I wish I could say my interest in photography started in my youth. I’d like to tell you someone handed me a camera and encouraged me to start snapping away before I tripped into the limiting sensibilities of adulthood. Some of my friends are that way. They’ve just always been artists or photographers. I find that romantic. I envy them. Learning to master manual cameras and darkroom equipment in one’s formative years sounds magical. – CC
How did you become interested in and get started in photography?
I came to photography out of necessity. Only a couple of years ago in fact. I’ve been struggling as a writer for longer than I’d care to admit and when my personal/professional life got a bit bumpier than normal, I was unable to express myself. For the simplicity of language: I’d been struck dumb. Artistically, nothing came out the way I wanted it to and I was beginning to lose my head. My mother, who has always looked out for my sanity, decided it was time to give me her old Asahi Pentax MX and a fistful of film. I just started fucking around and making a lot of mistakes. But then I started to like my mistakes and began to realize that there was a whole new language of light and shadow to learn. I’m still learning and finding my point of view. But I see things differently now. I’m really grateful that’s the case.
What’s your fondest memory while shooting the streets of LA?
I have too many fond memories to share them all here. But I can say this, from wandering the city I live in and spending time with her – both in her glitzy, pretty parts and her grungy, dirty parts – I’ve developed a fondness and an appreciation for Los Angeles that is not dependent on the race, culture, or politics of this place. Instead, I love LA for it’s fleeting landscapes. A place where bridges, fire escapes, trash-filled gutters, and graffiti laden alleys are equally a link to LA’s seedy past as well as a tie to it’s post-apocalyptic future. The best photos come from impromptu wanderings with friends. Where we can walk in circles, climb through windows, and find the face of a place that has always been about make believe and that has too long claimed to be real.
There’s something organic about the scenes in your pictures. Is it a process of searching for the photo, or just stumbling upon your subject?
If I’m capturing anything it is a brief burst of inspiration not reality. I see something that brings up a feeling, a memory, or I selfishly want to hold onto a sense of place and I press a button. For some time I would set out in a direction and find whatever I found. These days I have more certain subjects in mind. But I really enjoy the beauty of stumbling upon a subject. That seems more authentic to me than much else. But this is all subjective. What I see and capture will not be what you see in my pictures and that is part of why I love photography – there is always room for interpretation. I don’t want to force a story down someone’s throat with my images.
Can you speak to the creative culture in Los Angeles right now?
Can I speak to it? Yes. Do I? Not all that often. This is a strange town for art. Perhaps it is a geographic issue – the fact that LA is so sprawling – that there isn’t a strong sense of community among creatives here. At least not that I’ve found. Then again, I do love the Groucho Marx quote, “I wouldn’t want to be a part of any club that would have me as a member.” That said, I think there are a lot of inspired minds here. Whether or not this will be a city in which those types of people can thrive is another question altogether. I certainly hope that the structures of commerce and politics will make room for people who have lesser financial prowess but a greater deal of imagination and talent. I guess we’ll have to watch how our greater values stick and shift to know what will be possible.
What is currently inspiring you?
I’m always fascinated by the duality of images – specifically, the interplay of fantasy and reality, enigmas and certainties, and the natural image versus the staged. I’ve also had to acknowledge the shortcomings of my inexperience. But with that I’ve also noticed the benefit of a naiveté that allows me to push past certain limits. Moving along the edge of my own boundaries is in itself very inspiring. I’m becoming more interested in the image as a way to disrupt traditional narratives and I want to explore how this comes across in portraiture.
What have you been shooting lately?
People, food, and myself. I’ve been taking a lot of head shots (this is the land of actors and musicians) as well as shooting for several pop up restaurants and chefs. The self-portraits are the result of a lot of time spent alone, reading too much about Francesca Woodman, and a growing desire to use my own image as a tool to explore vulnerability and “truth” in the digital realm.
I can’t live without: a sense of humor.
On the weekends I like to: be as spontaneous as possible.
The best sandwich in town is: at one of those late night torta carts in East LA.
See more of Chelsea Cody’s photography here.