Friday, 21 August 2009

Interview: Kyle Cassidy, Photographer

I know what you're thinking, minions: This isn't a "typical" Lili's Lair post. Ah, but that is where you will be mistaken. You see, the following interview victim inadvertently fell into me lap, so to speak. It's just like six degrees of separation . Let me explain.

You should all know by now that E.E. Knight is one of my all-time favourite authors. Well, Kyle Cassidy was given credit for a couple of photos I posted for my E.E. Knight interview. I then noticed traffic coming from Kyle Cassidy's Live Journal, so I went to see what was up. I read through the page and noticed some comment about Gothic Beauty Magazine, and Kyle's comment about how Wednesday Mourning was his favourite goth model.

(Keep following my whirling dervishes.)

That is how I found out about Wednesday Mourning.

After my interview with Wednesday, I asked Kyle if he ever photographed goths. Of course, duh me, I had already been to his site and looked at all his stuff so I already knew he did. So it was a dorky question. Anyway, I asked him to do an interview since it's goth week here at Lili's Lair.

And there you have it: complete circle. Weird huh? Since that has been explained, I can get right into my introduction of Kyle.

Cameras freak me out, and they hate me. It's a mutual agreement that I stay away from them and they stay away from me. After all, getting your photo taken means losing your soul.

However, I do appreciate a beautiful photo and marvel over the artistry and vision it took to capture and freeze a moment in time that will never be again. Good photographers to me are like powerful sorcerers. It's all magic and secrets interwoven with a technical knowledge that baffles.

I have seen many photographs taken by people who are self-professed "professionals". Blech, but then I suppose anyone (except me) can pick up a digital camera, take some pictures and say: "Hey, look at me, I am a professional". This is isn't the case. It's art, vision, creativity, and yes, even magic. It takes all of these abilities to photograph someone or something so that it freezes them in the moment. It does capture their soul and you don't just see it you literally feel it oozing out of every pixel.

This is the kind of photographer I believe Kyle Cassidy is. He is an artist... a visionary... His pictures are alive and breathing, and if I didn't think getting my photo taken meant that my soul got eaten, Kyle Cassidy would be the photographer I would want to freeze me in time forever.

(Make sure to click the photos to be taken directly to Kyle's site.)
    Lili's Lair: How did you get your start in photography?

    Kyle Cassidy: I'd had a fascination about photography since I was very young. I remember seeing some cheesy TV show, I was probably six or seven at the time, where a tourist ccidentally takes a snapshot of a crime and a "photographer" uses a darkroom enlarger to blow up the tiny little corner of the negative into a perfectly clear 8x10 showing who did what and thinking it wasmagic. Around the same time there were all these heroic photos being printed from Vietnam, and Watergate broke and I remember being very, very young and thinking that photojournalists were people who Did Important Things. I wanted to be part of a noble profession doing noble things and getting into dangerous situations for Truth and Good.

    I was around twelve when my grandfather gave me my first camera, a Petri 7s that my father had actually bought in Vietnam and had been handed around the family. I still have it, but that opened up worlds for me. I took it to school with me. My college had three photography classes, I took them all and I signed up for the newspaper and the magazine. Those were really big deals, because you had, basically, limitless film and chemicals and people giving you assignments, so it was just a playground for experimentation, and you also had all these other photographers on the staff teaching you what they knew. That's where it really happened.

    Lili's Lair: What was the process you had to go through in order for this to become your career, and did you have to go to school?

    Kyle Cassidy: I did go to school, though not as much as I probably should have. I think it would have been easier to do what I'm doing now if I'd gone to grad school. But in any artistic career, be it writing, or photography or poetry or sculpture, the key to success -- and this isn't a secret, is some amount of talent some amount of hard work and some amount of luck. And, as far as I can tell, there's no magic amount of any that you need, just some of each. Bumping into Madonna in an elevator is luck. Being able to say "Hi, here are five album covers I've done and a fashion spread in La Weekender, we should work together" is luck paired with determination and hard work, and that's what turns "OMG! I MET MADONNA IN AN ELEVATOR!" into something more than a one sentence anecdote.

    Lili's Lair: What is your favourite type of equipment to use?

    Kyle Cassidy: That's kind of a difficult question. Because the cameras that I love to use are the most impractical. From time to time I hear people say "oh, I'm a film purist, I never use digital" and in large part that's baloney -- you're adding all these unnecessary obstacles to your work and it's a bit like saying "Oh, I pump my water out of a well by hand and carry it into the house in a bucket," you can do it but, for the most part, what's the point? But there's something about my old film cameras that i love -- my digital camera I use, we have a working relationship.

    It's like a hammer -- we go to work, we drive nails, we go home and we don't talk afterwords -- but these film cameras ... I can't bring myself to sell them. Nobody's really made a digital camera that's beautiful -- that might be it. Your Nikon D3 might have a zillion times the functionality of a Leica M3, but it's never going to have that mysterious beauty and you're not going to sit there watching TV cradling it in your hand and thinking "Wow, I love this camera. It's my best friend."

    I wish that there was some sort of digital film I could slip into these old bodies and keep using them. I suppose I'm holding on to them because I figure that some day, six years from now, someone's going to do it when CCD's are cheap and thin and you can buy them in sheets at the drug store.

    I have a Hasselblad 500cm which is really a pain in the rear to use because it's so unnecessarily complicated but I love it, and I have a couple of Leicas, and I love them. But when they're sitting there next to the digital SLR and I need to get something done, I never pick up the fun one, I pick up the practical one. So a bit of the joy has gone out of it -- it's the price you pay for efficiency. Sure it would be romantic to ride a horse everywhere instead of drive but you need to be a special kind of person to feed it and muck out the stalls and do all the associated maintenance.

    Lili's Lair: Do you have a preference of photographing in black and white or colour, and if so why?

    Kyle Cassidy: I used to do exclusively black and white because I was very DIY, I wanted to depend on other people as little as possible, so I shot black and white because it was easier to develop myself and I could do everything in my darkroom and now -- now that everything's digital -- black and white seems false because it's an extra step to remove the color, so you're going out of your way to remove information, so I don't do it, it seems to me a bit pretentious. There's still something very beautiful about a well photographed and well printed black and white image but unless it was shot on black and white film, it bothers me in some place in the back of my head.

    Lili's Lair: What is the thought process you go through when deciding which projects you'd like to take on? For instance: Your documentary photography book, Armed America: Portraits of Gun Owners in Their Homes, or your project of photographing homeless Romanian children?

    Kyle Cassidy: That's a really good question, because there are a bunch of things that I'm sure every photographer is interested in photographing but what ones get chosen are really influenced by a troika of factors

    a) how much personal meaning does this have to me?
    b) how easy is this to do? and
    c) how am I going to get paid to do it?

    So you can have all these extremes: "This is the most important thing in my world, I'm doing it! Everything else be damned!" to "Why not, it'll only take me half an hour" to "They're going to give me a hundred thousand dollars to take pictures of hubcaps?" But most things lie at theintersection of these three lines somewhere in the middle.

    With Armed America, it was something I was really interested in, was very, very, very difficult to do, but someone was willing to pay me to pursue it. So I spent three years of my life working on it like a whipped dog. And then you have something like the Romanian orphan project which I believed in, it touched me profoundly it changed who I am as a person, it flipped my world upside down, all these things -- but nobody was going to pay me to do it, and it wasn't terribly difficult to do, so I did it. I didn't make any money from it, but I think I saved the world a little, and that's value and it's the kind that's difficult to measure in dollars. It's a different kind of reward than the reward I got for doing Armed America, which was financial, but I actually think also saved the world a little, because it got people who wouldn't normally talk to one another talking to one another, which is a good thing.

    So you have all these ideas and you weigh them against these three values and something comes up a winner. Also, if I'm any indication, most photographers are probably working on ten things at once, and after a while, some you realize have potential and you work on them more -- like for six years I've been photographing cars parked in front of fire hydrants. I kid you not -- whenever I see one, I take a photo. Who knows if anything will ever come of it, but it's a project" I'm working on -- I do it in passing. But if after reading this interview, someone from Chronicle Books calls and says "we want to do a book of photos of cars parked in front of fire hydrants!" I'll start walking around looking for this stuff and I'll spend a lot more time on it.

    Lili's Lair: I find photography extremely confusing to the point of terror when faced with having to use a camera. Can you please explain to photography illiterates such as myself what you have to do, and the process from start to finish of a proper studio photo shoot?

    Kyle Cassidy: Studio photography is, to a large extent, math. And by that I mean it's learnable, it's reproducible, you can write the solution down on a napkin and hand it to someone and they can re-create it a thousand miles away with no artistic talent whatsoever; it's technical. This is, on the one hand, very good, because it means you can learn it from books. You can pick up a book with a title like "the guide to studio lighting" and you can look at what a soft box does, and what a shoot-thru umbrella does and what a reflective umbrella does and what a grid spot does and you can see where the backdrop was in this photo and what the f-stop was in that photo and you can replicate it. It is SCIENCE.

    That's the easy part. You can learn a lot of it in a weekend.

    What's difficult is figuring out what to do with it. That's the artistic part, you can probably learn a lot of that in a classroom too, but it's more abstract you can say to some photographer "tell the story of migrant farm workers" but if it was still math, you could pretty much hire any competent photographer to do it. What makes some photographers different, is their ability to display emotion, feeling, to break through that mathematical barrier and use the studio to make the viewer's gut shake and their head spin and to make them think about things they wouldn't otherwise think of. That's the hard part. If you can do that, if you can make the hard part work, your technical skills don't really matter so much. If you can talk your way into a street gang in Los Angeles and spend six months with them taking photos, it doesn't really matter so much if everything's perfectly exposed, perfectly in focus, perfectly framed.

    Lili's Lair: Can you please tell me about your Spooky Girls Project?

    Kyle Cassidy: I'd been photographing goths for years, maybe since 1997 and I'd done a bunch of gallery shows and some album covers, but there really hadn't been a comprehensive collection of my work and I thought it would be nice to get everything together. It was basically a trolling of the archives that I thought might make a nice small book. There was some wonderful interest from publishers but around the same time, Armed America started to take off and Spooky Girls got thrown on the back burner where it's sat, neglected, ever since, though there's a lot of it in my portfolio in general.

    Lili's Lair: Do you find you prefer a specific subject type to photograph over others?

    Kyle Cassidy: People. I'm endlessly fascinated by them. I've done a couple landscape projects -- I fell in love with the desert after driving through it doing photography for Armed America, but it still doesn't hold the interest for me that people do. Everyone's different. I want to hear all their stories.

    Lili's Lair: Any up and coming projects Kyle Cassidy is working on we should all be keeping a lookout out for?

    Kyle Cassidy: Right now I'm spending the bulk of my time on this project called "Where I Write: Fantasy and Science Fiction Authors in Their Creative Spaces" which you can see at www.whereiwrite.org and I'm also right now starting to photograph fans -- NASCAR fans, heavy metal fans, I'm interested in the whole thing. I'm not sure where that's going. I'm also photographing war veterans tattoos, which you can see at www.kylecassidy.com/warpaint.
Visit Kyle - and click on the photos to visit them - at his site. All of his photos are simply amazing.

www.kylecassidy.com

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