Hi Ed, what ist the photobook that is coming out in october, about?
That’s just a photobook, there’s no special theme. And that’s the point, all my books have a specific theme, Teenage Smokers, Teenage Kissers, like very narrow subjects. The Deformer book I did was about growing up in suburbia. This book is just sort of an open book about photography. There’s no real theme, the photos are just all over the place, different people, friends, mostly street photos just from travelling.
And there are no paintings involved, right?
No, it’s just a photobook. I kind of like doing photobooks more than painting books. I don’t have any plans to do any art books, but I have plans to do a lot of photobooks.
Is it hard for you to seperate between your photography and all that art stuff that you are doing?
I think photography comes naturally. Painting is harder for me. I have to make time for it, I have to think about it, I think I’m not that naturally talented at all in it like just sit down and make a drawing. For me it’s hard work to do something that I like. But photography is always constant to me. Everywhere I go, I always have a camera with me. It’s just a constant flow, every day. I live in Huntington Beach and when I take a break, I go out of the house and down to the pier and take photos. Photography is just natural, it’s just happening and it’s mechanical and once I have the photos, making a photo show is easy. You just have to work on the scans. For painting, you have to actually sit down and do it, it takes a lot of time, and so on a book level, I’m just more interested on doing photobooks. With Larry Clarke, it was not about the show, it was about the book. I like the idea of just making books, and leaving that for history. Painting is totally different, the show is more important for the painting than the painting book itself.
You mentioned Huntington Beach. On instagram it seems, that you shoot a picture a day there.
Yeah, at least! It seems like I am out there all day, but it’s just one hour a day cause I live not that far from the pier. With my job, I’m always sitting. I sit at the computer, I sit in front of my paintings, so as I live in this beautiful beach city, I just go out and take a tea, take a walk around the pier and shoot photos. As a photographer it’s a good practice. I go out every day and shoot the same area. Just shooting photos of the people and the things. There’s no special attraction, a lot of people just live there and have a walk and there are just a lot of freaks and stuff. [laughs] It’s a bit like Venice, probably a bit less crazy than Venice. It’s just the normal life I guess so it’s fun to shoot that. And part of the practice is doing that every day.
Because everybody has a camera now and everyone is publishing photos on instagram, it makes it even harder to be a good photographer
And how you decide what to shoot with your Leica and what for instagram?
The camera comes first, that’s the main thing. I’m still shooting on film. And if something lasts long enough, I can put out the Iphone and take it also with this one. For instagram, it’s more just the fun thing, I don’t really shoot real photos.
Do you also see a difference between a hard cover book and a zine?
Yeah, there’s a difference but at the same time it just depends on where you’re coming from. When I’m making a zine, because it’s photocopied, something I’m gonna give out to friends, there’s not an importance on the thought like doing a photobook, because it’s more about fun. Publishing a hard cover book costs a lot of money. If you’re making a book you’re making a good selection and you make sure that the right things go into it, so there’s a difference there. But then on the other side it’s for all those people out there who haven’t got a publisher offering them to publish a book, they can make their own book. That’s the whole point of it. Just like, “Fuck everybody, I’m gonna do this right now and publish it myself“, and that’s part of the culture. The whole world is sort of turned into this. There are those self-publishing sites, where you can publish your own books and it seems like everybody is just becoming their own publisher. For instagram, facebook and twitter, it’s like everything that you do is broadcasted by yourself.
Do you think that the worth of pictures are decreasing because there are so many pictures out there?
It depends. I still like to have hope that a good photo is a good photo. I place different values on photos than maybe someone else does. I still shoot film, so I like film. I’m not anti-digital but I’m more pro-film. I’m not against people who shoot digital. Like I said, a good photo is a good photo. And I think that there’s an audience for that. Because everybody has a camera now and everyone is publishing photos on instagram, it makes it even harder to be a good photographer. Because I would say 50% of photography is just being at the right place at the right time. You’re walking on the street and something crazy happens and you happen to be there to shoot it, that’s a big part of it. But can you do it good? The fact that everyone has a camera, means that more people in more situations have a camera ready to shoot. It’s a hard question and depends on where you sit. Why do you wanna go to a Photobook Museum, when there are thousands of pictures already online at flickr? And there are good photos on there. I’ve been there a couple of times and i saw incredible pictures, thinking, how can it come, that i never heard of this guy? And that’s just the chance of things, that’s just how it is a lot of times. Millions of more talented painters than me don’t get the chance to exhibit their work. Same for photographers, the world is cruel I guess. [laughs]
So you think that a good photo is a good photo, no matter where it’s presented or how it’s presented?
I see good photos on instagram all the time and I sometimes think, „What a shame, it’s on instagram only“. You just spend a few seconds on watching a photo there. And that’s about it. So I think, presenting a photo in a show has a sort of a different way to look at it. There’s only a small percentage of people that come to the exhibition and they spend more time on looking on the photo, considering the photo, because it is in a museum and they’re approaching it more as a piece of art. Most people probably don’t go through instagram, thinking they’re going through an art show. Maybe if you follow an artist or photographer, but then the next photo is your friends baby, and is that art too?
What’s the great thing for you about photo books? Why do you collect them?
I don’t know, it’s such a never ending story that fills your house with a lot of crap. [laughs] I guess it’s just something to fetishize in my life. I like photobooks and it became sort of a lifestyle. When I see a bookstore, I go in there, that’s a part of my life. When we come to Europe that’s a big part of what we do. We walk around and spend time on shooting photos and going to bookstores. I know where all the good bookstores are in the cities that I usually go. Some people just sit down and wanna have a coffee, and I like to go to the bookstore. I don’t know what the peel is, but I like it. I like the smell of photobooks, I like looking at photobooks, for me it’s a big reference library that helped me to become a photographer.
Could you name photographers that inspired you?
Jim Goldberg was a big influence. He did a book called „Raised by Wolfes“ and this other book, „Rich and Poor“. That was a project where he shot rich people and poor people and then took the prints back to the people and asked them to write some words about the photo, which was a real conceptional way to approach photography, it wasn’t about the image. When it came out, people were angry about it, saying that the photos wouldn’t speak for themselves.
Has this also been an inspiration for you, cause you also like to write on your photos?
Yeah, I guess that’s a part of it. Robert Frank is a person that made a lot of art with drawing and painting on photos. Even Allen Ginsberg would write stories on his photos, and so those are influences for me. It’s about the piece of paper itself that can be more. It’s not just looking at the photo. That’s why I like to shoot film, it’s just about to make that thing that runs into a lot of chemicals, that basically is a piece of paper. There’s sort of a mystique about it.
Do you spend a lot of time in the darkroom?
Yeah, for the book I just made, I printed everything in my own darkroom and then scanned all the prints and layouted the whole book. So I built the whole book from scratch, which is a nightmare. [laughs]
And with Toy Machine, is it basically just you doing all the stuff at the moment?
Yeah, most of it, but I’m also able to invite some artist friends to do some series. When the whole recession thing happened, the first thing that happened was, that Tod Swank [Tum Yeto Owner] called me and said: “No more artists!“ So from 2008 until recently I was literally doing everything, but now I have a little more freedom to invite a friend who can do a series or something. But yes, I still do all the graphics and I still do all the ads. But I’m not down at the office, shipping boxes. I sit on the creative side and on the decision making side. I just decide when do these guys go pro. [laughs] I talk to our filmer every day and he is out there, so I know what’s happening in the team. But normally there are no problems, cause I only get guys on the team, that can handle their stuff on their own, cause I don’t have time to babysit a bunch of guys.