If the real purpose of our strangely short time on this planet is to live well, to fill
each day as it comes with as many moments that count as we can, it may be that
the photographer Lauren Bugaj simply finished ahead of time, accomplishing
many decades of beauty in her brief twenty-seven years.
But the death of one so young is particularly hard to bear. It seems impossible to
calm or cool the hot beating of such a wound. Lauren Bugaj died suddenly of a
brain aneurism on November 19, 2006 and nothing warned or could have
prepared those who loved her, her family and friends and students, for the
incomprehensible abruptness of her end.
In the last months of her life the artist taught an Introduction to Photography
course at CIA. She was not much older than her students, and they came to say
goodbye to her at the funeral home on the west side, just a week or so after
seeing her in class. Indeed everyone from CIA seemed to be there, literally
hundreds of young faces tear-stained or numb with shock. In the back of the room
several tables displayed Lauren’s work as reproduced in various magazines, plus
albums full of her photographs and other memorabilia. My companion and I slowly
leafed through them, thinking how many thousands of images might have been
added, should have been added.
But there is the excellence of the work that she was able to finish to consider, and
the fact that so many moments of her perception and skill are a matter of record. It
makes a sort of sense now, in retrospect, that her art seemed to hurry to maturity,
to bear witness to her many loves.
I was introduced to Lauren’s photography early in 2003 just as the first print issue
of Angle Magazine was being designed, by our mutual friend Bernadette Jusciak.
Bernie has long worked as photographer for the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s
Office, where Lauren was also employed around that time. I visited the twenty-four
year old artist in her Tremont studio and was impressed with the variety, visual
strength, and quiet poignancy of her color photographs. We decided to use one of
these as our first Portfolio page. It showed a flat, barren winter Ohio field along the
Lake’s broad plain, in the intimate light of early morning. A blue sky taking up
much of the frame, warmed toward yellow by the sun’s oblique angle, could have
been stolen from one of Canaletto’s views of Venice, and the fields themselves
are a marvelous, quattrocentro shade of sienna. The subject, though, is a dense
cloud of birds, just taking off in a long, black spatter along the horizon; they rise a
few degrees and separate as they move toward the right margin of our view.
Like so much of her work, that untitled photo speaks in soft, mortal syllables to
the eye, a language of longing and loveliness that we are born speaking in our
hearts. Her close friend, the photographer Donna Rogers, selected several of
Lauren’s prints for me to look at as I write about her: vivid, complex images that
represent the depth and range of her work over the past several years. One of
them is a close-up of a bedraggled bird, sitting in shadow on a city street. A
triangle of light launches itself just beyond its eye and extends upward to the right,
illuminating the blurred figure of a human passerby. Seen from the rear the
person appears slim and young, wearing red boots and blue jeans. Although it
couldn’t be Lauren, it reminds me of her, walking quickly past the shadows into a
bright dissolve of light.
[Angle Magazine Issue #30]