Not The Sharpest Photo in the Drawer

A 41-year-long journey to find my photographic voice

Lawrence Lazare
Live View
7 min readJul 18, 2023


It’s the autumn of 1982, and I’m a second-year photography student at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. The year before, I had been exposed to and fascinated by the work of contemporary photographers Duane Michals, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, and Garry Winogrand, among others. Michals and Meatyard’s work was ethereal and, at times, destabilizing. Winogrand’s work, like my other photographic heroes, Robert Frank, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, captured the turbulent world in all its messy glory.

Like most young art students, my work at school drew heavily on the photographers I admired. I had a bifurcated practice, dreamlike and manufactured, on the one hand, and a documentary/decisive moment on the other. On weekends I headed out in my car to photograph Klan rallies in Vermont or to document life on a communal farm in New Hampshire. During the evenings, I labored long into the night in my dorm room.

I crafted dreamy images using combinations of long and double exposures. Breaking the rules for Infrared photography, I shot inside in low light to create strange self-portraits. My work was often grainy, blurry, experimental, and deeply satisfying. I felt like I was starting to find my voice as a photographer.

Duane Michals-Inspired Self Portrait / Klan Rally / Moose Hill Orchards (all 1982)

By the mid-80s though, I had run out of money and had to leave college short of a degree. I started my first career working in the music business as an artist manager and booking agent. Within a few years, I would start a family. For the next more than a decade, without access to a darkroom, my photographic endeavors consisted mostly of color family photos shot on point-and-shoot film cameras. I seemed to always have a camera with me, but gone were the days of black-and-white photographic exploration.

It’s 2013, and my wife and I are preparing for a trip to London, Brugge, and Paris. My father and his family are from Paris, yet this was my first trip to my ancestral home city. In addition to the trip being a long-awaited vacation, the journey will also be a deeply personal one.

With our departure coming up quickly and thinking about what photographic gear to bring, I made a bold decision. I decided to leave my bulky Canon DSLR at home and to instead travel with only an Infrared converted Nikon point and shoot, and my 8MP iPhone 4S.

A couple of years before, I discovered Hipstamatic, the first iPhone retro camera app. With Hipstamatic’s square viewfinder, I started shooting high-contrast B&W images that could not easily be edited once taken. My decision to photograph Europe with only an IR camera and an iPhone would be either brave or foolhardy.

Shooting Europe with the Hipstamatic app turned out to not only be successful artistically, it was also a joy. With the square viewfinder, I could shoot with the camera held upright, making it look to others like I was merely looking at my phone and not necessarily taking photos. Artistically, it felt like I was shooting with my old Rolleicord twin-lens reflex camera. Even though the square format gave me only 6MP to work with, the images looked beautiful despite being taken with a little iPhone.

2e Arrondissement, Paris / Woman in White, Brussels Train Station/Beneath Tower Bridge, London (all 2013)

Returning home from Europe, I decided it was time to upgrade my kit, so I purchased an entry-level Olympus micro four-thirds camera that would easily fit in my jacket pocket. As cameras kept getting bigger and better, part of me felt like I needed to get more professional gear if I were to be serious about my photography. I struggled not to buy into the idea that the better the gear, the better the images.

Throughout my life, I have had a habit of purchasing lower-end but high-quality tools. Be it a Kia Soul, a Seagull acoustic guitar, or the Olympus E-M10, it’s been my creed that I don’t need the best quality tools to make my best work. All I need is the right tool and some hard work. In my view, a great camera does not make you a great photographer, but a good enough camera can still make some great work.

This idea was hammered home for me many years ago when I used to work with the pioneering fingerstyle guitarist Alex de Grassi. One day I was at Alex’s house and we swapped guitars. Alex had a $27,000 custom-built guitar, and I picked it up and proceeded to make it sound like it cost $400. Alex then picked up my $400 guitar and managed to make it sound like it cost $27,000. Playing a great guitar did not make me a great guitarist, but Alex managed to make my inexpensive guitar sing as I’d never heard it before.

It’s June 2020, and I am starting to think about what images to include in my 2021 Hudson River Valley calendar that sells out each holiday season. Over the past seven years, I have started to sell my work and to show it in small galleries and curated shows.

Once again, I have a bifurcated practice. On one side, I shoot landscapes that build me a bit of a following. On the other side of my practice, I make grittier black-and-white images that get me curated into shows, but don’t get the online attention that my landscape work gets. Somewhere in the middle is my infrared work, which is experimental yet lush enough to please my audience online.

A popular Infrared (2019)/ A popular still life (2016)/ The work I make for me (2022)

I am 59 years old at this point, and I daydream about retirement. My hope is to get a small travel trailer. My plan is to shoot landscapes around the country and sell my work at art fairs. One afternoon though, that dream comes crashing down when my eye doctor informs me I am losing my central vision from a genetic eye disease.

Within six months, I will be legally blind, forcing me to retire from a long second career as an e-commerce product manager. Gone is that dream of doing art fairs and living out of a travel trailer. It will take me the next two years to come to grips with this debilitating change and plot a new life course.

It’s June 2023 as I write this, and I’ve just started back at University, where I will be getting a BFA in Studio Art with a concentration in film photography. I started diving back into photography again last year. I’ve decided that I want to work with film again despite the fact that taking images with my gee-whiz Olympus or iPhone with their auto-focus is much easier for me.

I am shooting with the same 35 mm Canon and medium format Rolleicord that I used at Hampshire College more than 40 years ago. With my badly damaged eyes, I struggle to see the camera dials or to focus the image. But if the goal of photography is to share how you see the world, then a manual focus film camera is the best way for me to represent the speckled, post-impressionistic, wondrously blurry mess that the world is to me.

Polaroid SX70 Self-Portrait (2023)

While I cannot see any level of detail un-aided, I can see light and contrast, and it’s my hope that the images I make will move people on some level. I know that when I am in a museum looking at the work of Cindy Sherman, Wolfgang Tillmans, or Robert Mapplethorpe, the things I am aware of are light, contrast, and whether I am moved by the image. The type of equipment they use or the sharpness are the last things on my mind.

By this August, I will be back in a darkroom after a long absence. In a stroke of kismet, I’ve learned that the photography professor I will study with used to work with my hero Duane Michals and that they’re still friends. Although I still enjoy taking my pretty landscapes with my digital auto-focus cameras, I am excited to be back in the world of silver, chemicals, and red lights.

I am excited to be picking up where I left off 40 years ago. I’ve made a lot of good work over the past four decades, some of it really good. But I don’t know that I ever really found my voice as a photographer. But now, with a set of badly damaged eyes and a lot of time on my hands, I am hoping to find my photographic voice — finally.

All photos by Lawrence Lazare

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Lawrence Lazare
Live View

Legally blind photographer and former e-commerce product management lead. Now working on a BFA in Studio Art at the University of West Florida. IG:@llazare