Laura June Kirsch understands that capturing a photograph is capturing a feeling. Placing many photographs together, then, creates something more dynamic: a conversation, a collage, an era. Such is the triumph of her debut book, a photographic collection entitled Romantic Lowlife Fantasies: Emerging Adults in the Age of Hope.
As a key word in the title suggests, the time period encapsulated is the Obama era — a time of not only less political friction and existential angst, but also when the northern part of our borough was experiencing a cultural renaissance and gentrification.
It was also a time pre-Instagram, which is near-synonymous with people living, more often, “in the moment,” as Laura says. The photographs show millennials, many at music-related events, living wild and free — something that, if not exclusively true of the Obama years, most certainly is of pre-COVID times. The upcoming book prompted an Instagram account previewing images and anecdotes from this bygone era.
Now on pre-sale, Romantic Lowlife Fantasies is both an elegy and a celebration; here, Laura discusses the process of constructing it. Learn more about Laura on her Instagram, and preorder the book here.
Greenpointers: To start off, in your own words, how would you describe this book?
Laura June Kirsch: This book is a photographic retrospective of millennials in subcultures during the Obama era (2008–2016). At the time, I was figuring out who I was and where I fit in the world. These pictures are an exploration of that time, the places I was discovering, and the people I was meeting along the way. It’s a fun, raw, often funny and beautiful collection shot mostly at music-related events.
How did you enter the photography world, and why this subject for the book?
My interest in photography started at childhood. When I got to high school there were a ton of photography classes and I started taking it very seriously and continued to study it in college.
For my work, I tend to shoot people I am close to or in my communities. In college I was photographing a lot of my family, friends, and whoever I was dating at the time.
Live music has been a big part of my life since middle school. It was only natural for me to photograph people at these events and shows I was attending in the communities I hung out in. This book is a time capsule of a time and place, the last moments in history before we were all plugged into our phones and social media 24/7.
This is your first published book, yes? How are you feeling?
This is my first published book and it’s been a true labor of love, I’m excited for the world to see it!
We are currently running a pre-sale. My publisher, Hat & Beard Press, is an independent publisher. One big thing I learned in this process is that when selling through retailers the publishers make so little money it’s hard for them to stay in business (at least on limited run art books like mine). We are trying to sell books directly to consumers so we can keep the price down (the book is currently heavily discounted for the pre-sale) as well as keep the publisher afloat business wise.
You mention a number of shots are from Greenpoint and Williamsburg. What stories do those tell?
They tell so many stories, in fact I have people submitting blurbs about their time on the book instagram for “Romantic Lowlife Fantasies” — I want to chat with everybody, please don’t be shy in reaching out!
Overall they tell the story of being young, free, having fun, living in the moment, and embracing that 20-something second adolescence so many of us millennials had. As mentioned, most are shot at music events so expect to see the hits from our favorite former neighborhood venues like Glasslands, 285 Kent, and Cameo (among many other locations).
Most of the shots are candid, I love capturing people being authentically themselves and in the moment.
You’ve lived in the neighborhood for a bit: how has it changed, and how was that change evoked in the photographs you took?
Oh man. Ok, so the biggest change to me would be walking down Bedford on a Saturday. It used to be like pretty casual, hungover people emerging for brunch around noon. Not much else happening on the streets, small mom and pop businesses and restaurants. Very chill, very cute. In like 2007 / 2008 a typical day post-work would be popping into UVA and the Bedford Cheese shop and surprising my roommate. It was charming and magical.
Soon, around 2012, it evolved into an energy similar to SoHo: tourists, vendors, upscale stores, chain stores, and massive crowds. You can barely get down the street now on the weekends, it’s so crowded!
In terms of Greenpoint, I miss all my favorite bars that used to be here. Enid’s, Matchless, Nights & Weekends, the Manhattan Inn.
This series ends right around when all these venues started to close. If you’re a newer resident this book may be a fun snapshot to check out of a different time. For those who lived it, it definitely should evoke nostalgia and fondness. I know they do for me!
Anything else you’d like to add?
Sure! I love Greenpoint, it’s the only place I’ve ever felt at home. I first moved to Greenpoint proper in 2009 and have mostly been here since. This community is so important to me, as are the communities shot in this book. I hope for you all to see it and can’t wait until we connect at the book launch events at the end of summer / early fall.