Here is the first interview in our occasional series where we talk to photographers whose work we’ve appreciated on Flickr.
This week we feature an image by smalldogs.
cinemafia: One of your photographs features a bathroom stall in a public restroom that is in a particularly beautiful state of disrepair. Where and how did you come to find this scene?
smalldogs: I was in New York to see friends and for a job, and a good friend of mine took me exploring to one of the many abandonments she knows. This was shot at an abandoned resort in the Catskills. We started walking in, and I immediately noticed the light in this building. It was amazing.
cinemafia: For many this photograph might fall under the genre of urban exploration, or urban decay. These are both very popular areas of photography on and off Flickr, and also ones that have a classical and historical context. Do you think the rise in this genre of photography will help enrich the work of the new generation of shooters, or will it just be eye candy?
smalldogs: Well, I guess it depends on what you’re going to do with the work, or what you’re trying to say with it. This shot is purely eye candy for me. I saw the light and the ground covering, which, as a Los Angelino, I mistook for flower petals (shows you how much we know about the four seasons out here). But, there are several photographers I know who shoot this sort of decay very well and with a particular point to make. There’s a group who call themselves the Rustafarians, in New York, who go out on expeditions regularly to shoot these kinds of scenes. They, I think, are producing work that to me is historical and beautiful at the same time. The work of Michael Bowman, in particular, evokes some interesting discussion and reflection on the progression, and state of, society. His work is especially moving to me and many others, probably because he seems to have an intent in his shooting that I did not when I was shooting this scene.
There is absolutely a need for work like Michael’s. Unfortunately, here in LA, it’s very difficult to document urban decay because abandoned buildings out here are usually shuttered up and guarded. If you get past the security, you’ll find squatters and kids just hanging out. The buildings are usually vandalized to the point where it’s hard to even see the building in its original context. And it can be very dangerous. I would never go exploring for a shot like this in LA without lots of people with me. In other cities around the country, these buildings are open and accessible. I think that’s a good thing, but I can see why it wouldn’t work in LA.
But again, even if it were accessible, I probably wouldn’t shoot it. This shot doesn’t say anything to me, it has no context that I can appreciate. Now, if I could have gotten a person into that shot, that would have made me happy. I’m very into conceptual photography and environmental portraiture. I would love to have the day to shoot some people in that location.
cinemafia: A lot of the discussion on your bathroom photograph centers around ideas of beauty as it relates to Los Angeles. As a professional photographer in LA, I’m sure you’ve come to deal with the concept of beauty in its most commercial form. Have you ever worked on a project where the client’s definition of beauty was different from your own? If so, do you feel that this disparity in any way compromised your work?
smalldogs: I’m very particular about what I will shoot, so I haven’t really had that problem. But, it is all around me. There are photographers out here who will work for practically nothing just to get some shots of tits and ass, and there is a never-ending supply of models to make that possible. If you look at most photographers’ portfolios, you’ll see beautiful people. That’s no accident. I like to shoot real people. I often shoot people who don’t think they are “good enough” to be in front of the camera, which is always surprising to me. It is flaws that give something, or someone, character. It’s funny that we can appreciate that in urban decay photography, but not so much in professional portraiture.
cinemafia: I’ve been in touch with professional photographers who have been hit hard by the current financial situation, some to the point that they’ve given up on photography entirely. How has the economy affected you and your work, and would you ever walk away from your camera if there was no way to make any money using it?
smalldogs: No, no way. But then again, I’m not a commercial photographer. The economy has definitely affected my business, but not to the degree that it’s hurting others. I find a lot of satisfaction in shooting for everyone – for example, brides who can’t afford a $4,000 photographer for their wedding. I’ll do it for $1,000 or less. Not to undercut other photographers, but because I’m into it. Small weddings, backyard weddings, shots of people with their dogs – these are the things I enjoy shooting. I learned early on to shoot what I like to shoot and turn down what I don’t. I won’t get rich doing it that way, but getting rich isn’t my goal.
cinemafia: Despite these tough times, there are still many who would like to take up photography as a primary career. Do you have any words of advice for people who might be considering it?
smalldogs: Shoot what you like. Find your own style and make your own niche. When you start producing any kind of art – whether it’s writing or photography or some other art – for the sole reason of making money, you’re going to end up hating it eventually.
To see more of smalldogs’ work, go here.
Interview by cinemafia.