27 April 2007


Timothy Archibald is not only a great photographer, but he's also a great 'photographic philosopher' of sorts and a well of information and inspiration. With these interviews, I am always hoping to open new paths for people not only to new artists, but new ways of seeing and thinking. Timothy has provided a wealth of 'paths' in this interview and some intriguing insight into his work.

I am very grateful for the efforts he has made and for giving me the opportunity to put these questions to him.

Timothy Archibald's photographs have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, GQ, The New Yorker and Outside Magazine. His photographs are included in the permanent collection of the Catskill Center for Photography(Woodstock, NY) and The Museum of Sex(NY).
He lives in San Francisco with his wife Cheri and two sons.

Lars von Trier added something called a “lookey” to his latest film, a “visual element that is added out of context to a movie”. Is it fair to say that a lot of your work is photographing “lookies” in real life?
I guess I’m always looking for something kind of unusual and aberrant that is found in something very very familiar. That combination worked real well in Sex Machines, meaning it was like finding this filthy disgusting sexual creation pulled out of your id, and finding it in a very comforting and familiar environment. I played with that pairing in earlier work, but it really came together in Sex Machines. As far as projects since then, the core seems to come from finding something very human that everyone can relate to, and combining it with something very foreign. Which is the same thing…huh?

"I just loved the idea that these artists could be so great at what they did, make powerful art and really own their genre, but the genre was so small they just weren’t household names."
You’ve also cited Leon Borensztein’s One is Adam, One is Superman: The Artists of Creative Growth as an inspiration which features portraits of handicapped artists. What inspired you from this book? What do you think of the featured artists’ work being labelled “outside art” and in general, are labels and gradations of art in any way useful?
I’ve always had attraction to artwork that looked naïve or innocent, folk art, comic book art, things that seemed to be dwelling in this kind of d.i.y. ghetto or something. Comic book artists such as Daniel Clowes, Peter Bagge and Ivan Brunetti have all been super big influences. I just loved the idea that these artists could be so great at what they did, make powerful art and really own their genre, but the genre was so small they just weren’t household names. I think it was Bagge that even referred to his audience as a small collection of drug addicts and perverts, many of whom live with their parents! Maybe it was Clowes who said that. They were kidding, of course, but more so they were just exaggerating to make a point.

With Sex Machines, I felt the machines themselves were the perfect folk art: they were innocent by design and seemed to tell us a whole lot of unedited information about their creator. The machines were enough, but then I needed to come in and try to make a pretty colorful photograph and interpret the people…but the machines alone were total folk art. So….Borensztein’s portraits always had the innocent folk art quality to them, as if he is just the conduit for this fascinating subject matter.

How much influence has your wife had on your work? (Is she a sociologist?)
Yah, my wife Cheri Stalmann was doing graduate work at UC Davis in sociology, which is what allowed us to move to California. She was into studying working class men who were married and were the primary caretakers of the children. The two of us have always been interested in men, women, masculinity, feminism, her in a more academic way, me in a more pop culture way. When she began her project she ran an ad in the newspaper seeking men who’d be open to being interviewed. She had this tape recorder that had this great detachable microphone on it.

I remember her coming home, us listening to the tapes and this microphone just picked up everything…someone opening the refrigerator, someone walking in the door…it was like a movie without pictures. I remember thinking that that technique was great: run an ad, gain access to someone’s life, and just spend some time letting them talk. I never had use for it…but a few years later when I began “Sex Machines” , I thought I knew the tools I needed to bring these people to life. And of course throughout, I was always trying to tell people that the project is Sociology, not Sexuality…its about the people, not their sex life! Really, it was about both.
"He was also big on teaching photography as self expression, not as a technical practice. That really was key..."
What are the key events in the development of you as a photographer? And what first attracted you to the medium and how old were you when you started?
I got introduced to photography at age 14 by a photography teacher at a local college who thought it would be interesting to let a teenage kid sit in on a photo class, just to break up the dynamic and make it interesting for him and the other students. The teacher , Martin Benjamin, did go on to teach photography in China, he taught photography to mentally retarded adults, senior citizens…I mean he was into seeing what ways photography would affect different people at different points in their life. He was also big on teaching photography as self expression, not as a technical practice. That really was key, I believe, to making me see this as something that was deep and personal, something that could really be a life path if you wanted it to be.

And he exposed us to the work of people whom photography was clearly a path: Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Diane Arbus, Walker Evans, Dorthea Lange, Larry Clark, even Witkin was getting popular at that time and we learned about his work. Being exposed to that work at that age…age 14 was super powerful. At that age you are searching, feeling confused and lost and dealing with all that being a teenager is. To be turned on to photography at that time, this thing that helped me learn about myself and learn about the world, was like getting a map or something. It was a set of tools that helped me navigate.
"The topic was always this double edged sword: it captivated and fascinated people, but also could easily place me and my work into some kind of literary porn gutter."
Originally, your concept for Sex Machines stemmed from the concept of inventors and their inventions in general and has brought a lot of attention to your work while at the same time bringing about some accusations of “grandstanding”. Generally speaking, were you able to convince audiences of your work’s intentions?
Yeah, once the book came out it did seem to me that most people got it and understood what I was trying to do. I was kind of happily surprised about how it was received. But with the book, there were other factors that helped set the tone for the project: the book packaging, size, print quality, cover design, and all the text. These factors all seemed to contribute to how the project was received. The project had more problems when the photographs were presented without text…just these kind of weird sexual things on the wall. But the book…it was just kind of clear that this project was trying to understand these people and showing them to the viewer in a respectful way.

But…I certainly had my doubts and fears going into it. Also, you must keep in mind that we are talking about something that is inherently funny and also has a sexual component to it. It would have been silly for me to expect the public not to laugh at what I was choosing to point my camera at. The topic was always this double edged sword: it captivated and fascinated people, but also could easily place me and my work into some kind of literary porn gutter. I just got used to the yin and yang of it, accepting the fact that it opened doors for me but also accepting the baggage that may have come with it.

And having read a lot of articles on the book, I’ve winced a few times at the mocking nature of the journalists involved despite your balanced presentation; have you identified with your subjects and felt the need to shield them from ridicule? And what is your reaction to these kinds of judgments?
Funny…I did wince a few times, but I think I just really felt when putting together the book, that all of these attempts to humanize and empathize the inventors with the interviews would really be lost on readers. I was expecting to be heart broken by some characterization of the book as just being a collection of penis jokes or something. So…when it did get reviewed and writers were discussing the inventors as being “oddly inspiring” and “beautiful tragic characters” I started to really feel like people were getting it. It was almost understood, to me at least, that every headline would have some type of mocking pun in it…things like “build it they will come”, and stuff such as that. But one of the early reviews had the headline “ Automatic for the People “. I met the writer later and asked him why he chose that as the headline, just curious to see what his motivation was. His answer was “ Well, I thought it was supposed to be about machines, but the book was really all about the people “. Answers like that always felt great.

We have a common inspiration in Studs Terkel who you’ve cited as an influence for Sex Machines. How well has your interviewing/writing in the book fared compared to the photography itself? And can you tell us about Terkel’s influence on your approach to the book and what you learned as a writer/interviewer during the course of your work?
Right. Studs Terkel wrote “WORKING”, this book I’ve loved since high school. In that book, he just collects interviews with people about their jobs and why they work, and it just somehow delivers these people directly to your cerebral cortex, you just seem to be able to picture them and bring them to life, just by reading their quotes. When deciding that the inventors in Sex Machines needed a voice, I just figured that was the way to do it…just to try to emulate Studs’ technique in my own simple way.

Another influential writer, oddly enough, is Adam Parfrey, the publisher of Feral House books. At the time I was working on Sex Machines, I was carrying around a copy of a book Parfrey wrote, titled Cult Rapture: Revelations of the Apocalyptic Mind. Parfrey’s book was a collection of journalistic stories where he essentially just went out and interviewed eccentric people he was interested in, in this very simple and familiar way. It just kind of had this feeling of spending time with the people and recording what they where saying…just letting them speak. Parfrey’s technique seemed very do-able, and I respected the end product he got out of it. And…he somehow was able to appreciate his subjects with an intelligent sense of humor. So, those two books I carried around while working on Sex Machines. The odd thing is that Parfrey later ended up publishing the book. And Parfrey’s now wife, Jodi Wille, was this book editor that I really felt the project needed to bring the text to life. So it was an odd collection of co-incidences that brought that book together.

I wasn’t really itching to have Parfrey edit the book, I thought his world view was just a little too dark and political, but Jodi Wille had edited a book titled “Starstruck” about the work of photographer Gary Lee Boas that hit the tone right on target. I had it in my head that I really needed her to bring the right touch to the project, edit the text and package the book to match that tone. Oddly, she did just that and really made the thing what I had hoped it would be but couldn’t make it be myself. In the end it was my project as much as hers, she was so involved in it. It was weird, because it wasn’t like I knew these people previously. It’s just like the project allowed us to cross paths. I just wish they made more money on it.

Esquire Russia approached you and several other photographers to browse through Flickr, find great work, and write about it. What did you learn doing this and can you share any of your discoveries with us? Also, what advice would you give to up and coming photographers out there in regard to the presentation of their work?
Oh, it allowed me to discover this phenomena that is Flickr, which was kind of overwhelming. It does succeed at creating this great and kinda intelligent camera club art photo community that seems to not suddenly become some porn house the way most internet photo things become. I was surprised at how good most of the work was….but I don’t really know what more to say regarding Flickr. I may need to pass on that question?

I really enjoyed your explanation of why a work by Ahndraya Parlato was a great photograph at Conscientious. Would you share another piece and explanation?
Oh, that was a great idea Conscientious had for a story….such an open ended question…”what makes a photo great?” Really, there is no one answer to that, so I had to kind of just choose one path to greatness to define. For me, at this point in my life, I’m so wrapped up the world of commercial photography, that I feel I’m attracted to the work of people who are working more purely, more outside any commercial or editorial marketplace. Now with the net, of course, you can access anyone…at least to see what they are up to. No question, all the photographers I love, I try to find out what they are doing and its like they are teaching, or working assisting someone else, or working for a big studio doing something totally unlike their own work. So my definition , on that essay, had something to do with the idea that I like photographs that really take chances, that reach out on a limb and don’t seem to fail…the pictures still succeed despite the odds!
"...a great photograph is a great photograph, and if it’s done without intention and done with a webcam or cell phone, I’m still good with it."
Another photographer whose work I think falls into this category and is great is the work of Suzy Poling, a photographer here in SF. She’s got a couple projects , one titled “Transmutation Headquarters” and the other titled “Imaginary Companions” that really reach way out there in the realm of home-made theatricality, almost to the point of embarrassment. I mean they take big risks but totally succeed. Her work is really one of these cases where if someone was to describe the work to you and what she is doing, it would sound laughable and totally silly. But when you see the prints you realize that she totally means it, she is totally committed to this aesthetic, believes in it, and is delivering the goods in this kind of transcendent way. To describe the photographs it would all sound goofy, but when you see them, it is a totally sincere art experience that goes straight into your cerebral cortex. Powerful stuff.

But I like a ton of things, from the work of Les Krims that was done in the 70’s and 80’s to the very commercial but still very imaginative work of Thomas Broening, the journals of Jonathan Saunders, and then all of this new amateur pornography people who shoot of their wives and girlfriends on cell phone cameras. Myspace self pics! I mean, I certainly am a fan of photographers who have intention, but a great photograph is a great photograph, and if it’s done without intention and done with a webcam or cell phone, I’m still good with it. I’m probably more of a fan in that case.

Are there any other art forms of interest outside of photography that you practice? Or alternatively, is there a discipline that you would like to learn? What non-photographic artists do you admire and/or inspire you?
Oh, I’m such a photo nerd. I don’t even really like to go to the movies. Music is always inspiring, but even that takes effort to discover and get into things. I got two kids, they are young, I have my hands full right now.

Timothy's Blog
Sex Machine Diaries
Joerg Colberg Interview
"The Fans" Photo Set

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26 April 2007


Monika Forsberg's "His Passionate Bride" is one of my all-time favourite animations with a unique visual style and suitably bittersweet storyline. The animation is like sweeping winds and its creator is likewise an unrestrained elemental force. You can see "His Passionate Bride" HERE.

In 2000, she made "Frankie's Chimera" while at the Royal College of Art and in the following year, she created "This is Harrow". In 2004, she was nominated for a Bafta for "His Passionate Bride" which later won First Prize for best animation at the Granada International Film Festival in 2005 (which took the form of a large ham). With the support of the Arts Council of England and in collaboration with Susie Sparrow, she went on to make "We All Believe in Happy Endings" and a new series featuring Lola from "His Passionate Bride" is currently in the works.

Brace yourself, Monika doesn't pull any punches in this interview and she comes out with all guns blazing. The exchange would probably make for a great animation and it's certainly the most stunning interview thus far and a work of art in itself.

It's hard to explain, but to look at a part of this interview doesn't do it justice and won't make a lot of sense, but to read it in its entirety is absolutely genius. Sublime.

Thank you for agreeing to take part, Monika. I’m so happy I’m going to throw up.

Your profile on Animus Films says that you “accidentally” made the film Frankie’s Chimera. Would you explain how Frankie’s Chimera came about?
Well it didn't start with Frankie's Chimera, it started when I did a 2-second animation at Camberwell in 1995 where I was doing my foundation course. I was hooked. Then when I did my degree at Westminster, me and my flatmate were ever so lazy. We watched a lot of Neighbours on a black-n-white telly and got up to all sorts of things but we realized it was easier to whip up 200 bad drawings really quickly rather than do one good piece; Quantity not quality.

Danny is a very talented comic book artist and I realized that my crappy drawings, if I put them together as an animation, look rather okay. Frankie's Chimera came later....so slight misquote on the website really.
"It was me and him living there and also his ex-girlfriend Anne and her new boyfriend Terry that incidently was now Pauls ex best friend. You work it out."
Likewise, how did your followup, the true story This is Harrow come into being?
I moved to London in 95 to study and lived with my then boyfriend Paul, a Scottish bicycle courier in Highbury. It was me and him living there and also his ex girlfriend Anne and her new boyfriend Terry that incidently was now Paul's ex best friend. You work it out. We then moved to Newington Green then a lot of things happened. I threw the birthday cake I made for him in the bin one day. Well... on his birthday. We broke up (not on his birthday). This is the short version (1 1/2 years condensed into a few sentences)

So i moved to Harrow where I was studying. I was living in halls of residence and then I moved in with Danny to Nibthwaite road. We had a King Crimson gold record above the mantelpiece cos our friend who lived across the road was the son of Bill Bruford (drummer of Genesis yes King Crimson etc etc) and This is Harrow is just an animated documentary of everything that happened to me whilst living in Harrow.

Your Bafta nominated and ham-winning short His Passionate Bride wasn’t the first sex-themed animation you’ve made. In 1996, you produced Filth while attending Westminster University in collaboration with Matthew Small. Is this particularly important theme in your work?
I am a little childish perhaps. Filth came about when me and Matty (who was my boyfriend for 7 years and we have a son called Dante) went to Amsterdam for a weekend and we ended up cycling around and then sitting in a bar or two or three playing pool and drawing Filth on beer mats. Why? Why not?
"We were asked to propose something we wanted to do and we said we wanna do a porn animation. They said ok..."
We were then asked to participate in a group exhibition some months (years?) later (Last Show on Earth...Clerkenwells Arts Club in Farringdon, December 1999) We were asked to propose something we wanted to do and we said we wanna do a porn animation. They said okay so we went to bed one night (at the time we were livin at Matty's nan's in Gospel Oak) brought a bottle of wine and some photocopy paper and a lightbox and then we drew a few hundred drawings (not talking about what we were drawing but drawing what came to mind, what was funny, what was disgusting. We sat there drawing sitting side by side drawing on the same paper at the same time...and we kept changing over, swapping sides of the lightbox so we continued eachother's drawings) It was just for fun because we wanted to.

His Passionate Bride was slightly different. I knew I wasn't allowed to do any sex or violence cos it was to be broadcast on C4 before the watershed. When people tell you what you can and what you can't do, you have to do what you can't anyway. I was ever so obedient-ish then my producer Sylvie Bringas went on holiday to France and me and the editor (Nicolas Chaudeurge) were sitting in my spare bedroom (which was where the film was made) and we said it ain't funny enough and put in lots of graphic sex scenes. Immediately it was quite funny.

We laughed then Sylvie got back from France, took a look went "oh la la. What are we gonna do?" So she had to show C4 and they said we like it but it is impossible to show this so we edited out the graphicness and put cliffs and stuff in front of things going on etc. so in the end you cant really see anything. Its just IN YOUR MIND. Ha!ha!ha!ha!ha!ha! And C4 and their laywers were really supportive and argued our case that it could be shown on the grounds that it is/was educational. Love em.
"What do you do with a baby on your boob? Daydream and read books..."
Then when got comissioned to make We Believe in Happy Endings. We were given free reign to do whatever we wanted. The late Dick Arnall (of Animate!) said, "...you know it's after the watershed so do what you want". When you can do what you want, I end up not wanting to do anything naughty at all so we believe in happy endings ended up very nice and polite, but I have to admit that at the end of the day it is fun to draw sex. It is fun to draw violence. I like making things that entertain me and keep me smiling.

His Passionate Bride is almost like a condensed romance novel in the space of a few minutes. What were your influences on the story for this short? And what influenced the look of the short?
I got pregnant. I graduated from RCA (had my son 3 days later) Everyone else in my class was worrying about getting jobs. I was thinking how nice...to just be at home with a baby and not worry about getting a job.

I was going crazy after a while. Theres so much that changes when you have a baby. Sleep deprivation and responsibility over someone else's life completely and nothing much to do. Too tired, too crazy, and I was breastfeeding something like 29 hours a day. What do you do with a baby on your boob? Daydream and read books, but I was knackered so was only reading easy peasy stuff.

"...so I immediately thought I wanna make a Mills & Boon film, it's pure comedy..."
So i went to a charity shop and bought lots of books; mostly unintelligent ones that I could read easily and I found some Mills & Boon books. Fantastic covers! So I bought two and read them.and never laughed so much. They are proper funny, great entertainment so I immediately thought I wanna make a Mills & Boon film, it's pure comedy, so i started drawing pictures with my marker pen then I nicked the storyline for His Passionate Bride from the two books I'd read (or how i remembered them) plus a little added artistic freedom and imagination.


How did you start working with Susie Sparrow and how did the collaboration process work between the two of you for We All Believe in Happy Endings?
Collaborations are always interesting. We All Believe in Happy Endings was a collaboration of some sort, dunno in which way and why. It was an experiment. It was an interesting experience. You learn from everything you experience, good and bad things. We All Believe in Happy Endings, well what can i say? It's something I would rather forget about right now.

Would you tell us about your choice of tools and how they apply to your creations?
It kinda depends on what you wanna achieve, what you feel like right then, what you wanna learn, but I think the basics technique is that I'm lazy so i use whatever technique that is easy.
If it's very elaborate I probably won't do it (although I'm rubbish at After Effects, I do everything manually and backwards and something that'd take 5 minutes takes me 2 days...too lazy to learn how to do it properly) and also it kinda depends on what you got available and what you feel like and what you wanna do. I'm not very adventurous perhaps when it comes to tools n materials. I do what is easy.

Is drawing and/or painting something that you do much of?
I was gonna say, "don't everyone?" Maybe not. Actually, I'm not drawing as much as i used to. I'm kinda back at taking more photographs. Life goes in cycles innit. Ha!ha!ha! I was always drawing as a kid, made comics and stories then I stopped drawing a bit and became a photographer. Then I started drawing, then I studied illustration and didn't do a single drawing for a year, was just building things, photographing, etc etc.

"I kind of never wanted to make another drawing ever or make any more films ever ever ever."

I made films (in Harrow...University of Westminster) that were collage photographs and got into the Royal College and did nothing but drawing for 2 years and then I got back into mixing things up and after We All Believe in Happy Endings I kind of never wanted to make another drawing ever or make any more films ever ever ever. Traumatic huh? ha!ha!ha!ha! It all kind of depends on what you try to achieve and what you want to explore at the moment.

I just moved house from a hostel to a flat and I'm cutting out gold things and sticking them on the walls, and making furniture out of other peoples rubble.

What do you think about the current state of animation?
I'm the last person to talk about animation to. I know hardly anything, but I was teaching animation last year and had to read up on it, gotta have an inkling RE what you're teaching right?

I hate animation. Its boring to watch. Either its a reasonably good story but visually boring as fuck or its visually breathtaking but makes you fall asleep cos its boring. I like stories and a lot of animation is badly edited and just... boring. Whats the point? People who are in the animation world always say do you know this film that film, this animator, etc. Most of the time I don't soooooo I have to say I probably prefer mainstream animation because the stories are good-ish.

I like South Park cos it makes me laugh. I like... (ok, I'm thinkin...) ...that Spirited Away chap is alright. I grew up watchin Doctor Snuggles and Professor Baltzar kids thing. Errrr I like... Run Wrake's Rabbit, kinda mainsteam and experimental. Fuck I cant think of any?

I hate Shrek. If I'm out in a pub and people might start talkin to me (strangers) and they say (eventually) "sooooooo what do you do then?" and I stopped saying I'm an animator cos for a bit ,if i said that people would light up and they would start talking about Shrek or the special fucking effects in Lord of the Rings and I would say, "No, I'm really not as interesting as that..AND I HATE SHREK AND I HATE LORD OF THE RINGS AND I HATE WHAT PETER JACKSON DID TO KING KONG!" End of conversation.

So nowadays I just say I'm on the dole which is kinda true right now. so what do I think? Honestly I don't know enough about animation to comment. I will educate myself. I will. I shall learn. I haven't had a telly for a long time though and when I did for a brief period I just watched Jeremy Kyle and other trash.

road home

Would you say there is anything particularly Swedish about your work? Or English for that matter? And what has influenced you by growing up in Luleå?
I dunno. When I go to Sweden I'm no longer Swedish. I have become an eccentric English and here in the UK I'm the slightly weird Swede. Let me put you all straight. I'M NORMAL NOT STRANGE. Of course growing up in Sweden has affected me. I don't have issues with nudity like British people. Things that are censored in Sweden ain't being censored here and the other way around. So I suppose there are cultural differences.

Also Luleå is a small town, 60 000 people there or so. We never locked the front door, I left my bike unlocked, the car was in an unlocked garage with the key in the ignition when I was growing up. I am punctual. That might be cos I'm Swedish? I also don't say things if I don't mean. I found that hard when I first moved here. Lotsa polite bullshit that meant nothing. I dunno. Has snow and darkness and midnightsun, mosquitos, trees, sea and wilderness influenced my work? Nooooooooooooo. It is good though mixing my organized Swedishness with chaotic English slapdashidness and wrongness. ha!ha!ha!ha!ha!

What artists inspire you and why?
  • Cindy Sherman - dunno why. Never thought why? Why not?
  • Marlene Dumas - makes me wanna draw and do watercolours
  • My Bloody Valentine -always wanted to do a film to their Loveless album, use it as a soundtrack or... ...it's just one of them albums that are BEAUTIFUL
  • Anders Petersen - he got a presence in his pictures because he uses a 35 mm lens where you have to stand close to take pictures. When you uses 80mm or zooms, you are peeping in on situations which you can't reach but when you use wide lenses(?) you gotta be part of what's happening. It's beautiful, it's sad, it's life. His pictures/photographs, he made me want to become a photographer so I did for a bit
  • Daniel Johnston - his songs makes me laugh and cry. Been listenin to him for 15 years and I still laugh or cry.
Friends inspire me, packaging, sounds... boredom. Okay, not thought of any filmmakers....
David Lynch...Twin Peaks and Spaced (the c4 sitcom) and Nick Cave, the Smiths, Tage Danielsson & Hasse Alfredson and Sam Morrisons' RCA graduation film and of course the music video for aha's take on me... That influenced me big time and lots of music videos when growing up. I probably left out whoever that really has/is influencing me but I can't think... Oh yes... bad soap operas. I love them.!!!!!!! Comedy and Jaws and My Life Without Me and I like Lukas Moodyson's films and Tove Jansson and James Stewart, Alfred Hitchcock, Charles Bukowski, Henry Miller, Scooby Doo, dreams, desires...

Lola from His Passionate Bride will be returning in her own series, Lola in Love! which is described as “a series of increasingly perverted romantic adventures. Animated pornography for hopeless romantics.” What can you tell us about this new series? And when can we expect to see it?
It's something that's been brewing for ages, been trying to approach it from different angles and got stuck, and other projects got in the way. Finally, I think I know how its gonna be so watch this/that space.

Any chance of a cameo by a cat headed man with a bowler hat?
Yes. Genius.

Now we're talking. Thank you, Monika. I can't wait to see what Lola does next.

Monika's MySpace
Monika's Blog
Animus Films Bio
Animate! Feature
His Passionate Bride

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25 April 2007


Thaniel Ion Lee's photography is potent. As a documentation of his own body, it has an immediate visceral and emotional weight that doesn't hold back. He states in his artist's statement, "I feel that it is of the utmost importance that we (artist/art world) document as many different body types as we can, in as many different ways as we can."

When I first saw his work at the Wooster Collective, it was like a punch in the gut. The variety that I so wanted to infuse into SiouxWIRE suddenly looked a little flat. It's so easy to be fall into rhythms and thus, the obvious remedy was to contact Thaniel.

Thaniel's artist statement:

"In this world of plastic surgery shows, model search television programs, fake talent shows, and unreal reality TV. I attempt to show a body that cannot change, a body that no amount of plastic surgery will turn into a super model, a body that is not seen in pop culture magazines or MTV. In this current condition of popular culture I feel that it is of the utmost importance that we (artist/art world) document as many different body types as we can, in as many different ways as we can.

I have chosen to document the body as seen through the lens of the camera; the body in which I chose to document is my own. I was born with a condition called Arthrogryposis; this condition has left me with limited use of my arms, legs and fingers. Eleven operations have left me with many interesting scars and stories. Starting in 2000, I began to document my body and the many different shapes contained within. I hope that my work makes people look at their own bodies, and question the existing concepts of beauty that fill our current body obsessed culture"

Thaniel is also a writer and painter as well as a photographer with a unique perspective on our beauty-obsessed culture and I feel privileged to have been able to speak with him.

At what point did ‘art’ become something you wanted to pursue? And why did you choose art over sociology and has your interest in sociology lingered?
My interested in sociology is a consistent thing. It has continued and I read up on the subject a lot. Social subjects in general interest me. I’ve always been interested in the Situationists.

Seeing some of your earlier paintings, they seem much more optimistic and bright with a lot of strong colour compared to the photographic work you’ve done. Is this significant in any way?
This is more down to working style though I like to argue that even my optimistic paintings are actually darker under the surface; I haven’t painted in a long time. My early paintings were inspired by German expressionist painters and Chagall oddly enough.

Is painting something you plan on doing more of in the future?
I don’t know. For example, in June I’ll be doing an “odds & ends” show featuring paintings, Polaroids, and drawings. My first attempt at a video piece is in the works. I have been taking photos for 3 years before showing them. I don’t show a piece until I’m 100% sure that I want to show it. I have a backlog of work, if someone were willing to do a framing, I could do a show.
"I decided to be the most humourless artist ever."
Would you tell us about Marilyn Whitesell(and anyone else from whom you have learned) and her influence on your work?
Marilyn Whitesell is someone who I haven’t spoken to for a long time, she taught me about Photoshop. Deborah Clem taught me the most I know about composition and the skills I use regularly.

It seems that the word “brave” is applied to you quite a lot. Is that how you see yourself?
Not really. There was a period of time in this particular area where a lot of people were using humour. I decided to be the most humourless artist ever.

In regards to the naming of your works, at times it seems a very cold catalogue with names like “head”, “back”, or “torso” and alternatively, there are titles like “triangles” or “motion”. How do you approach the titling of your works?
Because I keep them for a long time, I catalogue them in folders. I usually don’t name things in general – if I had it my way, I would keep them all anonymous.

In your early career, you were attracted by the surrealists and Dali in particular; what was your interest?
That was actually a mis-quote. I did a show of flatbed scanner pieces and the interviewer called me and asked me to tell her about my paintings. It wasn’t a show of paintings. I said it was kind of inspired by surealism and she said, “Like Dali?” I said “no” and somehow the answer was adapted.

Have you been surprised by the reactions you’ve had to your recent work?
I wouldn’t say surprised by the people who like it and I’ve not had a whole lot of bad reactions. I’m hard headed. I was at an art show and I stood next to my work and no one knews who I was and I heard many a tyrade. “I could do that.” And they were self-portraits and I was right next to them. I wish I had a tape recorder. “Hey mom, look at that guy over there.”
"I like Francis Bacon but I wouldn’t want to look at one of his paintings first thing in the morning."
In a press clipping, your work was described as something you wouldn’t want up on a wall in your home. Do you agree with that sentiment?
Yeah, a lot of art I don’t want in my house. I like Francis Bacon but I wouldn’t want to look at one of his paintings first thing in the morning.

Would you tell us about your “901 i statements by thaniel ion lee 2004-2007”? How did this come about and how was it compiled? For you, what does it embody?
I have insomnia, really bad sometimes. I started it, I used to do a lot of text based work and had a terrible computer crash losing a lot of this work – it came out of that. I did it as an experiment. I add to it regularly. I’m going to do a book about it.

Is there too much marketing in the “art world” in your experience?
Yes and no. I’m all pro artists making a living but for some odd reason, there is a certain chunk of the art world that I refer to as artists making art for 12 people. They’re like Jeff Koons—who can afford his art? Millionaires. Who can relate to his work? That’s just my personal opinion.

There is something of a class system in place in the art world where artists are segmented into varying degrees of acceptance from “low brow” to “high brow” or even in some quarters, disabled people are given their own niche. What’s your view on the current “art scene” and the existing “class system”?
I think it’s funny. I’ll be sending slides to galleries and I’ll get replies like “I really like your work, but we do not think your subject matter fits our gallery”. I actually gave up on the “gimp circuit” which are galleries that specialise in art by outsider artists or disabled people. I gave it up early in my career.

Who are the principle artists you admire?
Weston – photographer, oddly enough Mapplethorpe but not his people – more the flowers, Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Duchamp but not his work – just his thought process, situationists international – a lot of feminists art, it’s going to sound cliché but the political end of it attracts me to it. How you view yourself and view others.

In your artist statement, you say “Eleven operations have left me with many interesting scars and stories.” – Would you share one of your stories?
These are things that happen everyday, it’s hard to explain but it effects everything. I’m going to do an experiment, I’m going to clip two singles ads and in one I’m going to mention everything and in the other I’m going to mention everything but without the wheelchair.

Would you give us some insight into what plans you have for the future and any additional works we may see from you?
There's the video which will get done when it gets done, a series of prints that I’ll be working on next month, most of my time will be getting ready for that show in June. I have 20 things to frame.

Thank you, Thaniel. It's been a pleasure speaking with you and I'm looking forward to seeing new work from you.

** Special thanks to Jim Nulty for kindly providing images of works from his personal collection for this interview

The Art of Thaniel
Wooster Collective

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23 April 2007


After seeing Big Brother State some time ago, I have been trying to find more information about its creator, David Scharf only to find nothing. An interview was a must. The film itself doesn't intend to explain fully the arguments for or against CCTV but presents itself as a catalyst for discussion, something for which it does very well.

The short can be seen on bigbrotherstate.com in Quicktime format or below in low resolution Flash video.

Given the visual sensibilities of this project and his internship with Karl Kliem, his next work is highly anticipated in my book.

Would you tell us a little about yourself?
I'm a 24 year old german student, originally from Regensburg (Bavaria, Germany) now studying in Augsburg (Bavaria, Germany) currently attending an internship at MESO / Karl Kliem in Frankfurt (Hesse, Germany). I meant to launch a portfolio under my web address huesforalice.com, but due to a lot of work I haven't had time recently to present my past projects on the web, so you'll still have to wait until I manage to cope.

There really isn’t much about you or the background to The Big Brother State online while the work itself is all over the place. Has this been deliberate and what was your intention in releasing it under a creative commons sampling license?
There not being much about me or my work on the web is simply because I haven't published any work on the web previously. My intention in releasing The Big Brother State under a creative commons license is that I'd like as many people as possible to see my work without having to pay for seeing it. The Type of license I chose enables other site owners and festival organizers etc. to show my film free from royalties (as far as the festival and / or site is non commercial, but even if they were commercial we'd find a way to work it out.)

"The film is supposed to make people think about surveillance and how good or bad it actually is for themselves."

Can you explain how the project came about and how much research went into its development?
I made the film as a project at my university in Augsburg. I like animating and bringing pictures alive, but I hadn't done something like this film before and I somehow felt it was time to try a project this size. Also, I didn't want to create a film which had no proposition nor sense. The main topic of the film, public surveillance, is a very controversially discussed matter in my hometown (Regensburg), as it was one of the first german cities to cover an extremly wide range of the town with CCTV cameras. I didn't have to do very much research as for one I already had quite some knowledge on the topic and I didn't want to dig too deep on the subject. The film is supposed to make people think about surveillance and how good or bad it actually is for themselves.

The ending quote, “We believe that people willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both”; First, who is the “we”? And can you elaborate on this?
"We" is nobody special. There's this quote wrongly adjudicated to Ben Franklin which goes something like "He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security". This is basically what it comes down to. Do you really think a little more security is so much more important than your liberty?

What considerations went into the design aspect of the piece and how do you feel the visuals support the narration?
The first part of the film is more abstract but also very colorful, which is supposed to support the impression that politicians like to put lipstick on the pig while talking about the benefits of security. The second part is 3D and black and white and shows the other side of the medal. A bit more realistic, because of course the film is supposed to nudge you towards starting to think about this topic.

What kind of feedback have you had in regard to Big Brother State and has any of it surprised you? And what has been the biggest criticism you’ve received and how have you responded?
I've had very good feedback on the film. Most people really like it, I got a few Job-offers and a few others called me an ass-hole for being too liberal. Some people who supported the tenor of the film thought it's argument was too shallow. I don't really remember what was the biggest criticism, but I got so many e-mails after publishing the film that I actually mostly just returned a line saying "thanks for the praise" or "sorry you didn't like it".

What is your reaction to the new talking CCTV cameras?
It's scary. You actually know somebody's sitting there and watching you.
"A Chris Cunningham influenced music video will probably be next..."
Which artists do you admire and what influence do they have on your work?
I'm very fond of Jazz music, especially Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner. But I don't think they have any influence on my work. There are two directors who mainly work on music videos that I quite admire. Chris Cunningham for his ability to perfectly fit picture and sound together and Michel Gondry who is great at telling stories.

What is the future of “Hues for Alice” and are you working on any new projects at the moment?
A Chris Cunningham influenced music video will probably be next, but I don't have any proper plans for that right now. I'm still looking for the right bit of music which I can use. Maybe I'll try to compose something myself.

Currently I'm doing my internship in Frankfurt which involves some animation, some coding, some 3D visualizing, some web development (ugh!) and a lot of other interesting stuff.

Any final thoughts you would like to add?
Don't think so. Thanks for interviewing me.

Thank you for your time, David. It was a pleasure I’m looking forward to seeing your next video.

narrator Stephen Taylor

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Interview: TYLER JAMES (director)

I discovered Tyler James via Antville with his unique video for Low in the Sky's "Cool Sanson". It reminded me a lot of Aleksandr Petrov’s work with a unique twist in that in place of paint, Tyler has used sand to create a texture all his own. It's available in Quicktime format HERE on Tyler's site or alternatively below in low quality Flash video.

Tyler was born and raised in Atlanta and grew up wanting to be an inventor. He enjoyed making things was delighted at the creation of his alien “contact machine” which despite being unable to contact aliens, managed to disrupt television transmissions in the household.

Always loving art and being inspired by the work of Michel Gondry, he went on to attain a degree in video art at the now extinct Atlanta College of Art. With his video for Cool Sanson (his second), he is showing promise and is full of enthusiasm for the craft. It will be interesting to see what comes next.

What do you feel makes a great music video? Likewise, what do you feel makes a bad video?
A great music video should complement the music and capture the attention of the viewer. It should also be entertaining enough to view multiple times. A bad video is just the opposite.

What was the inspiration behind “Low in the Sky”? And can you tell us about the technique used for animated sequences?
The song, as well as my own past, inspired the video. The song starts out innocent and childlike, but it quickly changes to become more ominous. I wanted to merge a childish activity (playing in a sandbox), with a more mature subject,(domestic abuse). As far as domestic abuse goes, it is a subject I know all to well. Growing up, I had an alcoholic father, and I experienced it first hand.

To create the sand animation, I first desaturated and upped the contrast of my original footage. Next, I made a DVD of it, and on a thin sheet of plastic I traced every third frame from my T.V. with a dry-erase marker. I then took the plastic sheet to my dining room table and painstakingly sprinkled the different colored sands onto their designated shapes pinch by pinch. I then photographed each frame with a digital camera. All of the transitions were created by blowing on the sand.
"Growing up I always thought that movies and commercials were magically created in far off land."
In our initial “discussion”, you mentioned that Michel Gondry was a key figure in your decision to get into directing. Can you explain what you admire about Gondry’s work and the influence of his work on your own creations?
I really admire how innovative he is, as well as, his lo-fi special effects. Growing up I always thought that movies and commercials were magically created in far off land. After seeing Gondry’s work, filmmaking became much more tangible to me, because he often reveals his tricks to the viewer. I love his use of in camera effects.

Which other directors or individuals works have captured your imagination and why?
Jonze and Cunningham, of course, but also oldies, like Welles and Hitchcock. All of these guys were pioneers in their own right, and I admire the fact that they weren’t afraid to do things differently.

You also mentioned that you wanted to be an inventor when growing up. Has this lingered with you and does it play a part in your work?
Absolutely. In a way, I would consider myself an inventor, but instead of inventing products, I am inventing ways to bring my ideas to life. In fact, the problem solving portion of directing is what I enjoy most. I love sitting on the couch in the morning with a big cup of coffee and my sketchbook, deciphering how things are going to work.

What have you learned since leaving the Atlanta College of Art? What surprised you?
Since leaving school, I learned that all of the extra time I thought I was going to have, doesn’t exist, and I am really surprised that I already want to go back to school.

Which artists from other disciplines do you admire and what would you say their influence has been on your work (if any)?
I really admire the work of the surrealists, though I am not sure that my work directly reflects any surrealist influence. I hope to make their influence more apparent in my future works.

Are there any other artistic skills that you would like to learn and why?
I would like to hone my photography skills. Growing up I always had painting and drawing classes, but I never took any photography classes. At this point in my life, I think I would benefit mostly by learning more about photography.
"The reason I like it so much is because of how clever it is, the way it tricks the eye."
Would you share with us a photograph which you feel is great and explain why you feel it works so well for you?
I am really bad about remembering names, but as it just so happens, I recently was admiring a photo by Miro Svolik, titled, “And Fly”. It is a photo of three people lying on a large slab of concrete. The picture is taken from high up above, and the people are positioned in such way that their bodies make up a shape resembling that of a bird. The reason I like it so much is because of how clever it is, the way it tricks the eye. I would love to animate this piece.

Miro Svolik's "And Fly"

Are there any independent projects which you are working on or have in development? What aspirations do you have for the future?
I am gearing up to shoot a music video for Snowden. It is not going to be a stop-motion, thank God, but it too will require loads of work. Also, I hope to work on lots of little experiments I dreamed up while sprinkling sand.

As for the future, I am getting ready to go back to school for my masters degree in film. I am extremely excited to have two years to experiment with readily available equipment. After that, I hope to get picked up by a production company, and get paid to do what I love, though I would do it for free.

Thank you, Tyler. I hope you continue experimenting with your work and carve out your own niche in the world.

"Cool Sanson" Quicktime
"Break" Quicktime

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