Recently we had the pleasure of interviewing the talented writer and photographer, Lisa-Marie Harris from Au Courant Studio.

Au Courant Daily, a journal of life published by Au Courant Studio, effortlessly delivers features on art, design, travel and lifestyle. The journal makes use of various mediums including audio and visuals and is presented in a minimalistic and understated way. Au Courant has also published a series of volumes. The volumes contain a selection of images and thoughts written and photographed by Lisa-Marie. The publication resonates seamlessly with the minimal approach we execute here at X NIHILO, and it was our pleasure to be featured in their next volume. 

Enjoy reading as you take a look into Lisa-Marie’s life and what inspires her to do what she loves. 

au courant magazine x nihilo leather bgas  

credit | Photographer: Lisa-Marie Harris

  What drove you to establish Au Courant Studio? How did you first get into blogging?

I began Au Courant Studio in 2007 when I still lived in the Caribbean and wanted to create an independent avenue for combining different media formats to explore a modernist perspective on art, design, and lifestyle. I am from Trinidad and Tobago, and at that point, had already spent a decade working as a radio broadcast journalist and programme producer. I was living a stretched life and had gotten tired of the harrowing nature of A/V media, voicing commercials, hosting live programmes and talking about current affairs. The monotony of broadcasting was the hardest to overcome, and strangely enough, the all-nighters, all-inclusive parties and VIP fetes were becoming tiresome, too. At the time, traditional media companies like the one I worked for were very suspicious of new media formats and were extremely unwilling to incorporate any digital media platforms into their approaches. I got tired of trying to convince them of why a blog was a great thing to add to our very poorly maintained one-pager website (it was literally an HTML thing with a copy-and-paste logo and fluorescent text), or why it might be intriguing to use our video production arm to record live-broadcast shows for the web. Eventually, I made my own studio and website to address these things in the way I wanted to.
credit | Photographer: Lisa-Marie Harris |  Eight mini tan bag

What is the philosophy behind Au Courant Studio? And how does it resonate with you?

Au Courant Studio is more of a practice than a philosophy – it is a space for making works that use both traditional and digital forms of media. When it first started, it was actually called Au Courant in the Caribbean and focused on the diaspora and its culture. But once I left Trinidad and moved to Manhattan, I had the opportunity to follow through on other interests like art history, design, and architecture, and the focus expanded naturally to account for that. For me, Au Courant Studio is the workspace that allows for all aspects of media to be more than a tool of propaganda or regurgitation.

credit | Photographer: Lisa-Marie Harris

You mentioned on your website that your body of work relies on still-life, documentary, and self-portrait photography. Why do you find them interesting?

Although I began with audio and broadcasting, image making has always been a constant in my career. I came to photography through the video department, really. Radio had become one-dimensional to me, and I had the access to all this visual equipment at work. (Which is ironic because when one thinks of it, nothing is more one dimensional in terms of the format, than photography. But I suppose one can easily argue that there are layers of meaning, context, and permanence to be created in images that can’t be created in audio to quite the same extent.) My boss didn’t mind if I moonlighted in the video department to make all sorts of crazy interview shows and cultural documentaries, once I could make it back on-air to do the news and host program for my actual job! I began to capture the occasional still shots whilst doing these really rough videos on the side, and the rest sort of unfolded over time.
Honestly though, I only began to think of myself as a photographer many, many years after that when I was living in Amsterdam with my young family and didn’t always have the time to rig up a full-format camera when moving about with my infant son. My iPhone was always at hand, and I began to capture little videos and quick snapshots – I really liked the constrained nature of trying to tease out strong imagery from a camera with limited capabilities. It meant that I could shoot fast with one hand while I was wrangling my son with the other, but I had to equally constrain the object to get the kind of results I wanted. I’ve since returned to full format photography but I still shoot from the same perspective that I developed when playing around with mobile photography, which has become quite integral to most of us. In fact, I think that anyone who still holds mobile photography at a lower state of validity than standard or commercial photography is sorely out of touch. Self-portraiture is a fairly recent thing; I don’t shoot portraits normally, and I wanted ways to manipulate my imagery in a more intimate way. It made sense to impose myself into the space instead of forcing someone else into my ideas.

How would you describe your style? 

Casual. Functional. Elegant. Timeless. 

Print, on the other hand, has been a part of my life from the very start; my father is a retired printer who specialized in typesetting and compositing, and my mother was an extremely talented bookmaker and bookbinder. Making books and magazines out of the images I took seemed like the obvious next step, and it’s something I absolutely love because the print form holds a promise of being able to curate and represent an idea in a holistic way through photography. It’s that sentiment which led to the personal, story-based approach of the forthcoming issue of Au Courant Vol. 03, in which I literally take the reader on a journey via my essays, photography, self-portraiture, travels back to the Caribbean and to the South of France, and casual conversations with other creative leaders who’ve mastered the process of defining their own space within city living. It’s unlike any magazine I’ve ever read and I’m rather excited about this new approach.

What is your definition of art?

Art can be many things (art for the economic market vs. art for culture vs. art for commentary or theory.) But I think it must always be a tool of a challenge. It must push against and expand our expectations and conventions, or push us to consider viewpoints and realities we are otherwise sheltered from. Or else it is a wasteful, indulgent, dangerous endeavor.

credit | Photographer: Lisa-Marie Harris |  Eight mini tan bag

How does art influence your lifestyle?

It allows for openness in the thought process, a willingness to try new things, and the ability to see virtue where others might find none. I gorge myself on online images like everyone else these days, but I still value traditional forms of paper-based visual research, for instance. I keep stacks of old, printed photos with colors and shades that simply cannot be replicated online because of its tactility, and I still sketch out all my ideas along with copious notes in piles of notebooks. 

Au Courant provides you with a platform to share current trends, stories and art. What topics do you think are essential to be addressed to your readers? What do you believe is important to share with them?

At its most basic, Au Courant Daily Journal [] is a repository of essays and personal photography on what’s happening in Au Courant Studio, now that travel a great deal for my projects, and I live/work between London & Amsterdam. It’s a web space about the book projects in the works, daily observations, and conversations with other artists, creative influences and the like. It’s a studio blog, really, but it also provides me with a space for writing personal essays and publishing self-portraiture. In that way, I think it’s a space for open discussion; lots of times the perspectives on Au Courant are informed by the correspondence in emails or social media DMs I’ve had with readers.

credit | Photographer: Lisa-Marie Harris

Do you think it’s important for art and design to raise awareness of a particular topic?

Not in an agenda-setting way. Design needs to be thoughtful and responsive to the people or the purpose for which a thing is being created – what’s the point otherwise? Art on the other hand - its exposure and/or popularity, and what is deemed to be ‘good’ or ‘worthy’ art - is ultimately the result of inherent subjectivity. So I think art needs to be honest and realize how this phenomenon is at play. It needs to strive for honesty and for openness, and in so doing, it then allows for its individual players to assert their own ideas in ways that are legitimate, and it begins to approach objectivity. This, in turn, creates valid space for discussions and awareness of a wider range of concerns and topics.

credit | Photographer: Lisa-Marie Harris 

Who is your greatest inspiration in art and life?

I try not to hold people as great inspirations. I think it’s a bit unfair to be selective about how we celebrate and idolize people when convenient, simply because something they did seems inspirational. What happens when the person invariably falters? We throw them away. I do admire achievements, however, and in that regard, I absolutely, absolutely love what Louise Bourgeois was able to do for the length of her career. To keep making exceptional art in her youth with little notice, and then to finally get massive recognition in her later years but to not rest on her laurels, to continue innovating with her sculptural works? Beyond impressive. The sculptures she made before passing on were just as thought-provoking and aesthetically pleasing as the ones she made in her early years. That’s worth celebrating.

What is the one message that you’d like to share? What is the one message you aim to convey?

I do believe in trying to embrace one’s self and others as they are.

You’re surrounded by creative people and are exposed to different stories and experiences. What shaped you as a person?

My upbringing. I grew up in a very humble but honorable home, in a very difficult yet protective neighborhood, in a charming but largely dysfunctional and tiny island. There’s something really rare and valuable about being an outsider that affords an unfiltered view of things.  

credit | Photographer: Lisa-Marie Harris

Traveling has also been hugely influential. Not merely being a tourist, but really picking up your life and having to integrate fully into another country and its culture. That has revealed a lot about what drives basic commonalities – and differences – amongst people, and I value that. My approach, the things I am creatively drawn to, and the things that capture my attention arise from these kinds of experiences.
Ultimately, having to make things work whilst starting out from a place of limited access can bring a different appreciation of worth, quality, and functionality, and that has governed my aesthetic and penchant for simple elegance to this day.
Niche magazines are finally getting all the attention they deserve! Make sure to check out Au Courant Studio’s website and their latest volumes on offer here.
Heaps of love,
Mikaela from the X team


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