Thursday, March 12, 2009

INTERVIEWS: Cathexis Down & Dirty

Eric Charles
Interviewed by Rebekah Boyle

Q: Being that you are primarily an alternati
ve fashion and portrait photographer, many of your subjects are woman and your imagery is often elegantly sexual. Your photographic style is very precise, both technically and conceptually and as result the sexual imagery seems to have a much different feel about it as opposed to other mainstream depictions of woman's sexuality, is this intentional and is there a specific message you are trying to convey through your photography?

A: I think most mainstream depictions of woman's sexuality tends to focus on accepted and expected notions of what's expected and safe and normal; nothing too transgressive or unusual. I hope what comes across in my photos is that sexuality is vast and complex, and that varied sexual taste and desire is as important, and as beautiful, to explore as varied musical, culinary, or sartorial taste.

Q: The photo with the girl and wine strikes me as unsettling, but also intriguing. It has both a playful and yet wicked quality which feels so authentic and I'm curious how this moment arose. Is this kind of improvisational quality a direction you're exploring or are we viewing an image which is highly directed?

A. It always throws me a little when I speak to a model about doing a shoot and she asks "what's your concept?" With a very few notable exceptions, I don't see my work as "concept based," unless the notion of concept extends to include the emotional and psychological.

I think my very best photos come from a creatively intimate relationship with a model and a captured moment, and that usually includes an unexpected moment.

My shot "There's Never Enough Wine" was a good example. The idea was to have the model in the tub, smoking and drinking, "dirty," but in a bath; sort of a visual pun. But as we worked, the shot seemed static, so I had her blowing smoke, drinking, and finally, I just said "pour it right into your mouth." We did it twice, which is why her shirt has that lovely red cross on it. It think that makes the shot.

Q: The "Dirty" show has an open theme: what was your immediate inspiration, your first thoughts upon hearing the word?

A. Well since my work deals with sexuality in one way or another, I went there right away. "Dirty" is such a great word because it's so descriptive, yet means so many different things depending on context (my absolute favorite word). I felt no obligations to have actual dirt in a picture (although I eventually caved - it was just too tempting) but I was struck with the notion of "dirty" as a particular form of aggressive sexuality. To me a "dirty girl" knows she's as much the looker as the looked-at. She owns her sexuality, and know she needs to be neither perfect nor proper to get what she wants.

more info?

Rebekah Boyle
Interviewed by Eric Charles

Q: In all of your photos you seem to have a fascination with texture; the fishnet stocking, the lace hem, the ruffle of crinoline, the unruly hair. How do you reconcile this with the romantic, nearly pristine quality of the photo as a whole? Is this your way of showing us what lies beneath the surface - the rough, imperfect core...?

A: The concept of beauty is one of my driving inspirations and my perspective is that beauty is about depth and sorrow, encompassing both darkness and light. Besides my almost fetishistic love of textiles, I think adding layers to a scene aids in the viewers experience of discovering the depth within the image. It is my intention to layer not only the wardrobe but also to combine contrast to the the entire scene including the models I am working with and the location. The romantic and pristine quality you see is only able to exist because of the rougher contrasting elements.

Q: Your work invokes a very idealized, al
though twisted, romanticism, almost a purity; white skin, light clothes, soft shadows. Did the idea of bringing"dirty" into the picture feel unnatural, or forced? Or was it liberating? Do you see your work changing permanently in any way as a result of this experiment?

A: I was a bit uninspired at first because I was unsure how I could incorporate my photographic style into the theme dirty. After some thought I came to the conclusion that I could take the shoots in the same romanticised direction but with a little dirt. I was trying to stay away from being too obvious about it, but with some poking and prodding was able to convince my models to engage with the earthly element we call mud/dirt and look perfectly natural at the same time. The "Dirty" theme has allowed me to go a little bit deeper and explore a slightly rougher edge, I have come away from the experience with the distinct feeling that one can always go deeper.

Q: Given that your work has an unmistakable "period" quality, what is it about contemporary fashion that fails to give you what you need for a photograph, and what do you see in contemporary fashion that excites you?

A: Visually, I am taking my fashion stories out of reality and into an imaginary realm; I am drawn to the artistry and hidden sensuality within the period fashions because these are qualities I need to execute the intention of my images. Generally I am disappointed in modern fashion because I think it lacks the artistry found in vintage and period fashions. Modern fashions seem to be more about functionality then romance and sensuality. What I like about contemporary fashion is that there are so many options, one has the freedom to reinvent themselves at will and explore many personas.

More info?

Javiera Estrada

Interviewed by Cary Sullivan

Q: How did you get into photography?

A: It was spring in the paradise island of Puerto Rico when I discovered my passion for capturing light on paper; I was 17 years old with a throw away camera from CVS. Ironically, my first "shoot" was a nude of my friend in turquoise waters and when we received the images from the lab I was amazed at how beautiful they turned out. A spark of excitement coursed through my veins and continues to do so today.

Q: You primarily do studio shoots. Do you see your photographs before you shoot them or what is the process?

A: My shoots are not predominantly done in the studio. Natural light is actually my preferred light source, but the convenience and control one has in the studio has influenced many a decisive moment. There is something about being outdoors surrounded by nature and its unpredictable elements that is both exciting and challenging. One has to really let go of control and be very creative in order to get the desired shot. You can't angle the sun in your favor, but you can shift your perspective. I find it incredibly satisfying to discover a shot this way.

Do I preconceive the images before the shoot? Absolutely. There is always a theme, a feeling, a concept, or maybe just a fragment of a dream going into the shoot. There are times when it's crystal clear and everything from the hand placement to the expression of her face is premeditated and there are times where I just see a feeling, a soft vulnerability within a duatone color palette, for example. The dream world is very prominent in my life and almost every night I can recall the night's previous dream with such clarity that at times I have been confused by whether my memories are reality or pieces of that other reality we call dreams. These dreams have influenced me so strongly that if you scratch the surface of my work it's quite possible to glimpse fragments of these "nightly visions."

Q: What was the vision / message behind these particular “Dirty” images?

A: Art finds me. I never really know why I do it or what it means until it has been created. When I create, there usually is not a set intention. The imagery pops into my head and like a child, must be birthed. Once I look at my creation I can then begin to analyze it and understand where it came from.

This "Dirty" image is of a woman holding a glass ball. She is surrounded by dirt and the only way she can see clearly is through this ball. There are many ways one can interpret this image. I personally enjoy discovering people's own visual journeys than to feed them my own. Beauty and much more is always in the eye of the beholder. :)

More info?

Cary Sullivan
Interviewed by Javiera Estrada

Q: Where do you get your inspiration for your imagery?

A: My inspiration usually comes from the place where I am shooting. I primarily shoot in Africa with a focus on Ghana which is a huge inspiration for me and where I have been shooting for almost 20 years. Everything from the people to architecture to the food to the overall chaos of the city – it’s all inspiration.

Q: Do you consider yourself a picture taker or picture maker? (Picture maker preconceives the imagery)

A: I would say I am primarily a picture taker as I am inspired by what I see through my eyes. Cameras come secondary. That makes me of the old school variety I guess. I believe that seeing is a gift and recording it is just a means of processing it. I have always been open to whatever means you have at hand whether it be color or black and white film, digital, old new – whatever works! I think you can have the best modern cameras in the world and not necessarily take good pictures. The vision has to be there.

Q: This image is quite haunting. Who is this a picture of and what is he doing? (in regards to that inverted image)

A: For this particular show I wanted to shoot something I was currently working on in the US. Working under the theme of “Dirty” I wanted to work with movement of light and color. The idea of a “dirty” photo because the image is not sharp, faces are not clear, lighting is not necessarily right, and so on. The “Dirty” images features dancers at my club Afro Funke’ that I produce weekly in Santa Monica. I am constantly inspired by the dancers and their movements. I usually print full frame un-manipulated images shot primarily on film and periodically digitally.

John Fitzpatrick
Interviewed by Mark Bennington

Q: What is a camera?

A: A camera is a tool used to create in whole or in part a visual idea. It renders a moment of time and light into two-dimensional space. Cameras like violins are limitless and limited in there potential to express and explore the human experience depending on who is playing them.

Q: What do you look for when creating an image?

A: I like drama. Abandoned buildings have an inherited dramatic quality so once I have found an interesting one half my work is done.

The images explore the space in depth, so finding doorways and objects I can compose around that will optically emphasize this is paramount.

And finally the light. I shoot large format transparency film and although it is scanned and worked in photoshop it's limited to a small range of zones, as a result I can't handle high contrast spaces. This sounds to be a limitation and it can be technically, but creatively I find it liberating. There is something about having the freedom of all the options that for me is artistically claustrophobic. Besides I just love the elegant, quiet presence of soft light.

Q: How do you see color in general and more specifically, how do you see color in the context of your work?

A: Intensely. In terms of this project I started it in b&w and it just never worked emotionally for me. Instead of lonely and mysterious they were just technical and depressing. Then on a trip I loaded one set of holders with color film and shot the same image in both b&w and color. Once I saw the color I was struck with the impression of a playfulness that had bin lacking. My friend and Cathexis buddy Nelson Castro who happened to be in the lab while I was scanning the image encouraged me to change the palette of the series to color. After that experience everything just came into focus.

I am asked about the color in my images for this series more that anything else. They seem moved by them but also a little suspicious. The question I get most often is how much enhancing I do. There is no question that I use the tools of PS, but in truth shooting is just a stage in the process for me, film simply captures what was there, not what I saw. I use PS to get the image to the state that I saw in my mind while exposing the film.

Mark Bennington.

interviewed by John Fitzpatrick

Q: I think the low world of the foot is such a clever and honest hook into exploring moments of the human condition. It has produced such dynamic images of passion, humor, and strait up style it begs the question why feet and what do they mean to you?

A: It started when I was a teenager; my Grandfather (who was an avid amateur photographer) gave me my first Konica point and shoot. I looked through that lens and became mesmerized by whatever isolated, two-dimensional perspective my eye was propositioned by. Then, somehow a ritual started with Grandpa; wherever we went I would take our portrait, only it was always a portrait of our feet. As if saying, “We were here… literally, our feet stood here.” The corollary is that that perspective became a very tangible, fun, odd and poetic reality for me.

A few years ago in talking about book ideas with NG veteran David Alan Harvey, I kept coming back to that perspective, but now seeing it from an adult artist point of view. Before making my living as a photog, I worked as an actor for 10 years (i.e.-was embedded in a world of make-believe) and I wanted to create a narrative with the images that really engaged an audience; that vigorously encouraged them to use they’re imagination!! “What is he doing? Where is she? I wonder if he’s tall? Blond? European? Rich? Poor? I think she is in Cuba welcoming home her father after a long day… Etc, etc, etc”

So, it is always and forever about story for me, but not just mine. And I love movement and color and gesture, which are all a critical part of a very personalized language; the irony of which I’ve discovered, is my ‘isolated’ view-point opens the door to countless individual stories. I find that amazing.

Q: Do you ever struggle or hesitate in composing an image? Debating how much to show and what to leave to your audiences’ imagination? Is it difficult for your ego as an artist in giving so much interpretive power to your audience?

A: No… it all feels like a clever sort of, double entendre type of flirtation with whatever is in front of me and what it could represent. And sometimes I’m just shooting ‘Hail Mary’s” (aka: not looking through the lens) and the shot surprises me too. For me, I think seeing the shot is not just about looking through the lens, it’s about being there, getting close (I always shoot with a 24mm or thereabout) and/or exploring the moment, as cliché as that sounds.

As far as composing ‘composing,’ I’m always aware of my corners and the ever-present “thirds” criteria to interesting image making. I also can’t help being influenced by love I feel for the master street-shooters: Cartier-Bresson, Joel Myerowitz, D.A. Harvey, Josef Koudelka and the brilliant compositions of Alex Webb! But I also think about the beautiful sentiment and truthfulness of Sally Mann… the delicious levity and playfulness of Martin Parr. There are so many influences!!
: What is the process for your shoots? Are you directing the models, improvising situations that you then capture or are you more of an impartial documenter?

A: It has been entirely Documentary up until this “Dirty” show, when I felt there were 2 ideas I wanted to explore within this theme and those ideas needed some help. I have mixed feelings about that too; part of me feels I am not being completely honest and the other part of me feels like I am completely exercising my right as an artist and actually my process is no different once I’m in “the scene.” It still comes down to capturing the ‘decisive moment’ and finding one (moment) that best illustrates the intention. Strangely enough, it does feel like I’ve gone from Nan Golden to Duane Michals in the turn of a page... but, it all looks like the same book, just different chapters in suppose.

Megan Mack

Interviewed by Nelson Castro

Q: Is the Leopard/Cheetah print dress in Meat theater a conscious decision? Meaning, it seems to have some significance and I was wondering if it did, or was it just a pretty dress?

A:I don't think everything I do is conscious at the time but visually it looks good; so I go with it. I wanted her to look powerful in this shot so I thought that dress was a little stronger and gave more attitude. So in the end it brings significance to the character and how the viewer perceives her.

Q: What role does the cigarette
and smokey background play?

A: The cigarette and smokey background was an element that helped enhance the overall mood of the shot. I thought the cigarette made the image appear a little more gross and dirty while adding dimensionality to the image.

Q: Your shots are clean and well lit, are you the type of person that likes to get it right in the studio, or are y
ou very photoshop oriented?

A: Lighting I think is very important to an image so the less work I have to do in post the better. I had to do some retouching for the background and for enhancing the image but the less I have to do the easier it is overall. The lighting I think is always easier to do in the studio than in photoshop.

Q: What inspired you to do this series, any personal experiences, perhaps?

A: This series is very personal not just because I'm a woman , but because it was something I wanted to do for a long time. The vision got pulled from different areas of my life that inspire me; such as Tim Burtons films, Eugenio Recuenco fashion photography, and Alexander Mcqueens fashion style. Being a vegetarian the subject matter of this shoot has
caused a lot of internal conflict for me, but overall it has helped express a part of myself.

Q: What format do you shoot, and where can I meat these models? (pun intended)

A: I shoot digital for the most part. The models are some of my closest friends who also happen to be gorgeous!

Q: Any final notes about your series?

A: My image (the first one on the website) represents the stereo type of woman compared to a piece of meat and how we have sort of accepted it. No matter what, sex sells and woman have just kind of embraced it in a way that the controversy is no longer exciting. We have become bored with this sexual power we have over the media. I don't really like talking about my work, I like others to view it and come up with their own subjective idea or opinion. My other images also show models with meat which depict the male gaze upon woman and our role in how we gaze back.

Nelson Castro
Interviewed by Megan Mack

Q: Where is the image of the crates taken?

That image along with maybe 60% of my work is taken in my hometown of South Gate, CA. As much as I would love to travel and see the world, I am unable to, so I look at what I have around me and look for inspiration. I love my town, but it does have a bad rep with all of the crime and corruption going on, I want to show that inside all of that there is in fact beauty, just depends how you look at something or at which angle you point your camera .

Q: Do you photoshop the colors in any
of these?

A: I try not to mess with the true colors too much, but also understand that this is my art and not a true record of the scene, in fact it's my interpretation of what I see, or rather what I would have like to have seen. I try not to touch saturation in photoshop, I find the colors "pop" when I mess with the contrast, darkening the blacks and brightening the whites, that is all I ever need to get that saturated look. I'm inspired by color, it obviously catches the eye, so that is what I am attracted to and aim my camera at whenever I get a chance.

Q: Living in LA, I feel that its hard to find the simplistic beauty you find, what inspires you to do this style of journalistic/street photography?

A: L.A. is sometimes a very nasty "dirty" place, no pun intended this time, and I can't go out and shoot the seven wonders of the world, this is my wonder of the world. It is easier to go out and shoot the trash, the crime, the neglect and there are people out there doing this, I applaud
them for that, but I find it more of a challenge to find the beauty in that ally full of trash: rather then just showing an alley full of trash and having nothing to say about that. As I have said before, life is what you make of it, and I'm tired of being negative, it brings down the soul...I worked in a warehouse job for many years and hated it, and for a long time grew this fear of pallets, because that meant more boxes to put away. So this shot is special to me, it is me getting over that fear, putting all of that behind me. The pallet does not define me, I now define the pallet!! The title of the piece is "I fucking hate you, ode to the pallet!"

Simon Cardoza
Interviewed by Amir Magal

Q: What would you say most interests you about being a photographer?

A: I really like capturing a moment. There's so much that gets lost in the world, photos are a great way to remind us of all the details in life we over look most of the time. Whenever you look at a picture you can look at all the details of the scene or moment caught, unlike if the moment just passed you by and you could only realize one thing about it, but if you capture it, you can see everything else happening around. I like giving people that opportunity.

Q: When you create an image what is the most important pieces to the puzzle for you?

A: When I shoot people there has to be emotion coming out for the vision to be realized. It's my job to make sure the model is coming across the way I want them to, to tell the story I'm trying to portray within the photograph.

Q: Tell me why you came up with this photo for the dirty show? and what you are trying to say?

A: Well I wanted to work with mud. It's a lot of fun! We had the dog available so I threw him in there and we had to run him around awhile to get him tired enough to just sit there. He being a puppy an all, he has a lot of energy. This photo is part of four that will be pieced together to make one. Kind of like an ad campaign that you'd see in a magazine telling a story but selling a product at the same time.

Amir Magal

Interviwed by Simon Cardoza

Q: What propelled you to go into this style of photography?

A: It's my calling... that's it.
I am a mover and an artist deciding to visually create as my life's work. I like playing with light and uncommonly interesting looking people who embody Flavor, Color, and Movement collaborating with them to create powerful images that speak to the heart.

Q: Your photos are very colorful, what are you hoping the viewer finds
within your photo? Why?

A: What my viewer finds in my photos is always up to the viewer. Hearing what a viewer thinks or feels about a shot is a total personal experience that entices me. I am an observer, and I think that the viewer's perspective is the final touch to my work, they add the impact. I am in love with the process and like to keep my Idealistic ideas out of a picture. I create shots that speak to me, and usually find that others are more inspired when I am exited about my work.

Q: How has the experience of the "Dirty" show affected your work/style?

A: Dirty gave me the chance to get a little "crazier" with my work and gave me an excuse to truly get dirty. I could have gone so many ways with this shoot but decided to keep it raw and to the point. My idea on dirty was a play on the actual word "DIRTY" and to use skin pigment as my medium. The crackled pink flesh and the beautiful black skin fight for space where one could be seen as taking over
the other. I loved the process of the shoot and especially the reactions of all the

Thanks to Michelle my make up artist and to NANA my model who is so great to work with. She always makes the pictures Pop! And thanks to you the viewer who adds the final impact to the piece hope to hear your input so my work can be complete..

Where can we see more work? and facebook. Amir Magal

1 comment:

  1. Love the wine/bathtub shot! Can't wait to see what's up at the next Cathexis show.