Where Perception and Reality Collide: The Photography of Eric Lawton

A sample of works that will be featured in Lawton ’s latest book, “Event Horizon.”
Photos courtesy of Eric Lawton

By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer

Simply put, there’s more than meets the eye in the artistic photography of Palisadian Eric Lawton.

“I’m interested in images that reveal more than is readily apparent,” the photographer told the Palisadian-Post. “I’m interested in an image that can tell me so much more than what appears to be.”

Lawton’s latest book, “Event Horizon,” culls atmospheric, quasi-abstracted imagery from his global travels across three decades. It was during those trips, Lawton learned, that “there are so many ways to perceive and cope with reality in all of its myriad forms.”

Technically, Lawton adapted across the digital divide, demarcated circa 1993, after which a series of events on his horizon forced him to change his process, including Kodak’s decision to cease developing film and, as his camera-maker of choice, Nikon, was late to go digital, trading in his longtime preferred equipment for a Canon digital circa 2008.

One of his earlier collections, “Soul of the World,” was shot on film. By 2000, when “Soul of Flame” was released, he still shot on film but converted his files to digital.

It was in the mid-2000s when cameras reached a sophistication where they could exceed film, he said.

“It was a brand new education,” he said, “almost like going to law school,” as he adapted to such programs as Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.

But he said he embraces the progress in his field.

“It’s like three-dimensional chess,” Lawton said. “It gives me so many more choices than in the darkroom. It gives me so much more control of the image.”

Besides, he said, the tools may be more sophisticated, but massaging images is not a new thing.

“The idea of cheating is a cynical argument—even Ansel Adams, he cheated all the time,” he said. “Burning and dodging [in the darkroom] is a form of manipulation; changing a lens is manipulation.”

The most difficult part of putting “Event Horizon” together, he said, was the reductive process of narrowing down his thousands of photographs to only 25 images.

“I learned very early on in my photography career that one has to be absolutely ruthless in my process,” he said.

Lawton, a longtime resident of Pacific Palisades with wife Gail Schenbaum—who was honored last month at the Palisades-founded nonprofit griefHaven’s annual Heart-to-Heart gala—said he has shot images all over his community, from Santa Monica Mountains’ trails to the Village.

“I can see a geometric form anywhere,” he said. “Masterpieces exist all around us, waiting for someone to find them.”

“Event Horizon” draws intellectual inspiration from Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity as well as the writings of Stephen Hawking.

“I look at the title as a metaphor,” he said regarding the black hole boundary, a one-way crossing that scientists say is a transformational connector between one reality and another.

“So I think of the photo as an event horizon; a conduit between one reality and another,” he said.

The seed for this specific book accelerated during a trip to Greece, sitting at the edge of the palace of Agamemnon, pondering the unbroken chain of generational existence; the idea that each person within harbors one’s body and soul the torch of thousands of years of the ancestors who preceded them inside them.

The book’s cover photo—a wall in China, a blur in the center, a disembodied foot—has won a number of awards and is currently in a museum collection.

Conde Naste had sent Lawton to Suzhou, where he set up his tripod and began capturing life unfolding before him.

“That picture itself is more than 300 people,” he said. “I call it ‘Passing Show Time’ because time is like a flow or a river. Time is both timeless and current. Einstein tells us that time is a continuum and it’s not linear, it can be warped and turned unto itself.”

“To me,” he continued, “that photograph evokes that idea. What we’re looking at may be hard to understand from a literal perspective, but we’re literally looking at hundreds of souls passing by. That’s the kind of image that really inspires me.”

The artist will be exhibiting images from his book at Exhibition House of Lucie, 777 W. Alameda St., Los Angeles on Jan. 19. Visit ericlawtonphotography.com for details.