Layla Love may be categorized as an up and coming artist for her photography, but to those who know her past, she better seen as a warrior. Using her camera as therapy after her tumultuous upbringing during which Love has been raped, beaten and diagnosed with a neurological movement disorder, her art is understatedly hard-fought.
Love’s mother, an Irish gypsy, was a bastard child forced to work as a farmhouse worker after being separated from her mother in Northern Ireland. She got pregnant on a trip to America, giving the artist no specific cultural roots like her mother. She moved and lived in more than 30 countries before turning 18. While still an older teen, she decided to leave home to travel across America and Europe. Struggling for money and stability, Love took refuge in art at age 12 trying to channel her emotions to create something hoping to make people think and grow. Photography became the means for her creative exposure. Her first photo expedition was on her 21st birthday in Darfur.
"I was with an anthologist who had been following a group of women who self-mutilated as a form of protection, a practice which begun with colonial slave trade and still continues today," Love said.
Her expedition into Sudan and Chad influenced her desire to keep traveling and exposing people’s stories from across the globe. She has traveled to Africa and the
Middle East. She has gone to all parts of Asia, reaching Japan, China, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. Her residences on her voyages have ranged from orphanages to churches and even jails at times. Love has called Australia, London and New York home and has collected thousands of pictures from her travels.
From July 31 to August 4, Love had the chance to debut her work in a solo exhibition of 100 pieces from her extensive portfolio, showcased at the World Culture Open Center in New York City. The exhibition, “Representing Woman – Unbreakable Surrealism,” documents the combination of chaos and order within human life. Photographing the masses and the esteemed alike, including Gloria Steinem, Ani DiFranco, and the Dalai Lama, Love creates a fusion between a photojournalistic approach and the capturing of fantasy.
"In my life, thus far the only thing that remains constant is my obsession with recording life as honestly and openly as I can," she said. "I only hope that in sharing my work people will stay open to make their own voice real." Although peaceful in nature and more than willing to chat, one may wonder if a difficult background is the only reason why this woman has a â€˜flower child’ personality. But as she explains, there should be no stereotypes of prejudices because they may shock those who employ them.
When growing up Love was exposed to rich and poor environments alike. Her father, of Russian descent, has a stable life and economic means. This gave Love chance to mingle with diplomats and models, learning how to act in any situation with comfort. In the midst of her disjointed upbringing, Love was also diagnosed with crippling Dystonia, a neurological movement disorder in which sustained muscle contractions cause twisting and repetitive movements or abnormal postures.
Adding to the turmoil of dealing with a movement disorder that affects a quarter-million Americans, Love has also been raped and beaten. After the incident, the first thing she reached for was her camera. She chose to videotape herself while making calls on her phone, trying to get help, as it was the best way she could process. Eventually, Love was able to create with what she lived through.
"I have always lived in chaos, knowing I was loved. Love and chaosâ€¦if you want to trace me to my roots, that’s what you will find," she added.
Her photographs are as direct as she is in explaining her history. Featuring young and old, in portraits or nudes, each photo tells a story. Whether it is a child looking intently at the camera or a beautiful sunset by the ocean, art aficionados saw a variety of pieces from fine art to surrealism in her New York exhibit. Featured in the exhibit was the work of Allison Kramer, whose photo-essayist approach documenting Love’s life and career reflect their mutual passion to produce art. Kramer covers the progressive stages of Love’s illness, vulnerability, and most intimate relationships. In regards to relationships, Love admits that marriage and single-hood are only labels.
A self-described passionate woman she is torn between wanting â€˜the other half’ and enjoying her independence. While still learning about Love, the woman, who does not acknowledge age in her life, admits that she will continue to meet possible soul mates.
"In every country [I visit] I make sure to do three things: visit the holy places, read the papers, and have friends and lovers who are locals," she said.
What the future may bring for this survivor could be as unexpected as her life has been. Although she is a college graduate, with a bachelor’s in journalism and visual communication from the University of California at Santa Cruz, she wants to continue to educate herself, relying on her instinctive character. Other projects are also in the works with four books ready to be printed, but waiting for a publisher. Most importantly, she wants to excel and help others know life is, after all, beautiful. "I am ready to shareâ€¦I draw my inspiration from God, by a higher power. I am looking for gallery walls to fill, for people to work with [and] I am an unrelenting optimist," Love said. Love is a member of the arts collaborative Red Monsoon, where artists embrace a shared spirit and create works that bridge on their experiences. To see Love’s art visit www.lovephotography.org.