We had the good fortune of connecting with Joseph Labate & Laura LaFave and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Joseph & Laura, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
Joseph Labate

I had been working as a civil engineer for ten years and was seeking something meaningful and challenging creatively to supplement my life. I took a couple of night classes at Massachusetts College of Art and found them to be enjoyable and fulfilling. I applied to the school’s BFA design program, was accepted and began classes in the fall. In my schedule I had a photography class and I was quickly captivated by the challenge to make expressive art with a camera. Although I had no experience making art I was confident of learning the technical skills required and was ready to take on the more important challenge of being creative through my photography. I changed my major from design to photography, received my BFA at Massachusetts College of Art, later an MFA at the University of Arizona School of Art and ultimately became a professor in the photography program in the School of Art.

Laura LaFave

I was a psychology and art major at William & Mary. After receiving my BA, I worked for three years in a private psychiatric hospital as an art therapist. I loved this work. It was very moving and I enjoyed helping people in a creative way. Nonetheless, I continually felt drawn to the arts in a profound way. I had always been enamored by painting and drawing, feeling a strong connection that is difficult to describe. Reading art history and perusing art books filled me with contentment and wonder. It felt like a dream state.

I moved from Virginia to Arizona, and received a BFA at Arizona State University followed by an MFA from the University of Arizona. I worked as an artist in education on the Arizona Commission on the Arts doing large projects with students over the state. I also taught art as at the University of Arizona School of Art.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
We have been doing our collaborative work for almost 20 years. The relationship between the images of each of our works in our collaborative pieces is interactive.

We started our collaborative work as a way to broaden our experience in the arts and develop something that is relatively unique in the field of art and very unique to us. The works use Joseph’s photographs and Laura’s drawings on a sheet of cotton rag paper. The work has evolved over time. And there were challenges. The photograph needs to be completed first, as running gessoed paper with a drawing on it through the printer could ruin the drawing and/or the printer and if the printer malfunctioned the drawing would be completely lost. Joseph presents Laura with photographs he thinks she will respond to. He brings her contact sheets of his photographs from which to chose from. After Laura choses a photograph from the contact sheet, Joseph prints a piece with his photograph on one side, the other side left blank. In the beginning, Laura would draw on large photographs that Joseph left with empty spaces for her to draw in. Laura found it difficult for her to draw “within” his photographs. The separate pieces we set adjacent to one another have more presence though the adjacent work is not representative of the other. After reflection and contemplation in looking at Joseph’s photograph, Laura begins a drawing based on the foundation of the assimilation of her sentiments.

Collaborating with another artist has unique benefits and challenges. It is important in a collaboration that each person completes their part with autonomy; there can be no constraints whatsoever. Once Joseph’s part is done, the completion of the work is entirely up to Laura. Joseph later views it when finished. Open-mindedness, innovation, invention, determination and respect for one another have formed the basis of our collaborative work.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
At the top of the list would be a visit to both of the Saguaro National Monuments and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Other places to visit would be Mt. Lemmon in the Santa Catalinas, Patagonia and the University of Arizona campus. Also visits to the Tucson Museum of Art, The University Art Museum and the Center for Creative Photography.

For food some good Mexican food at La Indita and tacos at Boca. Some great Italian food at Tavolino and sushi at Kasoku.
A stop at Barrio Bread to pick up some of the best bread ever.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
The MFA program in the University of Arizona School of Art.

Website: JosephLabate.com

Instagram: labatejoe

Linkedin: linkedin.com/in/laura-lafave-05a72925 linkedin.com/in/joe-labate-66783040

Facebook: jlabate@email.arizona.edu

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutArizona is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.