LINKA A ODOM aka TheMissingLinka

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Inner light

Linka A Odom photo by Jeremiah Newton © Jeremiah Newton

From Linka A Odom to TheMissingLinka there’s a long journey, an exciting journey that still continues around the world, being enriched by every person, every light, every landscape she discovers. Linka A Odom aka TheMissingLinka is a Berlin based freelance documentary and editorial photographer. She grew up in Texas where she discovered adventure. Then she discovered photography in New York which has become more than a way of life. She earned a B.F.A in Photography from New York Universtity’s, Tisch School of the Arts in 1997 and in December 2012 she earned a M.A. in Photojournalism & Documentary Photography from Univ. of Arts London. After 16 years of work in photography, she defines that practice as "her therapy, her savior and her ultimate passion", her way to share “something beautiful to inspire people to live the life they dream of” and the truth is through her artwork one can easily get inspired by her view of life. In her photography there’s a special aura as a result of combining the light portrayed and her inner light, in my opinion being this last one the authentic and very strong hallmark in her artistic work. As a very good example of that, her fascinating work The Christian Admiral about an abandoned hotel built in 1905 on the New Jersey coast, in which the dramatic story of the hotel is focused by the passion and special sensitivity of Linka A Odom giving to that abandoned space a new life into our imagination. TheMissingLinka is looking for new projects, full of renewed energies, and her past and current works are magnificent reasons to follow her in every future journey.

Who is Linka A Odom?
Because I’m a writer, to try and answer this succinctly wouldn’t suffice, so….It all started in 1975. I recall it clearly, my memory of it is like a recurring dream, but it remains a fact. The bed was one of those beautiful oak four post beds, with a grand maple walnut back that was broad and beautiful, it had a large wide wood frame that held the mattress, which I could put my whole feet on. I used the frame to wiggle out of the bed. I wanted so much to just lie there, and I remember that I wasn’t crying. Everything seemed to far, so big, so tall, and grand. I was in Bastrop, Texas in a classic Texas plantation home with white paneling and shutters, a wrap around porch, the kind with rocking chairs and tea tables. The bed, I had to get out of it.

Somehow I had to touch the ground and walk. I put my two fingers in my mouth as I dragged my blanky behind me and I shuffled down the gigantic and never-ending foyer. I was scared. I woke my mother and I started wailing. I was barely three years old and very sick with apendicitis, it is my first memory.

I’ve always been a very vocal person, extremely expressive, an adventurer, and an explorer, I want to understand things. I’m hyper critical of the world and human nature, my artístic practice is my way of dealing with my anger, frustrations, judgements, and joys.

Why did you choose photography as a way of expression ?

It was more of an accident than a choice. I had already spent two years studying liberal arts at University. I was feeling quite lost when I went to NYC for a summer program to study fashion. After 2 days I realized I wasn’t cut out for the course, it didn’t inspire me. I went to the Dean and asked to transfer, there was an opening in a beginning photography course. This was at Parsons School of Design. My Mom sent up my fathers Canon AE-1. On the first roll of film was a photograph that just had it, all the elements of a classic photo. I remember printing it in the darkroom, seeing it come to life. I recall my teacher telling me I was a natural. It was the first time I felt like I was good at something. I had finally found a way to express myself. I found that it helped me to function in reality. It was an incredible feeling & I’ve been dedicated to the craft of photography ever since. That was in 1993.

Here is ‘the shot’ from my first roll of hand-developed film
Shot by Linka A Odom © 
Linka A Odom

Which elements must a good photograph contain?

Feeling, first & foremost a transcendent emotion. Then of course the basic elements aid this, such as good lighting, structure, subject, & tonality. However, sometimes a photograph just speaks to you & you can’t explain why, there is no recipe, there are no rules in photography as I see it.

One of your projects is the series The Christian Admiral. Could you tell us about it?

This project was and still is very important to my artistic development and my psyche. I learned how to see while pursuing this project. The Christian Admiral was an abandoned hotel built in 1905 on the New Jersey coast. I started photographing this space with a 35mm film camera and later finished the project with a 4x5. I remember that I had photographed the same room about 10 ways and I knew I hadn’t really gotten it yet. When I took the 4x5 into the room, there was this moment where something switched & I saw the room differently. Using a 4x5 trains the eye in a different manner than traditional 35mm cameras. Because of this project, I gained a respect for really taking time to look at things, to view things from unique angles. I also loved the adventure of it, exploring the hotel, which was gigantic with over 300 rooms. I spent hours inside the space wandering the rooms and hallways. It was both scary and exhilarating at the same time.

From The Christian Admiral
35mm still by Linka A Odom
Linka A Odom

From The Christian Admiral
35mm shot by Linka A Odom
Linka A Odom

From The Christian Admiral
4x5 shot by Linka A Odom
Linka A Odom

You also created and exhibited an installation from that series in which people could walk inside. How important is the public interaction for you?

I was pursuing this as a personal project for my Undergraduate education at NYU’s Tisch School of Photography. I remember that my classmates loved the images. But for me that wasn’t the reaction I wanted. Sure people thought they were beautiful. But I wanted the feeling of being inside the hotel to be imparted. When I built my miniature of the hotel, it had motion sensored sound, and interactivity, it was a little creepy and a very private experience, only one person at a time could enter the space. People had to open doors, turn on lights, and explore the installation in order to see my photographs. I loved watching people play with the installation. It was a very unique experience and it mimicked my experience of photographing the hotel. For me photography is about adventure and investigation. My ultimate goal is to work almost entirely with interactive installations, or at least 3d photographic projects. I believe that interaction can ignite something more tangible than static prints on a wall in many instances.

That installation as destroyed, I guess was a symbol of the disappearance of the portrayed building. How do you live the ephemeral condition of existence?

Yes, sadly the hotel was demolished in 1995. I was quite depressed from my teens through early 20's. In fact, while I was documenting the Admiral I was continually fighting depression. I come from the suburbs of Texas, I never felt at home or at ease there, so I suppose my depression came from feeling like something was wrong, wrong with me, wrong with the world. It wasn’t until I left the states that I realized that being happy is a truer act of rebellion. Now I live my life according to my desires. Photography for me is very nostalgic and, I suppose a way to live on. Yet I am not afraid of death. This comes from both physical and psychedelic experiences. Curently I live in Berlin and I’m deeply in love with the city, as I have never felt freedom in the West like I do in Berlin.  I believe that by pursuing my artistic endeavors full time and living a life I can believe in, I am honouring existence.

It’s obvious the importance that travelling has in your work but what does it really mean to you?

Traveling both physically and metaphysically saved me. This goes back to the above question. I recall the moment everything in my world altered. I was 26 and it was my first time traveling in a developing country, I spent 6+ months in S.E. Asia. I was at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. A fellow traveller offered me liquid LSD. I had 8 years previously, had one experience with LSD and it was the most frightening night of my life. But here I was at Angkor Wat, it was beautiful and I felt safe. I said yes. The experience changed my life forever. After the trip wore off, the next morning I went out to watch the sunrise from the top of Angkor Wat and I felt this extreme joy, the kind you remember for the rest of your life. It was the moment that I decided that I was going to be happy. It is a decision you have to make and believe me, it didn’t happen overnight. It took me years to really find my way, delving into personal issues, traveling all over the world, exploring relationships. But I got here, I made it to the other side and traveling was the initial spur that ignited this desire.

Taken that morning in Angkor Wat, Cambodia 
© Linka A Odom 

It’s very interesting the series Insect architecture due to its abstract result despite being realistic photography of nature. Must art always go one step beyond reality?

Hmm, that’s a good question. I think the question is, what is reality? Is a so-called hallucination not real? If you experience something, isn’t it real, at least for you? It reminds me of a quote from the film ‘Waking Life’: They say that dreams are only real as long as they last. Couldn't you say the same thing about life.”

I have great respect for documentary photography and much of what I photograph is in fact natural in existence. But my sense of wonder at what I’m photographing is perhaps where this sense of going beyond comes from. For instance, for a while I was obsessed with pictures from the Hubble telescope. I eventually wrote NASA and asked them how they explain all the faces and figures visible in the galaxy, siting one image in particular, in which I saw a chariot pulled by horses in the bottom right corner, there is no question to me that there was some physical energy flying through that galaxy. NASA wrote me back telling me that humans like to see things that don’t actually exist, because we can’t help but self-associate. I rejected this response as NASA not wanting to expose the truth. Which to me is that we have no idea what’s truly going on, there could be a million reality’s happening simultaneously vibrating at different frequencies in the same space we inhabit.

About portraying people, how do you achieve a natural expression from the portrayed?

This has taken me quite a long time to figure out. I never photographed people at the beginning of my career, because it made me nervous. I love people, I love talking to people, and I am incredibly social. So when the connection feels natural it’s easier to achieve a portrait. I don’t have the easiest time when I don’t naturally connect with a person, but it’s best to play, talk, give something, show them you are vulnerable…even if you can’t speak the same language, you can communicate with each other. My best advice is to be authentic.

© Linka A Odom

I want to tell you a story about this portrait in particular. In 2005 I was invited to be an assistant to a photographer on a 12 day trip through China. For the last 8 days of the trip I was traveling alone with 6 men. It's a long story, let's just say that I felt insulted, diminished & completely beaten by the end of it. The photographer was using my Pentax 6x7 as an extra camera. We just finished shooting on the last day when I saw this woman walk into a noodle shop on a back alley street in Shanghai. I couldn't believe my eyes, I mean look at her. I grabbed my camera, it had one shot left. I didn't even remember what the speed of the film was. I walked into the noodle shop & she was facing the door, as if she was waiting for me. I held up my huge camera, I made wild hand gestures signaling how incredibly beautiful she was asked her please. She let me know OK and stared at me. I took the photograph. She walked out of the noodle shop, crossed the street and away. She didn't buy anything in the shop, it was like she just dropped out of the matrix for this moment. It was completely perfect, the negative - look at the hair along her shoulder, the green of her eyes, the flashes of yellow in her hair and the halo over her head. I'm still convinced that she was an apparition, a guide sent to let me know that I was on the right path, that everything was going to be OK. This is my favorite portrait I have ever taken.

We always ask the artists to tell us a night dream, could you tell us one of yours?

I have a very active dreamscape, so I love this question. This was immediately the first dream that came to mind. Years ago, after returning home from Burning Man, an annual art festival in the Nevada desert, I believe it was in 2003. I had a dream that I will never forget. It is a little difficult to explain, but aren’t all dreams?. I was in a bus with my camp mates from that year’s festival, we were riding out into the desert, eventually our driver stopped the bus and pointed for us to exit towards a white wall that we could see in the distance. We walked out to towards the wall. As soon as we came upon it, it was obvious that it was the beginning of a labyrinth. The moment I stepped into the space of the labyrinth everything disappeared – including time. It was as if, the second we entered into this space there was no means by which to measure the passage of time. I remember feeling extremely elated. Everyone was scared to continue walking further into the labyrinth. So we sat down. But one of us, my friend Jefe suddenly was off in the distance & through a window we could see him on a picnic blanket with two women. We sat there watching this spectacle, while feeling extremely at ease, knowing that time didn’t exist and nothing mattered except the immediate now, which was perfect in every way.

Linka A Odom aka TheMissingLinka | El Hierro . A selection of works here

An interview by Juan Carlos Romero
Shots from the project The Christian Admiral by Linka A Odon. © Linka A Odom
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Linka A Odom portrait by Jeremiah Newton. © Jeremiah Newton
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