Lydia Panas fell in love with photography when she realized, with a camera in her hand, she had something to say and a way to say it. At a young age, Lydia began to discover the way the world can be viewed from a lens. It was in grade school that Lydia first learned to use a camera by capturing school field trips. This memory endures in her heart because she remembers being discouraged when her mother asked why there were no people in the photos.
As she grew up, people started to become the focus in her photography. Her photos do not capture just people, but emotions and stories. Mystery, secrets, and vulnerability are Lydia’s favorite themes. “I am inspired by people who are honest with their self. This takes courage and leads to positive outcomes on every level,” she expressed. These themes of mystery, secrets, and vulnerability are apparent in both the way the subjects have posed and how Lydia chose each subject as her models. When asked how Lydia chooses her models she explained, “It’s a sense that they will be willing to expose some of their vulnerability. It’s mostly just a feeling.”
The colors in Lydia’s photographs are hues of muted green and blue. These colors suggest a sense of foggy boldness, a confidant mystery, a secure vulnerability. It takes skill behind the camera to be able to capture oxymorons, such as these, into a still photograph. “I love that the images feel soft and kind of vague and distracted and that the models seem to be in the middle of their own thoughts,” Lydia expressed.
Currently at Eckhaus Gallery, Lydia is exhibiting her portrait project, Something Like Love. The idea came to her from the writer David Grossman. While preparing for one of his novels, he had asked strangers two questions: what do you long for and what do you regret. Lydia asked her models the same questions. “I thought they were the most pertinent questions. I added ‘what are you afraid of?’ as it has been an important question for me. In 2004-05, I made a 4-channel video project titled Immanent Fear, which investigates what people are afraid of. If we can think seriously about our own vulnerabilities and secrets, we can be better citizens and a more positive force in the world,” Lydia explains how this project came to be.
Lydia reflected on what her answers to her own questions would be. “I long to be more forgiving with myself. I regret not believing in myself for so long. I am afraid of others’ expectations of me. I give up too much of myself based on what I think other people need.”
Taking the theme of these questions Lydia created an exercise for her models by letting them proceed in front of the camera “freely” and just let whatever happened, happen. “[It] means being patient and confident enough to allow things to happen without forcing them. It translates into letting myself watch, listen, trust and believe, without worry about what others think. It means giving voice to things I have always kept secret. It’s a personal journey that as a woman, I feel lucky to be able to focus on. Fortunate to have this freedom and opportunity.”
Throughout the Something Like Love portrait project, Lydia felt as if she gained deeper confidence in the fact that she has something positive to say and contribute to. Not only that, but confidence to trust that her vision is worthy of being seen and does not have to be kept hidden. Her photography shows both, “my capacity to see past the surface and in certain series, if you look closely enough, how afraid I am of others’ expectations of me,” Lydia bravely admits.
Lydia would tell any young, fellow photographer that the most important thing is to believe in yourself and to lean on the things that only you know and can offer. The closer you get to the depths of your own heart, the greater effect you will have on others, in a positive way.
“I hope that people will see something of themselves in the work. My portraits attempt to depict what it means to be a complicated human being. They contain all our secret fears and wishes, not just unique to me. I hope my audience will see somewhere in the images a reflection of themselves. Because when we actually understand ourselves, we are better citizens and do more ‘good’ in the world. That’s important.”
Written by: Kassidy Rineer