Local photographer and University alumna Raegan Labat is aiming to strengthen Baton Rouge’s creative community through her most recent project, Tough Gum, along with a variety of events meant to spotlight local talent.
The 22-year-old started Tough Gum as a platform for artists, musicians and other creatives to curate and share their work, as well as to continue sharing her own in a more accessible way. Labat strives for all of the content to be original and in-depth, and will include features, Q&A’s, DJ mixes, photo diaries, show recaps and other event coverage.
Tough Gum is rooted in the idea of community collaboration because Labat wanted a platform others could be a part of. The project’s main goal is to produce quality content that a niche audience would want to look at, listen to or read.
“I can see it taking on a lot of forms," Labat said. "I’m trying not to think too hard about it and just focus on curating good items for it. I just want it to be a community.”
The name came to her when she was at a beach souvenir shop while on vacation, where she misread a knife as saying “Tough Gum” when it actually said “Tough Guy.” What she thought would be her first band name became her long-awaited online project.
Labat hopes to help transform the Baton Rouge arts scene into a tight-knit coalition through publishing Tough Gum and putting on events that encourage connection, such as music festivals and pop-ups.
Labat and her boyfriend Ryan Welsh wanted to start a fun, music-based event in Baton Rouge, leading to the first annual “Warfair” festival last year -- the name stemming from the band Welsh plays for, Loudness War. The lineup included multiple local acts who performed on a backyard homemade stage in front of a banner Labat and Welsh designed themselves.
This year, the duo wanted to make the event bigger and better. Partnering with local venue Mid City Ballroom and selling tickets are two changes to “Warfair 2,” which will come to life Dec. 9. Tough Gum is presenting the festival and helping promote the stacked lineup, which includes Loudness War and other local groups.
For another one of Labat’s upcoming projects, she plans to use her apartment to host portrait pop-ups. She plans to invite local musicians and artists to sign up for fun, affordable headshots and portraits with their creative peers.
Labat's interest in photography started “forever ago,” she said. The first real camera she received was a video camera, which she used to make slideshows of images. Upon her graduation from St. Amant High School, she attended a pre-college digital photography course at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and was inspired to seriously pursue photography.
“I started to learn about real photographers and how to actually make good photographs, and from there it spiraled,” Labat said.
A common theme in Labat’s work is music. When she began taking pictures as a teenager, she would go to music festivals, concerts and any local shows she could get into and take photos, developing a passion for concert photography.
“I was kind of trying to be the press,” Labat laughs. “For a lot of shows I was too young to even get in, but I knew this was the type of photography I wanted to do.”
Besides photographing the gamut of local bands in Baton Rouge, Labat also travels near and far for shows.
Labat frequents venues in New Orleans like One Eyed Jack’s and Gasa Gasa and has traveled across the country to shoot different music festivals and shows. Desert Daze, a psychedelic garage rock-themed festival, was the backdrop for a plethora of Labat’s recent music photos you can likely find on your Instagram Discover page.
Ultimately, Labat’s main goal is to become a music photographer full-time and go on tour.
“I just want to be able to do what I want to do. I want to make [my work] fun for people, and to produce good photos,” Labat said.