Scrolling through Lani Trock’s work could be considered a form of meditation. The L.A.-based artist and photographer’s imagery is rooted in nature, exploring the relationship we have with our natural surroundings and the physical spaces we create for ourselves. From her studio in Mount Washington, Trock has produced a diverse portfolio of work, from immersive installations with floating gardens to sculptures to floral still-life photography. But what most drew us into her world were her intimate portraits of women with artfully composed floral arrangements. Trock showcases the female form sensually, naturally, and maybe most impressively, intuitively. Her photos never feel staged or performative, but more like glimpses into real, intimate moments. Follow her on Instagram and admire some of her work below as we chat with the artist about her creative process, thoughtful photography, and living in Los Angeles.
How long have you been shooting and how did you fall into photography?
Since I was young, I’ve always taken pictures, but I was more focused on music, so I never considered it as a possible career. For Christmas of 2009, my mom gave me a Canon Rebel because she heard that she was meant to during a meditation. That moment served as a major catalyst. I fell in love and began practicing daily.
At first, my photos were friends, self-portraits, plants, my then-partner and our pit bull. I love to cook, so briefly I had a food blog too. In mid 2011, I started taking photos for a fashion blog called the smoking nuns and about a year later, with their encouragement, I made a photo portfolio and emailed it to the L.A. editor of Refinery 29. A month later, I received an offer to shoot a story about jewelry designers in L.A. I freelanced with them for about three years after that, mostly shooting events, street style, and portraits of art, fashion, and entertainment professionals. The deadlines were insane and it paid almost nothing, but the relationships cultivated were invaluable and most importantly, I learned how to make good photographs under pressure.
Six years later, I can still trace back the most meaningful opportunities I’ve received to that singular point of origin. During this phase, I was still learning how to operate my camera, so I made nearly as many bad images as good. I keep everything. I can’t bear to delete any files, convinced I’ll want to make work with them someday. The same summer I started with Refinery 29, Astrid Carrillo DMed me on Twitter to ask if I wanted to shoot for a print magazine she was starting with a friend from high school. In some funny twists of fate, I ended up as art director and we worked on three issues of BUNCH together.
In reflection, that phase of doing photography, curation/editing and layout simultaneously, began to deepen my internal connection to aesthetic barometers and ultimately prepared me for what came next. In early 2014, I was invited create my first installation at the Standard in West Hollywood and Tappan began selling a collection of print editions I’d made during the years prior. Both opportunities served to properly initiate me into my art practice, and I’ve been making immersive installation, sculpture, and photographic work in the four years since.
Who are some of your favorite photographers?
Henri Cartier-Bresson, forever. The multi-subject dimensional feeling of his images draws the viewer deep into his universe. I think about him when I photograph clusters of flowers, imagining the blossoms as people in a crowd. I tend to gravitate toward a candid style, both in my own and in the work of others. By its very nature, it carries an inherent authenticity and emotional honesty that is more challenging to achieve when the subject is aware of the photographer.
I connect deeply with the work of Francesca Woodman, Anna Maria Maiolino and Ana Mendieta, specifically the ways in which they integrated self portraiture into their physical art practices. The resonance I experience while exploring their archives, makes me feel as though I am a part of a large, ancient story, one that insistently wants to be told, through many bodies and many expressions, yet all with the same intention. As for the living, I am blessed with a sacred family of friends, and so many members are incredible photographers—Kacie Tomita, Melodi Meadows, Asher Moss, Carly Foulkes, Clifford Usher, Dominoe Farris, Michael Newsted, and Samuel Richard—visual magic comes through these divine channels and I am so thankful to bear witness.
Beyond the fold, lately I’ve been especially interested in the work of Yumna Al-Arashi, Stella Berkofsky, Nastassia Brückin, Carlotta Guerrero, Claire Cottrell, Ashley Sophia Clark, Lizania Cruz, Amanda Jasnowski Pascual, Chantal Anderson, and Rikkí Wright. Regarding the masculine, Jordan Sullivan, Esteban Schimpf, Brian Merriam, Justin Tyler Close, and Shawn Theodore all make incredibly compelling and unique photographic work.
P.S. RIP Ren Hang.
Your photos are so emotional and almost meditative to look at, is there a particular feeling or theme that that you try to evoke through your work?
I’m more interested in process than seeking a particular feeling or desired end result. I experience my practice as a sort of walking meditation, in which the act of creation serves as a catalyst for inner transformation. Integrated into my creative process are specific rituals and spiritual routines. These pillars of consistency are immensely helpful in moments of chaos and feelings of groundlessness.
Themes that emerge often in my work are interdependence, elegant automation, abundance, decentralization, and zero-waste, circular systems. I look to nature as a guide for most of life’s questions, and actively practice intuitive movement, unconditional love, patience, and non-attachment. So much of my work is ephemeral and temporary, so acceptance of impermanence is a necessity. I tend to be quite sentimental about physical objects, so at times the phase of release or transition prior to rebirth can be challenging for me. However, moving space usually cures any internal restlessness or resistance.
I appreciate the radical freedom inherent to an art practice, as it allows us to explore outside the confines of linear thought. Through this vehicle, we can collectively push beyond the boundaries of our current reality, to envision and tangibly experiment with alternative possible futures for a more balanced and just society.
I love how personal your portraits are—describe what it’s like capturing these intimate moments behind the lens. What’s going on in your mind while shooting?
Most photos are made either at mine or my subject’s home, my studio (a geodesic yurt in Mount Washington), or out on walks, seeking microcosms and miniature universes underfoot. When photographing people, I do my best to help them relax into themselves. Ease and comfort are key.
I’m really interested in the feeling of a space, and how a room that feels safe or comfortable can bring us closer to ourselves. The practice of building the environments in which I take photos serves as a powerful method of exploration into that inquiry. My mom always says a photograph is a reflection of how the photographer and subject feel about each other. I think about this often, while photographing others, but also in regards to self-portraits. When I’m experiencing internal conflict, I consider how those feelings come across in the images I make with myself. Uncertainty lives in the eyes.
My primary consideration when seeking collaborators of any kind is our natural chemistry and connection. To capture an authentic portrait, I think it requires us to fall in love with each other, at least a little bit. The love present is what carries feeling into the image. Without it, even a photo of an objectively beautiful person can feel flat. While making work, I’m usually whispering to the subject and scene, “You are beautiful. Thank you, I love you.”
Favorite place to get re-inspired in Los Angeles?
Do you have a go-to flower shop in the city?
The flowers present in my photos are usually wild, not cultivated, as I work almost entirely with foraged plants, sourced locally whenever possible. Right around the time I made my first installation in 2014, I started foraging edible plants for a restaurant called Alma. Mostly nasturtium, wood sorrel, wild mustard, and radish blossoms at first, but then I started bringing branches of tree flowers to decorate the dining room, and eventually they invited me to create weekly flowers for the space.
During this phase, I made my first two installations using tropical plants from a nursery, but foraging with Alma really opened my imagination to what was possible when working with local, seasonal plants instead. While typically more fragile and unpredictable, the opportunity and imperative to document, honor and reflect those unique landscapes has always felt very important to me. Around 2016, I refocused my work around wild plants, and haven’t looked back since.
After several years of foraging in Los Angeles, I have become intimately acquainted with her many micro-seasons, and celebrate the multi-hued floral parade that accompanies each phase. To answer your question however, Lili Cuzor, Bloom & Plume, Yasmine Mei, Wild Vase, and Moon Canyon are my favorite florists in L.A.
What song would be the soundtrack to your photos?
Homesickness by Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guébrou.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
The way you do anything is the way you do everything.
Favorite place to shoot in Los Angeles?
Solange with No One Art House dancers in a Taos, New Mexico, earthship. But truthfully, I would be happy to document her doing anything, anywhere. Her work over the past few years has evolved into another dimension, an otherworldly place. Orion! She has transcended all limits and radiates grace. It would be an incredible honor to collaborate.