [which is a sobering reminder of how things can change]. I have some loyal people who like my work and I am so thankful for that. Also, I did not produce a large number of copies either and I refuse to reprint second and third editions. I’m working now on a book with tule… only images of tule: it’s abstract and contains the poetry of Robert Lax. He’s dead, but a very interesting poet, with a very graphic structure to his poetry…. very simplistic… so I thought it would be a great match for my images. We want to publish this book very inexpensively – maybe $40 – to a variety of markets. It will be ready at the end of the year probably. Everything is done, but I don’t want to just give it to a publisher.… [because] they [have a tendency] to want to take over everything and send you royalties, but never do. I want to remain in control of it, so I want to figure out who to publish with so that I can retain control, which is very difficult. We’re thinking starting with 10,000 copies, but once that’s finished, I may sell it to someone. I just want to have some control from the beginning.
TPF: If you had to save five of your images from disaster, which images would they be – which are your most precious?
Roman Loranc: From the Central Valley it would be Two-Hearted Oak, Bare Trees by the River and Tule Raft. From Lithuania, it would be Franciscan Church and Absolution.
TPF: I know that you shoot Kodak Tri-X film exclusively, but I also know that Kodak has not made paper for a long time. What do you print on?
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