In plain sight
The loss of an eye, hasn’t stopped photographer Lorraine Boogich ’07 from seeing the world
By Jim W. Harper
From a distance, she looks like a black speck on the horizon.
Driving closer, you perceive the old-fashioned silhouette of a photographer hunched under a black drape. An overpass of I-95 at rush hour seems like a strange place for a shutterbug with a tripod, but the sun is setting, and Lorraine Boogich ’07 wants to get the shot just right. She adjusts the bellows of the camera, waits for the sun’s light to blossom, and snaps the picture.
On the highway below, road rage rules.
“I-95 at rush hour is a horrible thing, but watching the sunset from an overpass is the complete opposite,” says new graduate Boogich. “I enjoy making things beautiful even if they’re not.”
Finding beauty in urban sprawl is a reoccurring theme in Boogich’s work. Her senior show at Barry was titled “The Grid,” and depicted what she calls the “invisible lines in the city:” overpasses, highways, downed buildings – all shown in beautiful light.
The 25-year-old Boogich is drawn to the quirky and quixotic. “When I find shacks and run-down buildings, I love that stuff,” she says. “Your imagination can go wild, as to what’s the history behind it.”
Her sophisticated eye conceals her youth, at age 25, even as her literal eyes reveal a startling disability for a photographer. She is blind in one eye due to a brutal car accident eight years ago.
The impact of the accident tore apart the right side of her face and has required 14 surgeries so far. During the initial recovery, her parents covered all the mirrors in their house for six months. Boogich believes it was absolutely the right approach.
“Being a teenage girl is tough. I just wanted to look like myself again,” says Boogich, whose face remains heavily scarred on the right side. “But when I see myself now, I don’t really see that.”
Nowadays Lorraine jets around town in clunky brown sunglasses, her long, wavy hair contrasting with her pale skin and blue eyes. Her damaged eye, covered by a ceramic shell with a motionless blue iris, is painful, weepy, and shrinking over time. But she doesn’t let it slow her down.
She wants to cash in her frequent flyer miles for a trip to Europe in 2008, but first she is going to have her eye removed. It will be replaced by an implant, and after six weeks of recovery she will be back on the road and behind the camera.
“She struck me from the very beginning as someone who never let her life’s hardships ever become a factor in affecting what her goals in life and her mission are,” says Silvia Lizama, a photography professor and chair of the department of fine arts. “I don’t know if it [her blindness] has made her see more, but it doesn’t stop her one bit. She is going 200 percent.”
Although she has been drawn to the art since childhood, Boogich says it wasn’t until she began studying photography at Barry that she became focused and disciplined.
“At Barry you’re given a lot of freedom to express yourself while still learning technique,” she says.
Her favorite format quickly became the view camera, the bulky, bellowing behemoth that allows for fine adjustments and captures artistic 4-inch by 5-inch prints. “You can’t learn those techniques on your own,” she observes.
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Lorraine lives in North Miami Beach in the same building as her aunt and grandmother. Born in Queens, New York, her family relocated to Orlando when she was six. Regular visits to her grandparents in Miami eventually drew her to relocate near Barry.
Two things gobble up most of her resources. “I spend all my money on travel and photography. Travel is an addiction,” she says. “By the time I die, I hope to make it to every single continent.”
Her acquired addiction to the burdensome view system of photography does not mix well with the travel bug, however. When traveling by plane, she finds little room for clothing and other personal items.
Few women have tackled this beast; even most men have an assistant to carry it, Lizama notes. The reward, however, is that is forces the photographer to meditate.
Unlike the flurry of shots possible with a digital camera, Lizama explains, the view camera requires the photographer to edit mentally on location.
“It really slows you down, and every shot becomes precious. You do all the thinking before you shoot,” she says.
In Lorraine’s case, location could be atop an overpass on I-95, on the street in South Beach, or paddling out to an uninhabited key south of the Everglades.
“I like back-country camping as long as there is a nice place to camp,” she says. “I’m usually the one left to plan these things.”
Boogich’s thirst for adventure led to an unexpected lesson while attending courses taught by Barry faculty in Spain last summer. She was driving with a friend in a mountainous national park, when her friend began panicking on the steep, narrow roads and turned the car keys over to Boogich, who had no idea how to drive a stick-shift. On that mountain, with cows and sheep and dogs as obstacles, she learned.
“Driving in Spain was like a dream,” she says. If the stick-shift emergency had happened in South Florida, she adds, “I probably would have been killed.”
She certainly could have died in 1999 on the night of the accident.
An innocent excursion to Daytona Beach with nine friends went sour when Lorraine’s car stalled on Interstate 4. It began to drizzle as the 10 young people piled into one car. Lorraine was sitting on a friend’s lap in the front seat.
“I kept thinking, ‘this is the worst night of my life,’ ” she remembers. “I always wore my seatbelt, but I couldn’t wear it that night because there were too many people in the car.”
Heading home in the rain, her friend started driving recklessly and sped up to 105 mph. Then it all happened so fast. “It was not like in the movies,” says Lorraine, although she likens the screeching sound of the accident to something out of the movie “Terminator.” A slow car appeared in front of them, brakes slammed, and then came the sound of grinding metal – the car spun three times and flipped sideways.
As the car flipped, the window where Lorraine was sitting struck the ground, and a stick pierced her eye. The impact tore out most of the muscle tissue and bone on the right side of her face.
The car continued flipping and landed on its wheels, facing the opposite direction. Everyone except Lorraine walked away. No one else was seriously injured.
“I was the only person in that car who had a plan, who knew what they were doing in life, so I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me,” she says.
Although the accident changed her life, Lorraine doesn’t spend her days thinking about it anymore. It is other people who will not let her forget.
Children may stare innocently at her scars and unblinking eye, but adults are the ones that offend her. During a three-year period of wearing an eye-patch, middle-aged men would call her “pirate.” Some people even tried to pull it off. “You see a lot of people’s true colors,” she observed.
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Today she worries less about how she looks and focuses on how the world looks through the lens. Like most photographers, she would rather be behind the camera anyway.
Boogich put her ambition to good use when the Society for Photographic Education held its 2007 national conference in Miami. Unlike more passive students, Boogich gathered her wits and her business cards and approached one of the editors of a magazine “with all the confidence in the world,” according to Lizama. Before long, Boogich’s work was featured in an eight-photo spread in View Camera Magazine.
“She’s a great example,” Lizama said. “She’s got really clear goals. She [really tried] to get the most out of her education here.”
Boogich has also made an impression on many of Miami’s youngest artists through her work with Arts for Learning, a nonprofit that places working artists in classrooms. The children get excited when she walks into class with a camera to document the organization’s work, and she loves being around other artists.
“Lorraine gets really excited when she sees the artist doing something creative that makes a difference,” says Roxana Barba, an after school program manager with the group. “Everyone who has worked with her loves her. She’s one of those people who have it together.”
In 2005, her documentary photos of children becoming artists were blown up and exhibited at the Miami Children’s Museum, and Arts for Learning recently promoted her to the newly created position of program monitor. She now serves as “eyes and ears in the field,” according to Barba, observing classrooms and documenting progress.
“Sometimes it’s really hard because I have to answer questions about my face and what happened to me. It’s tough,” Boogich says. “Sometimes kids are very cruel. The occasional comment can make you feel really bad.”
Positive and negative
Once interested in becoming a film director, Boogich now hopes to sell her photographs to adventure and architectural magazines.
Contrary to the tourist philosophy of point-and-shoot, she says that “buildings aren’t easy to photograph” because the sun limits one’s ability to manipulate the lighting and you can’t control what appears in front of them.
“Cars can be your biggest enemy.”
However, instead of viewing the parked car as obstructionist, she is embracing it. A van parked in front of a South Beach hotel, for example, transformed into a suggestive, ghostly image when she developed the film.
That image, “The Royal Palm,” became part of a series titled “Positive and Negative,” which depicts South Beach architecture with a companion image in reverse coloring. One photograph peeks through a circular opening at the Best Western on Washington Avenue, another frames the Essex Hotel through windows.
Boogich sells works from this and other series through online services and plans to expand her Web site. She is also planning another series that will document mirrors, something she couldn’t look at for half of a year after her accident.
Mirrors, cars and the Mojave Desert are challenges she enjoys. She took on the latter by herself during a trip to California, simply because she wanted to see the desert when no one else did. Only afterwards did she think about the potential danger of being stuck out there alone.
Despite that “misjudgment,” Boogich says she trusts her instincts on the road. “I don’t like to get in the car with just anybody,” she said. “I prefer to drive.”
This young graduate is ready to see the world and capture it on film. She knows that the road may be rough, and not always fair, but in the right light, it always becomes beautiful.
“Why should I change who I am because that happened to me?” she says. “That’s my personal philosophy. No regrets.”
Plaza de Indepenencia, Madrid, Spain