Lorena Turner: A Habit of Self Deceit
“ … I googled how painful it would be to slit one’s wrists (thinking of Diane Arbus), and up came the number for the suicide hotline … I thought about calling it. Then I thought the person who had answered it would think I’m dumb for considering such an action.” – Lorena Turner
Our childhood shapes who we are and those influences profoundly impact our psyches, leaving us with the choice to repeat, accept, or reject things learned and experienced in our early years. Photographer Lorena Turner has a new monograph, A Habit of Self Deceit, that examines her escape from and return to the people and places of her past, the family that left her feeling unsafe and uncared for. The book itself feels a bit like a bible–a size that is easy to hold, with deep red end pages featuring narrative work with layers of darkness and humor that consider decay and loss. There is a beauty to this collection of images, celebrating the banal and discarded, yet showing us the marks of human existence that state unequivocally, “someone was here”. Perhaps this proof of looking is the ultimate story telling of who we are.
Lorena Turner is a photographer and writer who merges documentary, journalism and fine art into her image making. She believes strongly in the possibility of the still image to communicate and describe aspects of contemporary social and cultural experience and selects image-making tools that best articulate her ideas. Her work is drawn from multiple cultural and academic spheres including sociology, geography, economics, communication and anthropology. Lorena’s work is shown both nationally and internationally in venues as diverse as The Photographers’ Gallery in London, the United Nations headquarters in New York City, the Arc Light Theater in Hollywood, and the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art. Her first book, The Michael Jacksons, an ethnographic monograph on the American subculture of Michael Jackson impersonators, was published to critical acclaim in 2014. Publications who featured the work include: Slate, Lenscratch, The New York Times, Newsweek, Hyperallergic, The Daily Beast, Feature Shoot, CNN, Buzzfeed, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, among others.
Lorena received an MFA from the University of Oregon, studied sociology at The New School for Social Research in New York City, and teaches photography in the Communication department at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, California. She also hosts the podcast New Books in Photography for the New Books Network. She resides in both Los Angeles and New York City with her husband and son.
A Habit of Self Deceit is the deeply personal story of Lorena Turner’s fraught relationship with her adopted, alcoholic parents told through Lorena’s photographs and texts. As a child, Lorena endured abuse, primarily by her mother, resulting in bouts of depression and an attempted suicide. While in therapy to treat her depression, she learned “what is going on in my house is not a result of whom I am, but instead a product of my mother’s alcoholism.” At age 20, she left home to escape her toxic living environment and a year later was introduced to photography by a friend which would ultimately become her life’s work.
After being estranged from her parents for the better part of 30 years, Lorena reentered their lives in 2016 after she learned her mother had moved out of the house she shared with Lorena’s father in Florida for almost 25 years to live in an assisted living facility for people with dementia. Lorena, who had always wanted to have a closer relationship with her father, started to visit him once a month. She also began to visit her mother at the assisted living facility located nearby.
In November 2016, inspired by Gregory Halpern’s photo book Zzyzx, a series of surreal and mysterious images of 21st century southern California, Lorena began taking photographs near her father’s home, and also in Los Angeles and in New York City, where Lorena’s mother grew up and Lorena herself lives part of the year. The resulting beautiful and haunting images of ordinary landscapes and found objects evoke memories for Lorena of her difficult childhood. The process of making them and then publishing them in this book has helped Lorena to heal and move on.
A Habit of Self Deceit comes from a concept in existentialist philosophy coined by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvior, bad faith, which describes the habit that people have of deceiving themselves into thinking that they do not have the freedom to make choices for fear of the potential consequences of making a choice. It is also commonly understood as to mislead or deceive another. For Lorena, the title refers to, “decisions made by her parents throughout the course of their lives, and how their orientation to their lives have impacted my relationship with myself.”
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