The Northwest US-based photographer manages to find powerful visual metaphors for his chronic pain. He lives with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CPRS), which affects both his physical and mental health. For his upcoming Frames Between the Pain exhibition at the Leica Gallery Los Angeles, LaRue has opened up his archives and put together a touching, photographic series. His pictures, taken at times using interesting techniques, speak of themes such as pain, despair and fear, while time and again offering a glimmer of hope. LaRue spoke with us about the connection between introspection and the outside world, photography as his form of therapy, and creative solutions for spectacular image effects.
Your Frames Between the Pain series will be on show at the Leica Gallery Los Angeles in January 2023. What is it about?
This series of images is a small part of a larger series that represents the connection of my internal world and the external world we all share. It dives into how my life experiences and inside struggles can distort the way I view the world, showing me what is hiding beneath the surface of my external shell. The series of images goes between the internal struggles and external reality, presenting metaphors in the way of composition and time.
How does photography help you cope with your CPRS?
I discovered my passion for photography through the team of the Leica Gallery Los Angeles – mainly Paris Chong. Having a place to go to appreciate and celebrate photography of all types, while surrounded by countless inspiring people, is truly something special. This introduced me to a much bigger view of what photography could be and what it has to offer. There is something contagious about a bunch of photographers gathering to celebrate the achievement of being shown in the Leica gallery. Hearing how photography had touched and changed everyone’s life in that room was very inspiring and gave me a goal to see what photography would do for me. I slowly learned to distract from what my body is telling me.
Your series is a more artistic volume of work.
Yes, this is a collection that I have gathered from earlier works and works that I have shot in my little studio, that I originally set up at home before eventually moving into a studio space in Seattle. Unfortunately my CPRS has progressed. Most of the time, I am not able to walk more than a mile from my starting point. So I have to either sit somewhere and wait – the image of the silhouette in front of the wall would be an example for this – or capture what’s right in front of my lens at that moment.
Tell us about the photograph of the orange in the broken window.
A man picked this little orange from a tree and threw it at the store front window breaking it, and kept walking. I was shocked watching this happen, as I was drinking coffee at a café across the street in the early morning. I was instantly interested in the shape it made in the glass. At that time I had my M10 Monochrome and 21mm Super-Elmar-M – not my lens of choice for a close up detail like this, but now I couldn’t imagine it any other way. So I went to capture it and noticed the orange was still hanging in the window. The little unsuspecting things in life are sometimes the hardest hitting.
Referring to the image of a twisted clock, how did you do this technically?
This image is a homage to one of my favourite photographs by André Kertész. I used a bending mirror for this. The photograph of the clock represents looping distorted time that never comes. Having a chronic pain condition can get very repetitive, and messes with one’s perception of time. The clock hands are far reaching time we can barely see. The shape of the clock resembles infinity looping forever, as the numbers are warping together.
One image reflects a woman’s body in a bunch of bubbles. How did you create this very special effect?
I embrace learning through failure. When I was experimenting with a microscope lens I adapted to the S007, I accidentally dropped the front of the lens inside a jar of hand sanitizer. In a panic I pulled the camera up and shot an image as the liquid was dripping off the lens. This created a very interesting effect that I continued to experiment with, until I was able to capture a human figure refracted inside the microscopic bubbles inside a droplet dripping off the lens.
Was there something concrete you wanted to create an image about?
I wanted to find a way to capture the feeling of getting a ketamine infusion. Being disconnected from one’s self falling in emptiness. I have to praise the model Alaina Wolf who kept the pose for two days of shooting, as I fumbled about trying to make it work.
The image of the worm creeping out of a mask seems to be a highly symbolic one.
I see it as a reaction between medication and a person’s soul. I don’t really start with a concept. I bought a bunch of compost worms. I filled the doll’s head with them to see what they would do and realized they were coming out of the eyes in interesting ways. The face is so flat and emotionless, completely void of feeling. I added the pill to the forehead as it’s soul or spirit. I found it a good metaphor for addiction. A pill, an antidepressive medicine, is sitting on the forehead. I’m not against medication and I use it as it does help, but sometimes the side effects can be worse than what it’s trying to fix.
What are you up to next?
I am constantly trying new things to distract myself from the pain. Adapting to new situations and trying different ways of capturing. That’s why my images could look a little random at times; but it serves its purpose. No matter what situation I’m in, I always manage to take a photograph. I don’t see a need to stick to only one style of photography as it should all be explored and enjoyed.
Born in Riverside, California, USA in 1985, Terry LaRue is self-taught and living in Seattle, Washington State. He has been making videos with Prosumer camcorders for fifteen years, documenting professional skateboarding. He has worked for companies such as Emerica Shoes, Bones Wheels and Swiss Bearings, among others. In 2014 he broke his left thumb. Two years after the operation, he was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, which has now stretched to the right hand and also to other extremities. Because of the severe pain, LaRue is dependent on intense treatments with tablets and infusions, and can no longer work a regular job. In 2017, he travelled to Shanghai to work on his first editorial story. Find out more about his photography on his Instagram page. His Frames Between the Pain series is on display at the Leica Gallery Los Angeles, from January 12 to February 27, 2023.