Laura McClintock is a 26-year-old photographer with a distinct, vintage-y sense of style: think feminine silhouettes, quirky glasses, bright lip colors, and daisy-print denim skirts. She lives in Brooklyn with her roommate and good friend, and her two beloved cats, Tortilla and Pinto (more on them below!). Read on to learn about her childhood in Australia and the brave photography project she took on in 2013 to shed a light on the female victims of a serial killer.
Growing Up Down Under
Imagine walking out onto the balcony of your home and seeing the waters of the Sydney Harbour stretch out before you. That's how Laura grew up, about 15 minutes outside of Sydney in the suburb of Birchgrove.
“From the balcony on my parents’ house, it looks straight at the Sydney Harbour bridge, an unobstructed view, and that’s where they have amazing New Year’s Eve fireworks,” she says. “It was pretty magical. The harbor is a sparkly, beautiful thing to have in the summertime—it could be tumultuous and intense with tropical rain storms, too. It’s a really special place to live.”
Laura went to school in Sydney, and when she started 5th grade there in 2000, she remembers it was near a rough area, with prostitutes and drug addicts on the streets not far from the school.
“As it is growing up in any large city, you have a mix of confronting moments along with the convenience and excitement of living in a city,” she says. “My high school was kind of on the border of a red-light district. There were also lots of nightclubs there; it’s a really big night spot in Sydney. It was kind of that fine line between skeezy and a fun night out. That was a big part of my formative years, in this suburb that has the ultimate privilege, with some of the biggest houses and the wealthiest people living there, and then right around the corner of my high school, [it was the opposite]. I think New York is very representative of that, too: how much a community can change from one block to the next.”
By the time she finished high school in 2007, the government had stepped in, changed the structure and layout of the streets, and instated injection clinics, according to Laura, so it was "world's apart" from when she first started her schooling there.
Kangaroo Valley Is a Real Place
Adding to the contrast of living in a beautiful suburb close to the water and going to school near tough parts of the city, her parents bought a house about two and a half hours outside of Sydney in Kangaroo Valley, part of the Southern Highlands, when Laura was 5 years old. It's a down-to-earth kind of weekend vacation spot, literally, since the house is made out of "mud brick and natural river stone found on the property," Laura says. Her parents would garden, and Laura would often explore the grounds with her younger brother Tom, getting their hands dirty and exploring for rocks.
“We would go every single weekend—my parents go much more now that my brother and I don’t live at home anymore. It’s the most wonderful place, and quite isolated. It’s beautiful and amazing in its own way, but not extravagant or anything like that. It’s not about a fancy getaway for us. When we bought it, it came with an orchard, so a lot of my childhood was my brother and I sitting in this weird makeshift tree house eating grapefruit, pretending we liked the grapefruit. I always say it’s my favorite place on earth because it’s full of so many happy memories. And I love to photograph there."
Finding Her Creative Niche... and the Coolest Mentors
Laura has always been artsy: in the way she dresses, in that she loves music and dance, and, although she says she's not so great at the classics, like drawing, she felt it just clicked when she picked up a camera (er, pun intended). At first, it was “really bad photos with disposable cameras,” but then, through a weeklong career experience in high school, she got to work with Anni Payne and Matthew Duchesne, a couple who own a photography studio called Milk & Honey Photography.
“It was quite close to my house, and I really loved that they did all kinds of photography, but everything was with a photo-journalistic kind of eye, it wasn’t cheesy or anything. And so I asked if I could come in for a work experience and they said yes. And I had the best time.”
At the end of that first week, Anni and Matthew asked Laura to stay on, and she started working a few days a week after school, until, by the time she left eight years later, she was working five days a week, plus shooting weddings.
“Anni, who started the business, she changed my life. I don't think I would be a photographer without her. The best thing I’ve done is work as an editor and look at images over and over again. Wedding photography—which a lot of people, especially in the photography industry, kind of poo-poo and put down—it's a really long, hard day to shoot that for someone and it’s a lot of pressure. I think I’ve literally looked through hundreds of thousands of wedding images over the years, because I used to edit them down. You're able to figure out what works and what doesn't. Anni then put me on to shoot very early on—I was still in high school when I started photographing weddings. By the time I left for New York in 2013, I was managing the studio, meeting with clients, and conducting sales. They’ve definitely been my biggest photo supporters. I didn’t really have a strong photo community until I came to New York; it was really fostered through them. Working for Anni and Matthew was what cemented that for me.”
The Importance of Traveling
Laura's parents, both lawyers who didn't grow up wealthy, worked very hard to make sure that Laura and Tom had much more than they did. Having a mom and dad with demanding jobs turned out to have some amazing benefits, not the least of them being able to adventure around the globe.
"As a kid, I would get frustrated because all these mums would come on school field trips or work in the canteen or whatever and just help out and my mum couldn’t do that, she was working. I felt like somehow I was missing out. But, you know, the 6-year-old perspective is very different from the 26-year-old perspective. I was able to travel so much. Even though they would work all the time, they could afford us these amazing opportunities. Aside from living in Sydney and going to Kangaroo Valley all the time, we would travel a lot as a family [places like Japan, Canada, New Zealand, China, and Italy]. By the time I was 18, I had seen and been so many places. I'd been to India by myself for eight weeks to explore and do charity work; to Wisconsin, where I went to a high school for a couple of months; and Spain and France after high school with friends. My parents instilled in me—not so much a need for adventure, because I’m not a thrill seeker in that way—but the idea that there’s so much more to the world than staying in one place. There are things to see and things to learn."
In 2013, while attending graduate school at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York, Laura came across a book called The Lost Girls, by Robert Kolker. The Lost Girls explores the still-unsolved case of a serial killer (or serial killers) who murdered more than 10 women from New York and Connecticut who were online escorts and call girls. (Most of the bodies were discovered by investigators near Ocean Parkway on Long Island from 2010 to 2011.) Laura has always been fascinated by crime mysteries, and what makes people do the things they do, and she thought, since she wasn't too far from where many of the remains were found, she could make this chilling case the focus of her graduate thesis, shedding some light on the women and who they were beyond their chosen jobs.
"Robert Kolker reported on these crimes as they were happening, and then he eventually made it into a book. But what I liked was that the perspective is mostly focused on these women and their socioeconomic history and where they came from. It’s not focused on the potential serial killer, and not sensationalizing him. It’s really kind of, and this is my interpretation, How does your life go a certain way that you essentially end up in a position to be [targeted] this way. And all of these women had very similar life stories."
These women were last seen in spots like a lotto store at Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan and a hotel in Hauppauge, Long Island. Laura drove to more than 10 locations throughout Long Island and Connecticut: She went to some of the women's grave sites, the movie theater that one of the women had worked at, and she even stayed in that Hauppauge hotel overnight. Laura also stopped along Ocean Parkway (a busy highway with not much of a shoulder to pull over on, she says) to photograph the beachy, bulrush-lined setting in the middle of winter.
"What I try to convey in my work is a feeling that you can gauge about a place, even if there's no person in the image. And that was really the ongoing issue with Hallowed Ground: How do you document something that isn't here?"
Besides capturing emotion and movement in open spaces, Laura was also driven by the fact that so few people were talking about the murders.
"I did a lot of research on these cases and read everything I could. And no one knew that this had happened. Most people vaguely remembered something because it was kind of grisly. There are so many victims, and I felt like no one was really talking about it. So I wanted to talk about it. It’s a place [Gilgo Beach, the area off of Ocean Parkway where many of the bodies turned up] that people bring their children; it’s a huge summer beach spot. All the houses are basically empty during winter because it’s so seasonal. I was also wondering, What is it like to have a place that you bring a family and once you know that these things happened there, does that change your perspective at all or do you just keep bringing your kids there? And no judgement either way, I just kind of try and understand."
Laura had some spooky moments, as one would expect, while scouting out all of the spots to shoot: footprints that started and suddenly stopped in the snow and places that seemed to contain a heavy mood. She was especially saddened at a cemetery in Connecticut, when she was standing by the grave of one of the victims, Maureen.
"It was foggy and there were low-lying clouds; it was very atmospheric and made for beautiful photos. I was kind of talking to her because her grave wasn't marked and I felt really sad about that. And sometimes those things take years, to have a gravestone built, but it seemed incredibly lonely. That made me think, What a life to be taken away in this way. And to stand there and be like, We’ve never met, but I’m here and I’m caring."
"We live in a place that’s much more dangerous to be female," Laura says. "And that’s just the reality. A lot of these women had children. A lot of them were younger than me or the same age. One was 19. So when you think about your own life and you’re standing at the grave of someone who was about 27, who’s got two children, you kind of take stock of everything, really."
This past February, photos from Hallowed Ground were featured in a story on Vice. For the full Hallowed Ground project and a look at other works by Laura, see her website, here. You can find Laura on Instagram @pastelpeppermint.
Last concert I attended... "A big DJ dance party over New Year's at a place called Union Transfer in Philadelphia."
My favorite restaurants in NYC... For pizza: Paulie Gee's. For a fancier good time: Beauty & Essex. For drinks with a view: Wythe Hotel. Best Korean fried chicken: Turntable bar and restaurant.
My favorite spots in NYC... To visit: "I like to walk, and there's something empowering about walking from Brooklyn into Manhattan." For moments of peace: "My bedroom is one of my favorite places or just getting out of NYC all together."
My cats... "Tortilla (girl) and Pinto (boy) are both approximately 1 and a half years old. I kind of stumbled into being a cat owner. On the street I lived in before my current apartment, people started dumping litters of kittens. It was really heartbreaking to see and so I took in Tortilla and another friend found a home for her brother, Sesame. A few months later, a tiny group of kittens were playing as snow was falling; they couldn't have been more than a few weeks old. I was able to bring Pinto in from the cold and we've been a little family ever since. Tortilla is a lovebug who really likes to be cuddled and sleeps on my feet at night. Pinto is kind of neurotic and likes to be the center of attention but in a loveable way! They really take care of each other, play together, and keep each other company, which is comforting when I'm at work all day."
My favorite lipstick brand and shade: "I'm a bit of a lipstick addict, so I can't narrow it down to just one! My everyday/always in my handbag/go with everything picks are Rouge Artist Natural No. 9 by Make Up Forever; Melted Metal in Metallic Jelly by Too Faced; and Isabel & Ruben Toledo for MAC Lipstick in Rehab."
Thank you so much to Laura for sharing her work and stories of her childhood. She's just the coolest.
Childhood photographs: provided by Laura's mother, Sibylle. Photograph of Laura standing in the water: Lily Landes. Photograph of Laura in white dress: Maha Alasaker. All other images provided by Laura.