I’ve been a little stuck lately when it comes to shooting. I am primarily an artist who works collaboratively and I thrive on the give and take with other artists. Moving to Seattle put me in a place where those creative connections are harder to find and that’s brought up a lot of questions about how I work and what I want to work on next. Moving here was also a way to distance myself from the commercial photography world in LA that can be overwhelming at times, and completely toxic at its worst.
So I’m here with all this limitless artistic freedom, but it feels at times like the same kind of freedom you’d have on a deserted island–oppressive in its infinite vastness. I work well with constraints. Time, media, equipment, etc. It’s been an experience to do a hard reset.
Finding and shooting a little series of found compositions has been therapeutic. These were all at the South Lake Union Block Party for the SVC Steamroller Smackdown where they were making lino prints with a steamroller. Pretty damn cool.
For the last few years I feel like I’ve been watching something I love die a slow, painful, and frankly, embarrassing death. The combination of the decline of publishing and the rise of the influencer, mixed with our gluttonous need for content has lead us to this point where quality and pride are third, fourth, tenth on the list of priorities. I fell in love with the idea of the artist/photographer who straddled both the fine art world and the commercial one, creating work that was a solid mixture of both. It’s been a long time scratching and fighting to achieve that, only to watch it disintegrate into a world of photographers who, in a race to the bottom, gave up a paychecks for “exposure” and magazines that couldn’t wait to sacrifice prime cover real estate for whichever Kardashian might sell more units.
This is tough for me to write. I really wanted to be that next Helmut Newton, Annie Leibovitz, Herb Ritz. And, if I’m totally honest, Terry Richardson. (Minus the rape-y stuff.) These were artists who were able to weave pop culture into bigger conversations about art, the future, fashion, and the world. But I don’t know if that world exists anymore, and I don’t know if you can be known for making good photos unless you’re hanging onto 100k followers. And sometimes you don’t need to make good photos, you just need the 100k followers.
These are not new ideas. We’ve all seen magazines fold, newspapers fire their writers. We’ve all been witness to this slow, tire-fire of investigative journalism that’s turned into one-sentence-answer interviews and celebrity jerk-off fluff pieces, framed on either side by uninteresting iPhone photos or PR images. We lost that war a long time ago. If you’re still fighting it’s because you don’t know that our side lost.
I called Alexander a couple days after he posted about the GQ flap and we talked before my therapy appointment, which is why I ended the call so quickly at the end. (True story.) He’s a really talented artist and an all around good guy to have in your circle of art friends. He’s untouched by whatever fame-bug I’m obviously infected with and I really respected his adamant stance against this kind of art theft. I have found myself biting my tongue more than once at photo-business buffoonery, always wishing I’d spoken up when it was too late.
This was a little departure from the “artist interview” format, but I hope you enjoy it.
Happy 4th of July to all of you in the celebratory mood. I’m releasing this interview I had with Ryan Bussard about two weeks ago for your listening pleasure. Maybe you listen to it while you’re grilling, ignoring all the toddlers at your cookout, or water skiing. I’m just trying to make it accessible. You don’t have to be doing any of those things but I want you to know you have options.
I’ve known about Ryan’s work for a long time and we kept in touch over social media while I was living in LA. We both reached out a couple times for actual face to face coffee, in person, IRL, real time, but we never got it to happen. This is a problem with the social media machine…sometimes it makes us feel like we know a person or we’ve had some interaction, so we put it off again until next time. And then one of you moves to Seattle and there’s not really a likelihood of you having coffee any time soon. This is totally my experience, I’m not speaking for Ryan, but I feel like I’ve missed out on some things because I subconsciously mistook something on the internet for a *real* experience.
Ryan is a damn fine photographer, but he’s been doing experiments with “glitch” art…these digital derivations on top of (or inside?) photographs. I kind of gush over them with no real words to describe them during the interview. It’s pretty smooth, so check that out. Lots of pauses while I try to find a couple words that aren’t “cool” or “pretty.” But I think that when I’m stumped by art I know that something big is happening and that I’ve found something important. The long and the short of it is, I’m fascinated by the digital world we’ve found ourselves in, and they speak to that. Especially since he talks about “taking apart the images,” like a dissection or a surgery.
I’ve thrown in a couple of his illustrations as well, another reason I wanted to speak to him. I always feel like photographers are at this disadvantage expressing themselves because there are certain constraints with a camera. Especially if you are relying on others to collaborate with you. I’m always interested in the other ways photographers choose to be creative and how that manifests itself.
There’s some good origin stories of his images here, and some interesting thoughts on artists sticking to and not straying from, their own sexual preferences. It was a good talk, despite the inevitable lost call close to the end. There’s a bit of a hiccup, but I’m sure you’ll be able to keep up.
Can we take a minute to admire the manliness, the sheer masculinity, nay, VIRILITY of whoever is below my window revving his motor bike? I can hear the simultaneous ovulation of every biological woman in a 3 block radius. And my building? Screams of ecstacy on each floor, women and men grinding and moaning against the closest object, the elevator door is opening and closing and reopening and closing on piles of writhing naked bodies. It’s getting harder and harder for me to control my own urges as I hear the rider, whom I imagine is made of mostly penis, gunning and gunning his bike over and over, summoning me from the dark recesses of my 5th floor apartment. I walk to the window, my legs shaking from the repeated spams of uncontrollable orgasms that come in wave after wave after wave, in sync with the animal hum of the shuddering engine between his legs. I’m afraid to look at my suitor below. I tremble as I pull back the blinds, afraid that if we make eye contact I’ll swoon, and right now my fainting couch is on the other side of the room.
I cover my mouth with my hand, lest I release a scream into the noon air, look down and, oh…
Of fucking course it’s some old fat guy with a $50,000 bike waiting for a train looking like he just needed to make a Buffalo Wild Wings run for the rest of the tellers at Bank of America.
Another audio interview! I listen and watch stuff when I edit, so I’m expecting you do the same. Or while you fold clothes or debone a fish or reattach the trucks on your skatingboard. I’m not telling you what to do, just giving you suggestions.
Mark and I met a few years ago in downtown LA when he was showing some work at a gallery. I’d been following him for a while on the streams and we’d worked with a few of the same people over the years but never officially crossed paths. I’m one of those weirdos that will be friends with you on social media AND in real life. I’ll see you post that you’re going to be somewhere doing something and I’ll straight up SHOWUP and introduce myself. If I see you out and I know you from social media, I will totally tell you I think you’re cool. I’ve made a couple friends in real life like that, and Mark is for sure one of them. (I’ve also alienated a few, too. Some people just can’t swing real life.)
Over the years we’ve shared work, introduced each other to new models, met for beers and Korean food, and, most importantly, bitched about photography. In this interview I try to give you a full-picture view of his start in photography and what he’s doing now. His start in photography is really interesting because it wasn’t his first choice, so we talk about that, his college phase of “porn meets religion” and working with models.
Mark is mainly known for his work for Playboy and his wonderfully lit, sculptural photos of models. But while watching his video series, I saw this whole other, earlier, theatrical side of him…Snow White, Santa Claus, pin-up calendars…thematically far away from where his now, but you can see the elements of staging and lighting that carry through all of his work.
I’m still figuring out the audio and recording but I think this one sounds a lot better. Again, if you’re a podcast wizard with some advice for this kind of call-to-call recording, I’d love to hear from you. And if you’re an artist with something to say, let’s talk.
Lucy and I met a few years ago in Los Angeles when I was testing with her agency. Over the years we ended up shooting a few times together. She has a crazy interesting life as a model, a bass player for the band Dear Boy, and as an artist, drawing and painting. I thought this was such a compelling intersection of talents and I’m kind of nosy (some would say curious) so I asked her if she was down for an interview.
I tried a different format with a podcast/recorded interview so bear with the audio inconsistencies and my southern accent. I like working with different interviewing methods and this one felt more conversational, but I don’t think anyone talks on the phone anymore so sometimes that feels awkward. Will you sit in front of your computer and listen to a Soundcloud track? Will you download it to your phone? Maybe if I can get you to listen to this I can trick you into checking out my underground hip-hop mix tape. I don’t know…I’m just playing with ideas here. Make shit, break shit, as they say in Silicon Seattle.
This blog doesn’t support an actual Soundcloud player, so I hosted it on another page. Don’t yell at me, I’m just working with what I have here. Also, if you’re a recording genius and you have tips and hints for recording phone calls, I’d love to hear them. We lost connection around 5 minutes in so if there’s a slight continuity break while we get back into it.
This weekend we were in Ballard and we stopped in one of those places that sells all the stuff you already own but in a more expensive form. You know the places that have placemats, but they only come in sets of three and they’re made of alpaca fur or recycled Easter grass. There are a thousand of these places in LA and probably your city too, located between a clothing store that has only 6 items and a coffee shop. I’m poking around on the sale shelf and I see this little metal container about the size of an Altoid’s tin with a cardboard sleeve over it. The design is nice, letter press-esque, old fashioned looking, and it reads “Vintage Erasers.” I’m so curious.
What is a vintage eraser? Is it from the olden times? Were they saved from an old elementary school and repurposed? What treasure awaits mine eyes inside this hallowed vessel? So OBVIOUSLY I slip the cardboard off and pop the tin open, and, lo, what do I behold but three, brand new, pink pearl erasers. Is this some sort of trick?! I’ve been bamboozled! What sort of monster would repackage an eraser that is still being made and sold NEARLYEVERYWHERE to school children and artists and nearly anyone who uses pencils?
On each eraser was a little black pennant with words that read “Go All” like some sort of less-than-generic attempt to harken bark to a time when people had pennants. I don’t know if you’ve ever had one of those inner conversations in a place where you have to talk yourself out of flipping a table or making a scene but that’s what was going on in that moment. Would you like to know how much they were asking for these rare, bygone fossils of mistake correction?
Are there actual pearls in these erasers? If this situation was a person, you guys would go get coffee and you’d have to explain to Todd that this is why people don’t like him. You can buy a BOXOF 36 of these same erasers, except name brand, for $7.22. It boggles the mind.
My point is that everything is terrible and there’s no reason to leave the house, I guess. And since you’re holed up there you might as well cover your walls in some of the prints from my new print store.
Since I’ve moved I’ve been going through a bunch of earlier work, looking at new work, sorting things and trying to make sense of the things we keep as artists. For instance, I have 5 Nancy Drew books. Am I going to read them? No. What are they for? Not sure. Do they have an intended use? Maybe? But in all of this organization I’ve come across a bunch of work that I would love to put in a new home. A few of these are absolute one-offs, printed on cold press or other archival paper, often stained with coffee or tea. They are departures from my normal work, but I really love them and the idea of making work that can only exist as one thing.
Other highlights are two framed photos from the ever-popular Mattress Series, some test prints from the darkroom, and then a number of shots from my series about the alluring nature of depression. As these things move I’ll be cycling in new stuff, so check back in from time to time. The depression photos are really some of my all-time favorite work and the prints are really well done. It’s hard to part with them, but I’m happy to find them homes.
I know you’ve got to go eraser shopping, but cruise through the Print Store on your way out. Next week I’m selling vintage rulers packaged in tube socks for $75 each.
Enough time had passed between the last 1800 mile roadtrip with a car full of animals (Memphis-Los Angeles 2012) that I was actually looking forward to the drive from Los Angeles to Seattle. Like everything in 2018, if you don’t romanticize it and honey-dip it in a healthy coating of nostalgia, is it even worth hashtagging about? I’m exaggerating a tiny bit, but I was really excited about loading up the family-Dana (wife), Luna (dog), and Number Two (cat and elder statesman) and driving up the coast. What’s more, it was just us. A moving company was taking our stuff up the coast which left us free to meander up through California without having to worry about a trailer or anything. I was really excited about this because everyone is always talking about these big trees or something.
Number Two is an old man with arthritis and only one working eyeball. His contribution to the #vanlife was pissing on Dana once a day. We’d bought him this great backpack because we consider him to be part of the family and didn’t want to leave him in the car when we went to go check out all the nature. As it turns out, he just wanted to be left in the car. He got one if not two, full baths in hotel rooms on the way to Seattle. Luna was a little upset by all of the new sights, sounds and stresses of the road but she was surprisingly good. We bought this strange new brush for her and it makes this bizarre hair-weave, which is at once beautiful and disturbing. (Have they been reading my diary?)
Two days in we realized the folly of traveling with animals and made a lunch stop in one of those PetCo-BestBuy-Marshall’s shopping centers since we couldn’t really enjoy a sit-down meal at a restaurant. Luna got a hard brush. Number Two was put on a cat leash (cats love leashes) and the humans had a hummus and salad based lunch from Trader Joe’s. The romance was gone. The honeymoon was over. The animals had won, again. I wasn’t ready for the logistics of traveling with animals and trying to stop off and enjoy natural sights. Most places don’t allow dogs in even on a leash so as not to disturb the local flora and fauna, and that totally makes sense. In places like Redwood Forest, most of the real iconic places were off limits to four-legs, which ruled us out.
Somewhere at the top of California we’d been following this river on our left that was this crazy shade of blue. I kept seeing small dirt driveways and finally I swung us over to get out for a minute and explore. We left Number Two in the car because he’d already peed on Dana and grabbed the dog and tried to experience the nature for a minute. And that’s kind of how it went. We were able to grab moments here and there on the road, photo ops, and some pretty spectacular views out of the window.
We did stop near Carmel and Pebble Beach which were pretty breathtaking. I tried to get my panoramic game a little tighter. Still not the tightest, but you’ll get the idea.
This place was crazy. Foreign tourists piling out of vans and feeding squirrels by hand, islands covered in birds, and an extraordinary amount of “No Trespassing” signs. Pebble Beach I think, where golfing is about the only thing that isn’t outlawed.
And here we are! A month into the Seattle experience. Outside my window is the Norwegian Bliss, a 4000 passenger cruise ship, waiting to be christened for her maiden voyage. It’s a weird place, and a huge adjustment from Los Angeles but I’m slowly coming around. I’m mostly unemployed right now, so hit me up if you need me to talk you out of a roadtrip.
Memphis and I have never met in person but we’ve followed each other on social media for a few years now. His style is hard to pin down without using a lot of overused (and misused) terms so I’ll try to not use the words “raw” or “edgy” too much. There are a ton of raw and edgy photographers in the world, we hardly need another one. But Memphis’s work is something different, and while I struggle to put my finger right on it, I think there’s an element of risk to his work that I am really attracted to. He’s mostly shooting film which carries an inherent risk factor to it that most digital photographers don’t have to worry about. It makes his photos feel like precious objects, like things that can disappear, like the very act of looking might slowly break them down until they no longer exist.
Memphis and I connected last week and we did a quick interview about his work. I love talking shop with other artists. Lately, I’ve felt really insulated from the outside world with moving from LA to Seattle and my inclination is not to go find other artists and shake their hands and bother them until they talk to me. Usually my inclination is to sit in front of the computer in the dark. This was a good compromise.
Ok so basic stuff first, when did you start shooting?
4 years ago…I had been escorting girls to photo shoots with photographers they didn’t know and a photographer liked the way my composition with a phone camera was. (I had taken some shots with the girls phones to show photographers of outfits and such.) Anyways, this photographer, Tuck Chaylor was like, “You should get a camera.” But I said that I didn’t have money for something like that, so he gave me a film camera and I got addicted.
That’s an interesting way to get started, and film is a tough way to learn. Were you self taught then?
Yeah, well I had a book on film photography. But at first I just got lucky, I guess… I’ve always been really good at figuring out exposure.
Do you remember the camera?
It was a Minolta 7000i.
And you’re still shooting mostly film? That’s kind of what I gathered from your tumblr.
It was my go to for most of my “career” up until about 6 months ago when a photographer who had inspired me a lot and talked to me a bunch along the way wanted to get into film so I gave it and some Portra film, along with a couple Polaroid cameras to get him started. His name is Adam Parker if that’s important. I prefer film. I try to do some 35mm, some instant film, and some digital with everyone if it’s available. Digital is free and that’s the lure to it, I guess. Between film and digital there is no comparison in my opinion-it’s film film film!
I’m the same, but I’m kind of still nervous about film, like maybe I’ll whiff a roll or something. I’ve shot 100s of rolls, but that fear is still there.
Well there’s always a chance you’ll fuck shit up and then there’s the cost around every corner but for the most part I take a digital shot then match the settings…I’ve been told my digital camera is more of an expensive light meter than anything else! (laughs) But I don’t trust anything I can’t see.
(Laughs) I do the same thing! I shot some models before leaving LA and just took 3 rolls of film. It was totally different. No digital, and it changed the whole mood. Like we were so focused on getting it right. A different vibe.
Sometimes I do that but only when I have a sure thing model…I usually warm everyone up with digital though.
Speaking of, I don’t know how to phrase this exactly, but I really feel like you have a “kind” of model. A physical aesthetic, I guess? I love it. It’s raw as fuck but isn’t afraid to be femme at the same time. Tell me a little about how you find your models and that process?
Well that’s tricky to explain…I like girls that are boyish. I prefer butts over boobs. I like girls with something that makes you remember them, like a dimple in their chin or a gap between their teeth…I don’t like girls that use a lot of make up and I tend to like goth girls I guess if you were going to label them…I don’t like prissy people in general. I like girls that wear Doc Martin shoes, Vans or Converse…androgynous girls are my favorite, feminist type girls…girls that show their intelligence in their face.
I always joke with other photographers that I just want to shoot girls that look like boys.
Something about gender confusion is intriguing to me and always has been.
Especially now, it’s in the public consciousness so much.
A picture should make you question things I think that’s the idea to a lot of my images. I want to make people feel some type of way.
Whats your experience with your work that does question things since you’re living in the south?
Yes, I have been told I’m soft-core pornography and I’ve got a lot of flack that I don’t think I would in other places… people are worried they’ll ruin themselves here… in the south they still have that burn-the-witch mentality. But I’m noticing more and more that girls want to be liberated from that kind of judgement and want to own themselves instead of having the southern society decide the person they should be for them.
Are you from the south? And how’d you get the name Memphis?I was born and raised there!
I am from Blue Ridge South Carolina. The story of how I got my alias always raises some eyebrows and people give me shit about it because I am Memphis McEnroe in my everyday life, at work, and on the streets. People always ask “are you even from Memphis?” But it goes like this: A friend of mine was working in Memphis welding, and asked me to come out there and take pictures of him party and whatever…he said that Memphis was the Detroit of the south and since I love shot-out abandoned buildings, poverty, and things of that nature, that I’d like it there. So I grabbed my check, quit my job and ran out there… It’s a long long way from where I live and the only time I had ventured off that far away in my car. So somewhere along the way while we were going through the city I said I’d take it as my name and that my trip to Memphis had been a pilgrimage. But I had to have something to go along with it so I just saved it in my heart until that day came.
That’s pretty fucking hardcore, really. And you’re not wrong about Memphis/Detroit.
There were a lot of hardcore things that happened out there but I’ll leave that a mystery. Let’s just say Memphis definitely left an impression on me.
Yea, it gets inside you. I’m still trying to get it out of me. A lot of dudes who shoot chicks JUST shoot women. It’s like they can ONLY shoot that style. But I was on your tumblr and dude, you have my respect because you went full butthole in a couple shots with another dude. Tell me about that shoot.
Well that’s my friend Cole. He’s a musician. Point of view photography has become a big thing for me. It’s controversial as fuck. I mean for the first couple years I followed what they call the golden rule, which is don’t ever touch a model no matter what the circumstances.
And what changed for you?
But after a while I kept seeing it done and one day I was with my friend Sarah (who is also a photographer) and I said “Isn’t that just gross and in bad taste?” And she was like “nahh I think it’s hot.” So I decided to start asking girls if they wanted that type of picture and they did…Because of my history as an escort for models I had a lot of girls trust and they knew it was something like acting and wasn’t real-only staged-so we’d have a talk about it and go over each one before we shot it. It became so common that I quit asking people to do it and would only do it if they asked me…and they did. And I started hearing gossip about myself and the main rumor was “he only does photography so he can choke young women.”
I’ve heard that rumor about myself. Similar ones at least.
So I started doing it to men and when my friend Cole came over one day, we went all the way with it. And I did what I usually do with girls with him. Maybe a little more extreme.
It really hit me, as like, FEARLESS. I was totally impressed.
Thanks, man. I wasn’t too sure on how people would judge me for it but basically that was my way of saying “fuck you, I’ll choke anyone.” I think the fear in people about that is they think…. my god what if my mother or grandmother or sister or daughter or the girl I got a crush on wants Memphis to do that photo. And that scares people.
Yea, I can’t really put it into words, other than it made me feel like you were in it for the act of making art more than anything else. But yea, I get that other vibe. Being in front of the camera or behind it…it’s not real life. It’s something else. A strange place to be either way.
I guess in a way I want my art to scar people’s minds. I have a lot of concepts that I’m working on but I have to have people I trust around me to do them.
And you have to trust them. I think it works both ways.
It’s a fear of mine that the concepts that I want to do will be stolen or something.
Yea I have that same fear.
They say everything’s been done so I shouldn’t be so scared.
It sounds like you have a good base of other photographers around you. You’ve mentioned 3 that you’re friends with.
Yeah, they come and go but Tuck is my roommate. We’ve been good friends for a while now. I don’t know what it is that makes photographers fuck with me! (laughs) I think it might hurt their reputation to be my friend but they don’t ever seem to care.
I just moved to Seattle, I don’t know anyone, photographers, models, etc. I need those people in my life.
I think that Kace Face chic lives there. She’s a model I’ve always wanted to shoot.
Oh, maybe. I shot her in LA. Very andro look.
Yeah, I don’t really follow her anymore but I remember her. I love her look, the shaved head thing in a girl I really like.
Ok, so any advice for anyone wanting to pick up a camera and start shooting models and choking dudes?
My advice is: Don’t touch models! (laughs) And if you do, don’t be a creep about it. Just ask nicely, and if they say no leave it at that and don’t ask again. Remember that you are only as good as the worst image you show, so be careful about what you showcase. Your name is a brand and it needs to represent you and what you stand for. Respect everyone and be the best version of yourself possible.
(My wife and I went to Seattle a few weeks back so she could interview for a job. She was offered the job and we are moving in the next couple weeks! I started writing this before we knew.)
What can I say about Seattle? Firstly, it was remarkably cold. The kind of cold where you have to go buy clothes and you tear up in the biting wind because six years in LA has made you cold-soft. Also, you’d think it was a huge coffee city, but you’d be wrong. I bought and subsequently threw away a ton of coffee because it was ditchbrewed char-water that I can only imagine was fair-traded with bridge trolls. If you like Starbucks version of coffee you’re totally in luck because that whole Starbucks-on-every-corner is a thing there. But if you like NUANCE and COMPLEXITY, it’s not going to be your jam.
I’m old enough that grunge was a real defining aspect of my musical development and looking around you can feel that hanging on a little bit, even in the face of Amazon and Microsoft. It’s interesting that the polar opposites of hardcore computing and hardcore heroin use were existing in the same time, at the same place, each creating something lasting and meaningful. I say that with no snark. I’ve never done heroin but I’m a huge fan of the music. Amazon Prime isn’t too shabby either.
Speaking of computing…the Living Computers Museum was a total treat. I got Virtual Reality-ed, toured the graveyard of computers past, and used a robot to put makeup on my face (see below). Really fantastic as far as nerdy things like that go. Would recommend, 10/10.
Also the Frye Museum was just mind blowing, specifically the salon style room that looked like…
I don’t think you can get the full experience here with this picture, but it was an immersive experience, overwhelming and and awe-inspiring. Rare that we see art displayed like this in museums, but apparently this was how they were hung at the Frye Estate. Even better, it’s free.
Long story short, we are packing up and moving to Seattle in the next month. Los Angeles is and has been amazing and I’m seriously sad to leave. But, the next adventure awaits. I’d love to hear from artists, models, etc in Seattle, as I won’t know anyone. And I’d love to hear your suggestions as far as food, beer, things to do, etc.