Laura Richards: A True Second Life Original
An Interview by Brunella Voelisa
An Interview by Brunella Voelisa
It is often said that art is a reflection of reality. In a virtual world, the line between what is real and what is not real often gets blurred. In Second Life, this is true of many things; relationships, art, and as Laura Richards demonstrates - photography. Laura's work consistently challenges the definition of realism from within our virtual world but most importantly - it's just really damned good photography! In the interview that follows, you will read about one of Second Life's most innovative photographers; but more than that, you will learn something about the real person...the real ARTIST that is Laura Richards.
Following this post, we will also be releasing a small pictorial of Laura Richards taken by Rachel Avro. Please take a look!
|'Laura' by Isabelle Cheviot|
Tell us about yourself and how you discovered Second Life (SL)
I live in the North-East of England where I work as a tour guide in an 11th Century Castle. I have been a teacher and a journalist as well as a writer and musician. I discovered SL by accident. It was a vague reference to a virtual world I saw in some sort of article. It did not expand on it. So I looked for Virtual World and found SL. I came into the world, excited at this wonderful global community. The first person I met in SL turned out to live roughly 2 miles from me. Global schmobal!
Were you into photography before SL?
No, not really. I have no real experience of photography outside of SL. No artistic training or knowledge at all. Nothing beyond the badly framed snapshot on an instant camera. I took a picture of myself and gave it to my partner, Jen. It was nothing special, just a snapshot of my face. She was very happy with it. So I said I would do another for her. She asked if I would do one every day so she always had a new picture of "Her Laura" so it was my quest to always present her with a better picture than the one before. I always tried to push what could be done in SL. I was always trying to find ways to do what could not be done. All to make my Jen smile. At first, I was always dressed. It was too easy. Well-made clothing makes for a well-made picture even in the days before magical mesh. But the pre-mesh SL naked body - what a nightmare! Creases and twist and triangles where there should be curves. That was a challenge I couldn’t resist. So my journey into erotic photography stems from both trying to make Jen smile and because it was difficult.
It grew from there. I saw loads of Second Life pictures that were so obviously Second Life. My goal is to create images that make you stop and wonder. Are they SL or real? I aim for reality all the time. I get close sometimes but I never quite feel that I have captured it. That’s what drives me more than anything.
'Reflection' is the single most important picture I ever took. It’s important to me because that’s’ the one where I genuinely started to think I had something here. Something to build on. It was incredibly experimental at a time when SL was very basic. The reflection, the blending of SL and RL with the texture through the window. Nobody taught me these things. I had to work them out for myself. And when I finished that picture, I sat back and actually said "wow”. Now, it’s dated. It’s flawed in so many ways. But I think it still works as an image. I could do it again but I would never recapture the feeling of the time.
Much of your work features black and white photography. What draws you towards it so much?
I have always loved the contrast of black and white. In theory, black and white SHOULD lose so much from an image but somehow, in some wonderful way, it adds so much more. So I set out to work in black and white as much as possible. Erotic photography always, ALWAYS works so much better in black and white. The image becomes so much stronger. It adds a touch of mystery to it. And a timeless quality. We can get very physical and logical here. We can talk about photo-receptor cells in the eyes and how black and white stands out more. But it’s so much more than a simple biological explanation.
Where do your Ideas come from?
I honestly don’t know. I stopped asking myself where the ideas come from in case I find out and they stop. I suspect - and this was recently proven - that in a lot of cases, I have seen an image and it has lodged in my subconscious only to present itself later as an "idea". I did a picture recently called Dereliction. A few days after I had produced that, I saw an image online that was so incredibly close to it. I mean all of the same elements were there. The pose was different but not VERY different. It could be a coincidence. Given the elements involved, there are a limited number of things you can do. But I strongly suspect I have "copied" and that makes me uncomfortable. There are some things I will not do here. I will not produce a "morph" image (a Second Life Head is superimposed on a real life body). It’s totally illegal unless you have written to the photographer of the original image and gained permission to use it, then its copyright theft. I get asked to do them for people. I refuse. I am often accused of doing that with my pictures. I take it as a compliment.
One thing I am very open about is that I am "bipolar". I don’t like the word. I much prefer manic-depressive. It makes me appear more interesting. I suspect that’s what pushes me most of the time. The constant need to be doing something. I constantly have ideas for pictures. I have four in my head now waiting for me to do them. I HAVE to do them or there is not enough room in my head for the next ideas.
What inspired you to create the Royston Academy for Gifted Young Ladies?
I am not entirely sure where it came from. Or the name. Well, I do know, partly. It was an idea I had for an erotic story. A novel, perhaps. It began as a Gentleman’s club. A rather exciting one. Then it evolved into a special school where privileged young ladies could be sent to learn to be a complete but sophisticated slut. As for who sends them.... I suspect The Story of O played a large part in the inspiration. It’s The Story of P! But would The Story of O be the same if it were written now? Or would it be more like my special school?
|'Advanced Level' - Laura Richards|
With one exception, all of the people are my alts or me. I have two three alts now. One woman, two men - who occasionally have a sex change. I can handle four avatars at once...as long as I don’t wish to do anything strenuous. I still have the occasional crash of one or two of them. All on the same computer though.
What do you find truly erotic?
The most erotic thing for me is intimacy. Its not huge gangs of men queuing up to use some pneumatically enhanced woman over the arm of the sofa. Although that CAN be a turn on too. But the intimacy, the closeness. The stolen moments of passion. That’s what I find the most erotic of all. For me, a kiss is far more erotic than a penetration shot. But it’s very difficult to do that here. Movement here is determined, often unnatural. That does not lend itself to a softer eroticism. We work within the limits of the world we inhabit. It’s so much easier to capture that in a still image.
How you feel about SL pornography as an entity?
To be honest, most hardcore stuff has no real effect on me. I very rarely, if ever, produce anything hardcore. Its not that I am against it. It’s just.... well, the way I explain it is simple enough. The picture you can create in your head is so much better than anything I can produce. And the one in your head has moving parts. And sound. I tend to hint at it I show the BEFORE or the AFTER, leaving your imagination to come up with the DURING. One thing I do like to explore though is the supposedly thin line between erotica and porn. I think I have proven, at least to myself, that the line is not thin at all. It is very wide and very blurred. As an English person, it seems to me that America is so much more open about it. So much more freedom to explore it. Once again, culture gets it wrong. Unless it has changed, the law of England disallows any representation of an erect penis, other than in biology lessons.
This picture SHOULD be pure porn. This illustrates the less than thin red line. ALL of the elements of this picture are purely pornographic elements, according to so many people. First of all, this is a close-up of oral sex. Secondly, it is the "happy ending" of oral sex. The ejaculation is evident, within the girl’s mouth, but somehow, in some indefinable way, I just cannot see that as porn. If anything, I see it as very romantic. The intimacy is there, the closeness. And a tenderness too. Its something I do often. Its like I am obsessed with the idea that erotica and porn are much the same thing.
You are not just known for your photographic work, but your dancing and choreography as well.
I used to be a dancer in the real world. Ten years of dance classes, so I may as well use them. The dancing is quite new and I’m in a troupe called XA Dancers. It came about when I was asked to make up the numbers in a dance show. Then was asked if I could put a routine together. I had not done that before and liked the challenge. Ever since then I’ve been addicted to it. I am constantly trying to make it better, to make it “real”. I know I never will but it’s a goal to aim for and can only help to make things better. It’s the creation that appeals: The challenge of recreating dance from the real world is one. Using the available animations in SL to interpret the emotion of a song.
You inspire so many people. You give so much to SL.
I don’t know if I really inspire people. If I encourage them, then I am delighted. But I do help a lot of people. If they ask me how to do something or for help with making an idea possible, I am delighted to offer whatever help I can. Let me tell you about Brea. When I first met Brea, she was so very new. I invited her along and took a couple of pictures of her. She would send me a message, desperate, needing a photo and begging me to do it. It was quite cute. She told me she had never been on the sexiest blog. I took some pictures and there she was, on the blog. And she is hardly ever off it since then. Now, Brea doesn’t come to me needing a picture. She does her own now and she has become very good at it.
What kind of film do you see yourself being in?
I am open to most things, if I am honest. I would prefer some sort of emotion to be involved. I don’t want to do the Buckets of cum type movie. I am not saying I wouldn’t, but it’s not my driving ambition. I find it all fascinating; seeing how it all comes together...I think the word I am looking for is "classy"
How long 'on average' it takes you to make a picture?
It varies. If it’s a "simple" glamour shot, I can finish it inside 20 minutes. If it’s more involved, like the school series, it can take anything up to two hours. A nice young man named Sean asked me how long it takes. A little over half an hour later, I had this for him. Poetry took just over ten minutes.
Do you use Gimp or Photoshop?
Are there certain technical effects you ALWAYS use?
I always add a touch of contrast. And I use the blur tool to smooth the edges. Second Life often gives sharper edges than I like. But I try to do as much IN second life as possible. For example Space Bum. That one took closer to two hours. I had to build a spaceship. :
How does a photograph you have created that you love makes you feel?
I have often sat back and stared at the screen in front of me. Sometimes with a sense of disbelief. "I made that? "Partly disbelief that it is a second life picture. Partly disbelief that it came from me. But I have to tell you; the biggest thrill is when you see the huge printed poster of your picture. I have an A2 printer. I had a website, selling them in the real world. I sold a few. Just not enough to pay for the website. But what a thrill it is knowing that one of MY pictures is hanging on a wall in Denmark, France, Belgium, Germany, Australia and America...as well as a few in England.
What would you like to say to all those people who are just starting in SL photography?
I would say stick with it. Don’t see your first results and say, "I can’t do this". Nobody could, at first. Keep going, try new things, experiment. Above all, enjoy it. A touch of honesty here. I have been offered lots of SL photography jobs and I turn them all down. I think, for me, when this becomes "work", I will not have as much fun with it. It’s like The Sexiest group. I think I am unique in that group. I am not desperately trying to become a model. I am not trying to make a name for myself. I don’t need to beg photographers to take my picture. And I feel so much for those who do need to do that. It’s so hard to get a start. You know, I have a reputation for only photographing myself. It really isn’t true. I take lots of pictures of others. I just don’t publish them on my Flickr. They are not my pictures.
|'Heaven' - Laura Richards|
Laura’s work can be seen at:
XA Dancers perform at Xaara periodically: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Xaara/40/232/3808.