Posts Tagged ‘photography’

On the Road with Mike O'Neil

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

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I met Mike O’Neil last summer when Matt & Kim offered a dozen of my friends and I a ride back from the beach at Fort Tilden in their big red tour van. We piled in, some of us squeezed in on the back banquette, some cramped five-deep in the windowless trunk, some of us perched Indian-style on the van’s floor, and poor Mike was smushed in the corner by the window, hugging his bike, trying like the rest of us to not panic at the overcrowded situation as we inched slowly forward on the Belt Parkway. A few days ago I got to pick Mike’s brain about what exactly his life is like when he’s not bartending or zipping around on his bike delivering pizza, but when he is, just like the day I met him, crammed in a van full of people, touring the country. In the past few years, this young Springfield, Massachusetts native went from working merch for local favorites Matt & Kim to tour managing folk rock quartet Deer Tick, who he is currently out on the road with.

AM: I met you when you were still working for Matt & Kim. How did you start working with them?

MO: I met Matt and Kim around six years ago. My good friend in high school was in the same program as Matt at Pratt. I’d come to Brooklyn from Massachusetts for warehouse shows and whatnot and realized someday I’d need to live there. After a few years, I ended up in Brooklyn, interning for D.I.Y. show-thrower Todd P and sort of re-met everyone. During college, Matt and Kim had asked me to travel here and there, but school had prevented it. The day after I took down my thesis photography show, they flew me to L.A. to meet up with the tour they were on and I’ve been out with them in one way or another about six times since then. I’ve always wanted to do more than merch, but M&K is an operation I’m not quite prepared to tour manage yet. Recently, I’ve been with Providence, RI band Deer Tick. This is my first US tour with them. I’ve gone out for a week or two here and there, but this one is 6 weeks. I’m in the van with four of my best friends and my brother [a member of Deer Tick] about seven hours a day.

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AM: What is your favorite part of touring? Your least favorite?

MO: This is by far the most insane country in the world. We were in Vermont two weeks ago and there were forests of birch trees and melting snow that is flooding the entire region. Now I’m in the desert and it’s 95 and dry. Aside from the landscape, I’ll forever stand by the idea that America is the best country in the world. I think touring bands take for granted how good we have it here and tend to lose sight of this stuff. This country rules, and I wouldn’t tour any other for months on end. And with Deer Tick I get to be with my brother. We have some heavy stuff happening back in Massachusetts, so it’s good to live in this van together for a few months. When I’m out with anyone else, we just end up criss-crossing and we won’t see each other for up to a year. For brothers in the same profession and 15 months apart, that’s pretty bad.

[On the downside,] I have poor bladder control and have to pee out anything I take in every 30 minutes or so, which is pretty annoying. Also I tend to be too busy to take photographs.

AM: Which comfort from home do you miss the most?

MO: I miss pizza. Every time I go back to Brooklyn it’s all I’ll eat for a few days. I stand by the statement there is no pizza worth eating in this country outside New York. [So] awful. Aside from my girlfriend and pizza, I miss my bike.

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AM: On the flip side, is there anything you take out on the road with you that you can’t live without?

MO: Sounds [crappy], but as a tour manager, if I lost my phone or computer, my job would be essentially gone with them. Plus, they help me to keep in touch with back home and set up hangs with friends in future cities, which is always nice. I also need my camera(s). Someday, when I’m old and every band I’ve worked for is famous, I’ll publish them all and be rich and famous myself. Oh, and clean underwear.

AM: Do you have any good gross out stories from being in the van or on the road in general?

MO: When you have seven dudes in a twelve passenger Chevy Express towing a 3000 lb trailer containing merch, gear, and irreplaceable vintage instruments, there tend to be more bottles of pee lying around than water, which is tricky. Especially when you’re wearing sunglasses or it’s dark out. Also, it’s great to go to grocery stores and make healthy sandwiches instead of fast food, but if you lose a slice of turkey it gets [nasty] in here fast.

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AM: You must meet a lot of people while out on the road, can you tell us a story of some exceptional hospitality you’ve encountered out there?

MO: Just this morning our good buddy Jacob Smigel made us homemade Mexican quiche with home-roasted peppers and tomatoes, homefries, beermosas, and coffee. That ruled. I once had someone sleep on their own floor and insist I take the bed. That was pretty awkward.

AM: Did you ever think you’d be touring the country for a living? What did you think you’d be when you grew up?

MO: Funny story: I went to college in Providence for event management and hated it. I transferred, got into photography, worked for Todd P in Brooklyn and went on tour the day I finished school. I wanted to study something in school I could tolerate for those four years, then figure out a job I liked after. I’m happy and I’m getting paid to do what I want to. That’s sort of the definition success, right? I’ll be doing this for a while.

For more of Mike’s photos visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/tellmenonfiction/
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Leslie Van Stelten

Monday, May 17th, 2010

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JV: So, you’re based in New York City. Where did you grow up?

LVS: Colorado. In the suburbs.

JV: And when did you move to New York?

LVS: In 1997. I went to art school and only packed two suitcases. Had never been here before, didn’t have any friends here, just sort of moved.

JV: How was that?

LVS: You know, New York is so exciting that it was really an adrenaline rush for many years. It was a struggle making friends and everything and finding my way, but it was definitely an adventure, very exciting. I sort of recommend everybody do that, you know?

JV: Absolutely. I agree. How do you think New York City influences your work?

LVS: I think what really motivates me is the scenery of New York… A lot of my photographs have New York City skylines, bridges, the streets of Brooklyn–just something very distinctively New York. And I like to take portraits that way a lot.

JV: Tell me about your history as an artist. Was photography your first artistic passion?

LVS: I sort of had another life before photography. I have a degree in biology. I actually was in the Peace Corps for a little while, and I was in Panama City just hanging out in the French District and I just sort of had this epiphany, this feeling that I wasn’t really doing the right thing with my life and I had to explore this other option. From then on I started doing photography- I took a photography class and I knew immediately. I just understood the physics of lighting and everything; it came to me naturally, so I knew it was the right way to go.

JV: How has the digital age changed your work? I noticed that some of your work seems to combine digital and traditional photography.

LVS: Ten, fifteen years ago when I was starting it was all film, mostly. The kind of cameras I used to make portraits then, medium format and a lot of large format cameras, I used because you could slice through the depth of field with a 4×5 camera, which is a really interesting way to take portraits. I still have that camera and I still do that sometimes, but I find with digital when I’m shooting I can look at the LCD screen in the back and see the lighting instantly, and make adjustments immediately. So I think as far as the flow goes, as far as it comes in with how I see things being lit, digital has really helped me. And also the post-production part of it- it’s much easier to edit digital.

But it doesn’t quite have the feeling that film does. I’ve always liked experimenting around with polaroids, and I find the experimental process with film much more fulfilling. With digital it’s sort of like what you see is what you get, but it makes jobs- when you have clients looking at your computer screen- it makes that flow much easier. So, you know, everything is a give and take.

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JV: I really love the attention to detail in your fashion work. For example, some of the photos makes me feel like I’m looking at stills from a film. When you’re coming up with props and locations for your shoots, do you think of there being a narrative that the photos will fit into?

LVS: Yes, often I do. It depends. Often I pre-plan the shoots with stylists and a makeup artist and we come up with concepts and a story. But then sometimes I’ll walk into shoots and just make use of the available space. It depends, but for a lot of the fashion and beauty stuff I like to have it pre-planned, and I do like to have a narrative, some sort of story going on.

JV: How is working with models vs. working with bands and individuals?

LVS: It’s easier as a photographer to light models and everything because, you know, they have perfect skin, perfect facial structure (laughs). If you’re doing true, hardcore beauty fashion stories, it definitely makes it easier because models know their bodies, and they know what angles work for them. But it’s not as interesting sometimes as working with bands or regular people. I like a lot of character in people. Oftentimes on the fashion projects I choose my own models, people that I know from clubs and whatever, because they’re a little bit more interesting to me. They’re not so “cookie-cutter-model”.

JV: Some of your personal photo-illustration projects have a really interesting Goth edge to them. What kind of music or scene do you think has been most influential to your aesthetic?

LVS: Oh boy, that’s a tough one. I’m a DJ, also.

JV: What kind of music do you DJ?

LVS: Totally depends on where I’m playing.

I’d say rock ‘n roll. I’d say that’s the core of who I am. And yeah, definitely there’s a dark feel to the photo-illustration work, because I like comic books, and I like that vibe.

JV: I actually thought that when I saw your work. I thought of the graphic novels I kind of grew up reading in high school.

LVS: Exactly! I haven’t been doing photo-illustrations that much lately, but I just did one for a band called the Johns that’s going to be in my show on May 2nd. I’m excited to show it…I haven’t shown it to anybody, it’s just going to be this new thing at the show, and I’m very excited. But I haven’t been working on them in a while. I don’t know, I’ve been sort of vibing on that whole fashion thing. And I have this little team that’s been sort of pushing me, keeping a flame going on that stuff. But when I was experimenting around with photo-illustration, that comic book vibe influenced me a lot. I’d go to comic book stores and get influenced by them.

JV: Do you think your work has recurring themes, and if so, have they changed with time or remained fairly consistent?

LVS: I do so many more shoots than what’s in my photography book, I think that’s something most photographers do, and the ones that I choose for my portfolio are the ones that tell a story. There’s a sense of eternity, an emotional sense of eternity that makes people seem bigger than who they really are…I don’t know if that makes sense at all, but it’s a sense of lighting and a sense of the look in their eyes and the way they’re styled and everything. I don’t know. People have told me throughout the years that my work really has a “Leslie Van Stelten” look to it.

JV: What advice do you have for people considering a career in photography?

LVS: It’s a tough road, but I’m not even going to focus on that because I don’t want it to sound negative at all. You just have to keep shooting and have fun with it, because it’s a blast. The people alone that you meet while you’re doing it- it’s not the final photograph, it’s not the success of it or any of that, the greatest thing about photography are the people that let you into their lives. You’re granted access to people’s lives, to people that normally you wouldn’t have access to. And it’s a collaborative thing, working with makeup artists and stylists- it’s just all a magical thing. And I think it becomes a creation of its own with the collaborations and the crazy accidents that happen. It’s the process that makes it so amazing. It’s an amazing career.

For more, visit http://www.leslievanstelten.com

Photos by Leslie Van Stelten
Makeup by Marisa Franco
Styling and art direction by Jet Olivia

Matt Schwartz

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

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Matt Schwartz goes where his photographs take him. Recently, this has included lush South American locales like Peru, Ecuador, and Costa Rica, but he can also be found locally selling his work at markets in both Brooklyn and Manhattan. Maybe “selling” is too restrictive a word. When I met Schwartz at Union Square’s winter market, he was willing to trade one of his dreamlike, foggy photographs for the bargain price of a handwritten short story and a conversation. “I want my work to be accessible,” he tells me when we meet six months later. He believes his prints should be attainable by everyone, not just those who can afford to plunk down hundreds for them.

This might be because he remembers what it’s like to appreciate artwork without having the finances to back it up. When he first started shooting, he didn’t have a job or many resources. “I was playing music at the time,” he tells me. “I had just put out a CD and was collecting unemployment checks.” Although he could barely afford to eat, his burgeoning photography career was his first priority financially as well as mentally. He spent one of his checks in its entirety on $225 worth of gumballs, which served as props for what is now one of his most popular photographs. He filled a bathtub with them and shot a woman almost entirely submerged in the colorful candy. The photograph is unique and lovely, but the story gains new depth when you consider Schwartz’s dedication to his creative vision. Although his career now finds him far better off than he was at that time, he doesn’t forget the days before the magazine profiles and private commissions. When he meets people who remind him of that time, he is more than willing to share his work with them.

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This anti-elitist attitude also applies to the subjects he chooses to photograph. “I followed these two kids around in Costa Rica and photographed them playing soccer surrounded by garbage and brick,” he remembers as he sips a cappuccino in a crowded SoHo bakery that is the direct opposite of that scene. He was bewitched by the kids, trailing them as they walked and played, and kicking their ball around with them as he shot. He takes a similarly personal approach to all of his subjects. For example, although he does many lavish, elaborately staged portraits of women, they’re all personally connected to Schwartz in some way. “I only photograph friends or people that buy my work for these photos,” he says. “I don’t pay anyone to be in them. I give them the prints and anything else of my work that they want.”

And these people certainly have plenty of prints to choose from. Schwartz has been using his highly stylized technique to create images for over six years. He explains that a process called “Polaroid transfer” lends his photographs their woozy, mirage-like qualities. After he takes an instant photo, he pulls apart the film and rubs the negative onto watercolor paper. Since many of his pictures are already quite exotic before they’re subject to the process, the stills of waves, beautiful women playing with toy airplanes, and tropical flora take on an otherworldly quality once they’re finished, as though you’re looking into a pleasant dream, a paradise that could only exist in someone’s imagination.

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“My whole way I work is, it comes down to standing behind the lens. I find something that looks beautiful and press the button,” Schwartz says. “How it comes out is how it’s supposed to come out.” He finds the throwaway quality of digital photography repellent. “Everything is replaceable in our society,” he sighs. “An instant photograph is one shot with weight. I’ve never cropped a photo in my life. That doesn’t exist to me.” In other words, he likes to keep his pictures honest, to have them tell a story that hasn’t been embellished or otherwise altered in order to make it more marketable. “I think I’m going to be the last one standing,” he laughs, as he speaks about the twilight years of analog photography.

“I want to get back to a place of pure beauty,” he says when I ask him about what the future holds for his work. “I can’t sleep at night because I have so many ideas.” These will probably manifest themselves in more portraits: “I’m going to go back to shooting girls. The surfing photographs that I’ve been taking recently were just for me.” If I’ve learned anything about Matt Schwartz, though, it’s that none of his work is “just for him.” It’s for anyone who cares to take it in, whether it’s his models, his buyers, or just an admiring girl picking through his prints in the bright cold of the Union Square holiday market.

For more, visit shehitpausestudious.com

Brett Walker

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

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SY: Which did you acquire first in your orange uniform: sunglasses, beard, or underwear? And did it inform the rest of the getup or has it always existed as an artistic trinity?

BW: I’ve had the beard for some time. Then the underwear was given to me, and I found the sunglasses at a truck stop somewhere east of the Bay Area. It never really manifested as one outfit until I had the sunglasses. The color orange and those items of clothing are really just another piece in a long line of personal costumes and disguises I’ve maintained over the years while doing certain projects. You can see different pieces of work I’ve made, and see links between outfits and types of characterizations and personas I’ve created. I don’t think of them as uniforms or anything that is intentionally created; most of those different pieces of attire are items I wear on a daily basis.

In fact, I was just finishing having lunch with a friend the other day, and I was getting on my bicycle outside of the restaurant, and a random passer-by asked to take my picture. I had a pair of women’s designer sunglasses on, and in the basket on the front of my bicycle I had a gold painted ceramic squirrel statue and a copy of an old rock record on vinyl. Sometimes art just happens.

SY: Would Brett Walker still be Brett Walker without the beard? How has that crimped curtain helped shape your artistic practice?

BW: It’s definitely added something to the persona of Brett Walker, but again, like the clothing and such, I am not trying to create anything intentional. Shaving’s a pain, and my beard looks pretty decent, so I just let it go. People remember me, or know of me because I am so easy to remember, because I have this huge red beard. I would definitely much rather be remembered for the art practice I maintain than the color of my underwear or the size of my hair package; however, those elements have become a very prominent part of what I do as an artist.

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SY: Your video performance work has a spontaneous nature—i.e. you walking onto set and odd balling it out as though on a whim—but most your work also seems conceptually motivated and executed. How much is premeditated versus improvised? If it’s a healthy mixture of both, how does this seesaw function?

BW: Almost all of the work I make, in fact, with the exception of a few random pieces, everything is very thought out and deliberated upon. I usually begin with the title of the piece or a basic one-line summary of the piece, and then I draw it out or story board it, and usually it sits and ferments in my head for sometime before I actually get around to making it. In this manner, most of the editing is done before the work actually gets made, so when I do get around to making something, I can just go and do exactly what I know needs to be done to realize the piece. I think formally my work suffers sometimes, because I don’t feel the need to do anything more than what is necessary to articulate the concept.

That said, while everything is fairly well planned and thought out, I typically have no idea what it will actually look like when finished. There are a lot of things that I just allow to happen, and I have to accept the fact that they are now elements in the work. For instance, I used to have my friend Ben film a lot of the video pieces for me. Ben had no real knowledge of art making before he met me. I just had a video piece in my head I wanted to make; I drew out a crude storyboard, and explained it all to him, and then just put the camera in his hand and told him to roll tape. His filming was amazing and I went on to have him film a few other pieces for me afterwards. I don’t think this piece is on my site, but I can toss it up there, it’s called “40 Feet of Bread.” I made it in France, my wife was a translator for a group of students and Ben was one of the students. The piece was very conceptually thought out, but realized in a very improvised manner. I suppose when you think about it, with a lot of things I do, I don’t know exactly how things are going to pan out no matter how far through I think them.

SY: Is there a thread that runs through your art practice—an idea or aesthetic that you’re attempting to create or bring to life—or are your projects a result of fancy and curiousity?

BW: Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my work functioning as if it was a novel about my life. I am interested in creating a broad narrative that deals with different aspects of my life, the roles I take on (common laborer, husband/provider/father, artist) and how I am able to memorialize all these different things into formal art contexts. Early on I realized there wasn’t a need to create anything, because life itself was interesting enough. All I had to do was receive it and present it in a way that was meaningful to me and maybe caused people to pause and reflect on their own life through the scope of my work. I don’t have any overt political statement or concern; I am a slightly rotund, Caucasian dude from the suburbs of Portland, Oregon. I am married to my wife Kathleen and we have a daughter named Elanor. I’ve made coffee for a living since I was 18 and that’s currently how my family survives in San Francisco. I don’t work with colored pencils or textiles or ceramics. I don’t really view my work as anything more than the sum of all these things.

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SY: With unlimited resources (yes, including money) what would your next piece be?

BW: I don’t even know where I’d begin. I have stacks of drawings and sketches and notes for work to make, and it’s largely time and money that prevents me from making the work. I have an entire suite of work dealing with commercially printed t-shirts that I am dying to make. I’ve screen-printed my own shirts before in the past, but I would like all of these to be done professionally, it’s going to be a slow process to get them going.

I am also working on a body of work that deals with the concept of the cowboy and his relationship to contemporary men; this work would largely be some sort of a sculpture or installation piece. I wrote a proposal for the work and sent it to a residency out in Nevada somewhere; I am waiting to hear back. If I don’t get in, I’ll just go ahead and start making the work.

I also have a significantly older body of work called “Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow.” A few of these pieces are more or less finished and you can see them on my site, (“It Was All Just A Pipe Dream Anyway, Right?” and “The Transporter”). However, there are about two pieces left that I haven’t completed, and I really just need a large gallery space, or solo show to fully realize the work. One piece is a plant watering system built from a dehumidifier to water and grow carrots in the gallery space.

I’ve been talking a lot about these individual bodies of work, but the thread that really binds my book together are the photos and videos I make. I have a pretty long list of photographic images to make. The process of photography and, even more so, video work, is easier to make for me. I have the processes for shooting, processing and printing already figured out so I can typically make them much quicker in comparison to some of the more installation-based projects. I have at least 10-15 images to make right now, and I usually make one to two photographs a week, during a period of studious working. The only thing that would make the photo work easier would be the ability to print and mount my work more quickly, as each photograph costs close to 300 bucks to make and often times I don’t get a good print of the images made for some time after I initially shot it.

For more info and images, check out www.everybodydoesntlikebrettwalker.com

Jason Lewis' Sensory Pleasures: Touch with Riitta Ikonen

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

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Riitta Ikonen is a London-based, stunning visual artist from Finland. I caught up with her at the Christopher Henry Gallery in NYC after a recommendation from her mentor and personal art hero of mine Mr. Ian Wright. Riitta creates images from the ground up, often using photography in nature and/or on location. Tucked into self-made folksy costumes she manages to delight even when addressing weighty topics such as global warming and resource depletion.

“My work is concerned with the performance of images, through photography and costume design. Certain items, usually small and insignificant, excite me to the point where I have to wear them and then document that process. The super-garments I make open up new experiences. In my costumes tremendous things happen – to me and to the people I work with. Today I exploded an egg in the microwave. Next, I want to make an egg costume.”

A graduate of the Royal College of Art, Riitta has taken part in numerous international projects and exhibited her work from Moscow to New York City. She has partnered with institutions such as Tate, White Chapel Gallery, Bfi, ActionAid, and the British Embassy in Russia. In 2008 Riitta won the prestigious Becks Canvas Competition and is currently preparing new work for a show later this year.

I of course asked if I could collaborate on something and was fortunate to spend an afternoon with Riitta at “Treasure Beach,” one of her secret locations. Shhh! I was able to join in the process by documenting her and creating some new photographs and I’m really happy with the work, some of which you can view here!

We first created portraits with Riitta’s Raffia costume using her girlfriend as a model. Many thanks to Elisa for enduring the prickly bushes, those things are dangerous!!!

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Why did you choose art as a medium for your self-expression?
Strategic moves were never my forte, so I followed intuition and voila. Here I am. There was no debate about choosing art as a career, but it seems to fit at the moment. The work I do isn’t so much about expressing myself, but often discusses issues that affect plenty of people and exists to nudge some gears. Humor is important and seems to seep into everything (even climate change campaigns…) I’ve found you can cut through a lot of fluff with humor.

More specifically, why fashion & why costumes?
I don’t know, you know. It surely isn’t a global solution to art, but it works for me. I can get to the image I want through the use of the costumes, I felt drawing/painting/graphics was never enough, the outcome was too predictable. But why exactly costumes, I’m still figuring it out. I quit costumes as utter nonsense a few years ago, but had to return to it after a futile search for equally satisfying medium. I make them myself, yes. I’m not a supreme qualified seamstress, but I learned to sew at a very early age from my mother. The sewing machine happened to be in my room so I kept sewing and it finally came in handy.

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How do you and your collaborators cross paths?
You mean how it all gets started? Random chance often brings things about, little chitchat here and there. The saying ‘Work hard and be nice to people’ – very true. I try to follow. Combining forces with people who do what you don’t do is a prima formula too.

Does the fact that you’re originally from Finland and reside in London inspire anything you do?
Sure, definitely. NY always gives me fresh eyes…the foreignness makes me more objective and (sometimes) awake. I like the feeling of having minimum baggage. I’m not quite a real outsider in England anymore (I’ve lived there some nine years now- by accident), but I still very much enjoy the “outsiderness” and not really being part of it all.

Riitta also led the effort to comb the beach for found objects for various future projects.

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What’s next for Riitta Ikonen? What other projects are you involved in? Future projects?
The ‘If You Could Collaborate’ project rolls on with Ian Wright, a collaboration show opens at the Tate galleries in May, New work New York show later this year, some lecturing around and costumes for Hackney.

What can you not live without?
Four seasons and double letters.

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What touch/texture evokes happiness for you?
Light switches. Clean, warm hands. Water- I’m looking for a good pool in Brooklyn…Anyone?

Is there a Riitta Ikonen theme song?
Hmm…maybe not a specific one, but Finnish marching music maybe?

See more work from Treasure Beach and Riitta Ikonen on Jay’s blog.

The 4 P's with Icki Murrmann

Friday, April 16th, 2010

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I first ran across Mark “Icki” Murrman’s photos plastered across a few zines and record covers. It was only years later that I discovered his music photography was just a snippet of his portfolio. Murrmann has shot from the front lines of Eastern Bloc revolutions, mosh pits, penitentiaries, and even on the floor of the United States Congress. I also watched him put in a very impressive showing in an eating contest last fall. We recently talked about the 4 P’s, that is photography, punk rock, politics, and pizza.

AL: Before your formal training in photography were you shooting for personal enjoyment? What was it that drew you towards photojournalism and what is it you are trying to document when you shoot?

MM: Yeah, I started taking pictures of bands that would play in the basement of the house I lived in, while I was in college in Bloomington, Indiana. And I was spending so much time in the darkroom at the school there, they wound up giving me a job. That’s where I got the bulk of my basic photography education, working in the darkroom and looking at photo books when it was slow. Before then, beyond a vague sense of newspaper photography, I didn’t really have an idea of what photojournalism was. The books in the darkroom completely blew my mind. That kind of intense documentary photography initially drew me to photojournalism. As I learned more, I got completely sucked in.

Honestly, I feel like I’m just documenting whatever is around me. A lot of photographers say to shoot what’s in your backyard, what you know, that you don’t have to travel to some far away place to make good pictures. I firmly believe that. I shoot street photography in downtown San Francisco. I shoot bands. When I travel, I take pictures. I just always have a camera on me. I wish I had more time to work on projects, but as it is, I shoot constantly, but more as a sort of reaction to what I see, what I’m doing.

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And I still primarily shoot for personal enjoyment. Photography is something I really love doing. I don’t like taking assignments or work shooting stuff I don’t like shooting, like weddings. Doing enough work like that will just kill photography for me, which I don’t ever want to happen.

AL: You’ve documented some revolutions both political and musical, what have been some of the biggest risks—be it crammed in between a bunch of flailing punks or on the streets of war torn former Eastern Bloc countries? Have there been any occupation-related injuries and/or accidents?

MM: I’ve definitely taken more lumps shooting music. Covering political events in the Ukraine was mostly a matter of staying warm and putting in long hours, spending lots of money, just to document this small moment of history, and to hopefully sell a photo or two…and to maybe get a little work based off those photos.

Shooting punk bands carries more physical risks, though not as many as it seems. I’ve gotten into a few scuffles, had lots of beer spilled on me and my equipments, had to deal with surly security guards. One of the worst experiences was getting stage dived on and landing backward, on my camera, hearing a loud “CRACK.” I thought the camera, or at least the lens, was destroyed. Luckily my lens shade shattered, but everything else was intact.

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AL: Your work documenting prisoners, the aftermath of Katrina, and politics in the Ukraine all have a pretty somber and serious tone while the street and your music photography is a lot more vibrant. What is the difference in your approach going into one versus the other?

MM: The approach is more or less the same. I think the music and street photos are more vibrant because the subject matter and tone of those kinds of photos is more loose and more lively. The somewhat heavier subjects I’ve covered, if they seem more somber I guess it’s largely a reflection of the situation. That comes through in the shooting as well as the editing. The approach is generally the same, though. I like being a fly on the wall kind of photographer, trying to capture what’s happening as naturally as possible, trying to bring the viewer into whatever I’m shooting.

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AL: A recurring characteristic of the music photography is action that is almost bursting out of the frame. When you are shooting a show, what is it you are trying to capture?

MM: The number one thing I’m trying to do is have fun as I’m shooting. And if I’m having fun, that comes through in the photos. I’m usually right up front. I want my music photos to make the person looking at them feel like they’re right there, at the show, in the mix, whether it’s a crazy show with a crazy pit, or a quieter show. I want you to feel like you’re there.

AL: Any plans to further pursue a second career in competitive eating?

MM: I’ve learned that I can only really eat hot dogs competitively and given that the champs are topping 60 hot dogs in 12 minutes, there’s no way I can even come close to winning a spot at Coney Island on July 4th. I’ll stick to photography.

For more on Mark head to Ickibod.com

Chatting with John Fischer

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Early this year, my friend John Fischer cashed in his New York minutes for the more leisurely Mexican epochs, setting strict novel-writing deadlines for himself and sending me numerous photos of quaint villages and idyllic beaches. Out of envy and intrigue, I interviewed for him Converse.com.

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Francesca: So, Mexico. Why Mexico?

John Fischer: It was by accident, really. When I decided to take some time off, I emailed all my friends to see if they knew of places where I could crash for free. It turns out a friend of mine is originally from Mexico and has family there.
It was between there and Singapore and I’d never been to Mexico before, so I booked a flight, forgetting for the moment that I didn’t speak any Spanish.

Francesca: Why’d you want to quit New York?

John Fischer: It was partially an economic decision. I said: I’d like to write something. I probably can’t commit the necessary time to that with a full time job, so I’ll be broke and that probably means going somewhere where I’m not tempted to spend four bucks on a cup of coffee. But it was also less utilitarian than all that. I think New York is a great place for cultural enrichment; it’s not such an awesome place if you want to hide out and focus on a single craft for a while. Plus, trying to write in my apartment is like trying to sing karaoke sober.

Francesca: Did you set any sort of writing goals for yourself? What’s your overarching plan?

John Fischer: Yeah, that was actually the part that made the project feel the most tangible. I figured I’d need at least four hours of uninterrupted time every day to write, so from there I figured I could probably produce the first draft of a novel and a bunch of short stories. I started clocking myself at 2000 words a day, then I figured, at the end of three or four months I would probably have a lot of crap and a little bit of useable material. The plan has, of course, (d)evolved since I’ve gotten into it. What I’m hoping to do is produce a handful of short stories that I can start publishing more immediately and the draft of a novel that’s been sitting on the back-burner of my life for a few years.

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Francesca: Those sound like totally achievable goals. Do you have any stories that feel finished?

John Fischer: Definitely. After a month I’d say I’ve got three or four that are ready to go out the door, and another few that are getting close. It’s hard to know when to stop working on one. I think I could tinker indefinitely. Fortunately, what seems to happen is that I’ll get sucked into a new one at about the point when the old one is ready to take a break. For example, I’m finishing up one now about an elderly astronaut who is coming to terms with his own mortality, and I’ve got one foot out the door for a new draft of a story about a couple that falls in love while sleepwalking. Hopefully they’ll balance each other out. I’m hoping to hand-bind a few of them into a book when I get back.

Francesca: Where in Mexico are you living? Are you getting to travel?

John Fischer: I’m living in a city called Leon, which is in the northern central highlands. It’s equidistant from Mexico City and Guadalajara. It’s also the seat of Mexico’s leather industry, which lends the city an interesting smell. I’ve traveled less than I would have liked to, but again, it’s that “work and goals” thing: Do I travel or do I stick to the plan to write every day for four hours?

That said, I’ve recently been to the neighboring city of Guanajuato which is the capital of the state, and a beautiful, historic, colonial-style city. I also just got back from a few days in San Miguel de Allende which is like a cruise for awesome retired American hippies, if that cruise were a city. But San Miguel also has a really vibrant arts community, so it was nice to hang there for a little while with lots of writers and photographers and painters.

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Francesca: How much longer do you have there?

John Fischer: I leave on Saturday, then LA for a week. Then I head to Cape Cod for six weeks of house-sitting. After that, I’m not sure, it depends on how the checking account is holding up.

Francesca: So you’ll continue the plan in Cape Cod?

John Fischer: That’s the goal. It’ll be interesting because I don’t know anyone who lives there and I will be in a house all by myself, tending to a cat and a garden.

Francesca: Well, that sounds idyllic. So when will we see something in print?

John Fischer: Who knows. That’s a bit out of my control but I would say the plan is for the short stories to be in print in some form or another within the year and then to have a finished draft of the novel done and ready to submit to literary agents by the end of the year.

Francesca: That seems totally reasonable. So tell me, have you been partaking of the mezcal?

John Fischer: Shhh…

John is blogging his trip at asharpright.com

The Hiding Gallery

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

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There’s a weird neighborhood hole at the intersection of Williamsburg, Bushwick and Bed Stuy that some residents refer to as the Vortex – I like to call it WiBeCka – that contains what may be the newest D.I.Y. gallery in New York, and it’s in Joe Jagos’ living room. Hiding Gallery, so called due to the fact that it’s hidden from the world by virtue of being in a home and having no street access, opened its second art show on Friday, January 29th. NO HANDS featured 10 photographers culled from Jagos’ group of friends and, at 23 images, managed to make his windowless living room feel pretty much like any old gallery you’d stumble into wandering around on W20th. That is, if any old gallery had a DJ booth, a makeshift rope swing, and, when it’s not cold as a witch’s teat outside, an enormous trampoline up on the roof.

As far as themes go, NO HANDS is pretty general, but that also means open to loose interpretation: risk, triumph, taboo behavior, long insomniac nights, basic stupidity. As another aspect of Hiding Gallery’s allure is the fact that all shows take place for one night only, many of those themes presented themselves at this condensed opening/closing party. Before long, the pile of coats in the corner was taller than me, and guests had discovered the little room high above the crowd that requires ascending a wall-mounted metal pipe ladder to enter. Poorly spotted individuals swung through the crowd on a ceiling-mounted rope of questionable sturdiness. And so on, and so forth.

Arriving early afforded me the opportunity to get a good, unobstructed look at the artwork, which was a very smart idea. The multitude of perspectives and experiences shown, as well as the abundance of different photographic styles, made the show dynamic; photojournalism mixed with documentary and fine art photography made for a refreshingly varied visual experience.

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I’m a huge fan of visual puns and running themes between images, so seeing Jagos’ larger-than-life fluffy white kittens installed next to Laura Finlay’s home documentary of ladies and their dogs made me happy. And the three images that greeted visitors upon entering the space seemed unlikely and yet strangely obvious in their grouping: a huge color photo of a pair of hands wrapped around a pair of legs, one of which has a house arrest anklet wrapped around it; a photo of a pair of ubiquitous tan work boots; and, completing that diptych, a gorgeous image by Roger Kisby of a lightning storm illuminating a group of kids sitting on their bmx bikes in a ramp park, watching.

If you missed this show, you will be stoked to learn that the 3rd exhibit coming up at Hiding is slated for 21 May 2010. HANGIN’ OUT IN MY PARENTS’ BASEMENT is another show curated by Jagos and Conrad Keely, and will feature artwork by a slew of musicians from across the country. Says Jagos of the show: “In order to re-create the days of slacking off in your parents’ basement making adolescent works of art, the gallery will be covered in wood panels and the roof trampoline will be re-opened for the summer.” Roof trampoline! I am so lining up for that at the first inkling of spring.

Photos by Francesca Tallone and Joe Jagos

Self Portait: Francesca Tallone

Friday, March 12th, 2010

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Tell me a little bit about this photo. Under what circumstances did you take it? What does it convey about you?

I took this photo in my bedroom of my current apartment, before I had moved any furniture in. I really love a sort of quiet vastness and negative space in photos, and awkward or uncomfortable-looking poses, and I’m also pretty taken with trying to find places I can fit myself into because I’m small, and it’s pretty funny.

How did you first get into photography?

I started taking pictures when I was really young and kept shooting over the years, but I had to fail as a painter before I realized that photography was probably my true calling. Also, I was asked to do still photography for a short film a friend was making – my photos were used in the set as well as in the credits – and I think after that was when I had a real “duh” moment about it.

What are some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on? Subjects you’ve shot?

I loved doing the Giving Up The Ghost series, both the original project and the one I shot for the Surface Magazine “Avant Guardian” issue. I did that project with a vintage Diana camera that an ex-boyfriend had given me, and it was such a fun production: plastic camera duct-taped to a rickety old tripod, wandering around Halifax trying to find awesome locations. I made my friend Robin do some really terrifying things, like lie upside down on a precarious fire escape ladder four stories up the side of an old building, and then lie down on top of a railing on a bridge over train tracks. She was really awesome about it and super into it. She got to wear couture clothing and undergo awkward, death-defying poses.

A recent one that I had so much fun shooting was the Antler Magazine series with my friend Amy. We went to Central Park on an awesome autumn day and played around in the leaves and it was amazing. I took pictures in the snow with another friend in the middle of that recent blizzard and when we were done we both dove into the snow; it was pretty rad.

I really love taking pictures with my friends. The models in my photos are always people I’m close to. I know I could probably easily get an agency model to shoot with but I’m really into doing things DIY and close-to-home and those projects always end up being my favorite. I also really like working with smaller, local designers and publications, and I LOVE doing album artwork. Seeing one of my photos on a record is kind of the raddest thing.

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Has your hometown/where you’re from influenced your aesthetic at all? If so, how?

It’s kind of strange, but I consider myself from so many different places, for different reasons, that it’s hard to pin down any one aspect that has influenced my aesthetic. My hometown is a really quiet part of the California coast with lots of mountains and forests and the ocean is so close by. I think living in Halifax definitely had a pretty profound affect on me and my style – that’s where I really started taking pictures of people and doing a lot of the more fashion-oriented work. Living in San Francisco really informed my sense of location, which I think I honed in Halifax, but I was taking mostly abstract landscape-y pictures when I lived in San Francisco.

Are there any subjects you’re particularly drawn to? What do you think it is about them that does it for you?

I love architecture, big open spaces, people. I love an emptiness that sometimes happens in photos. I really love blur and light, angles and muted colors. When I do fashion stuff I love working with natural light – I never shoot in studios or use strobes or flashes – and try to shoot out in the world, like parks or houses. I find that I tend to be really drawn to things that are old-fashioned or archaic, and I’m really into minimalism both compositionally and as a practice. People tell me my photos look like they’re from a hundred years ago, and I’m totally into that.

Your “pictures of me with tall people” series is great. How’d you come up with that idea?

Going back to the idea of trying to find places I can fit into, at the same time I often sort of forget how small I am and then I see a picture of myself standing next to a relatively tall person and it’s usually pretty shocking and hilarious. That project started casually a couple years ago when I got set up on a date with someone who is probably like 6’5 and we had someone take our picture. It was funny to me, and since then I have unofficially been working on it. My most famous tall person was pretty into it. It makes me want to actually keep going with it.

What projects are you working on right now? What are you psyched about coming up?

I’ve been working on a couple books and possibly a magazine. I am also putting together a proposal for a show at a gallery in Halifax and one here in Brooklyn. I have like, four blogs that I’m kind of obsessed with right now and I might be doing look books for a couple local designers.

I am also beside myself psyched about going on tour with Noveller in March. I’m planning on keeping a pretty good photo journal of the trip since it’s mostly cities I’ve never been to. I love road trips and images of America, but I’ve never done a project like that. I also love rock tours, so I’m totally stoked on that.

What advice do you have for young people looking to get into photography?

My super generic answer is take tons of photos. I realize the current photography climate is really, really different from what it was like when I was growing up – digital, the internet, etc. – and that has a huge impact on how photography gets out into the world. There is a lot of it out there and a lot of it is amazing. Listen when people talk to you about business. Maintain your integrity and don’t get discouraged if/when it doesn’t go exactly the way you want.

For more of Francesca’s photos visit patternclash

Street Art from Nate Smith

Friday, February 26th, 2010

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Over the past few years, I’ve been shooting film every single day. At some point recently I decided that I should try to organize some of this work and let people see it. Even though I wasn’t trying to shoot anything specific other than what was in front of me, some themes and images came up over and over again. When I was trying to make sense of the thousands of images I had, I started putting pictures into different folders based on what was in them. One of the folders that stood out to me was the “street art” folder.

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I’ve always been interested in graffiti and street art, but it seemed most of the pictures I had in this folder weren’t made by artists; they were just notes or comments or stupid jokes that I really liked a lot. I think it’s pretty clichéd when an artist talks about showing the beauty in the filth of New York, but it’s hard for me not to find something amazing about the unintentional art scrawled all over this city.

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One of my favorite tags of all time was written in white-out in an alley behind an ice cream shop I worked at in high school. It just said “F**k Graffiti”. I think whoever wrote that would probably love some of these images, and I hope you do, too.

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For more killer pics from Nate, head to dbb