Furnished Reverberation

~ An interview session with Nata Lukas also known as Nathan Taylor ~

Nata Lukas Painting Close Up

Tuesday September 17th, 2007

Pulling on a loose thread, I began to unravel veins of the fallen leaf. Luckily, it was not difficult to locate my second Eugene interview. Clear skies and even clearer directions by Nathan Taylor aka Nata Lukas brought me directly in front of the orange VW travel van – similar to a vehicle my dad imagined I’d use for this trip through the Western Coastal areas – parked in front of his new living space. After a brief tour, taking some photos of paintings not tied up in storage, and general chitchat, we adjourned to the back yard.

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“I am working on several projects: sound installations,
impromptu actions, poems, and paintings. Lately I have
been mostly distracted by transitioning to a new
community (I am originally from Bellingham, WA, but
have recently landed in Eugene, OR, thus I am just now
getting situated looking for studio space, community,
etc.) With my most recent series of paintings I have
been trying to tap into the urban vibe. They are made
using spray paint and stencil techniques. The colors
are vibrant and energetic. The patterns are both map
like and analogous to circuitry. “ Nata Lukas


Moments Of Truth ~ Let’s open up with a break down of what your primary forms of creative expression are?

Nata Lukas ~ I’d say I started off as a painter, although I’ve explored lots of mediums. I like to play with sculpture, I write poetry sometimes, sometimes sound and video installations. Currently I’m really getting into cooking food, it’s definitely a way I can express myself creatively. I also like to make beer.

MOT ~ What do you focus the most time and mental energy on?

NL ~ I think it kind of flows from different time periods, I’ll just be really interested in one project or another. I’d say the one I come back to Continue reading

“Blue Angel”

A city like Portland has all kinds of hidden neighborhood gems where someone can go and fade away into the din. The Basement Pub on SE 12th Ave is just one of those kinds of locations. Andrew Warnecke suggested we meet up at one of his preferred happy hour locals, they have that $1.75 PBR special. When I rolled up he was reading a book by Tom Robbins called “Villa Incognito.” He’s been working on a film titled “Blue Angel,” Blue Angel Movie and excited to have wrapped up the actual filming. Now he’s has to get out and put on the push to get it viewed. We chatted for a bit about general things that eventually led into this…

Andrew Warnecke ~ Every time I’d make something I’d hate it immediately, I’d say “Wow, that totally sucks, I’m no good at this” but ya know, if someone likes it, they don’t want to hear you tell them it sucks! I‘ve gotten a lot better at looking at it and [telling myself] “yea, that didn’t work out the way I wanted it too, but it’s not bad,” I just know I can do it better. And then trying to find opportunities to then find another film or scene where I can explore that further, or correct my mistakes, because once the films been made you don’t want ot be George Lucas and go back and tinker with it over and over and over again. People will either like or they don’t! And the people who like it, they don’t want you to change it.

[Editorial interjection: how often does the painter go back and paint over the painting, or retake the photo that’s been published?]

Leave it at that, and improve on it on your next project.

Moments Of Truth ~ How do you prepare? Do you do a lot of story boarding, free writing or something?

AW~ My storyboards don’t make any sense, so I stopped doing them. I think a lot of people do story board, what sucks about film making, film making education and any book you read is like this is how you do it, this is how you prepare, and you go about it in that way it doesn’t get you any where, everybody says “do story boards, do story boards” and I say “no” because if I do them it’s hard for me to draw the frame I want to see.

MOT ~ What about using a Polaroid camera? I know they’re discontinuing a lot of that film but….

AW~ Yea, actually have a filmmaker friend who does that, but no, I haven’t done that myself. [Story boards] depend on what you’re working on. On ‘Blue Angel,’ the one I just finished, there were storyboards but not ones showing camera angles or that. It was completely for art department. Working with the art director who does story boards we sat there and talk through every little prop and detail, the color palette of the film and try and draw sketch’s you could show to say the location scout, to select a location that fits our color palette. So it’s more from an art department or art direction standpoint.

Working with that storyboard artist was great for me because he was very detail oriented. He’d ask me how do you want this to look? What do you want here? Do you want this person with a prop, yea…?… okay, now what color? What kind? I remember, we sat there discussing this scene where this guy should be eating an apple. He said, “Well, what kind of an apple, what color, size, ..” and I’m thinking “dude, I don’t know.” He’s like “do you want just a normal green apple or should we find some kind of exotic apple that looks really weird or. . . ?” And this is really good for me, because this forces me to clarify what I want to see. As you go along, thinking up these details, you start seeing a pattern emerge. In what you’re looking for, that you hadn’t talked through yet, and all of a sudden this entire vision that was in your mind, you hadn’t really totally thought through is like “oh, wow I have this huge plan here I didn’t even realize.” So it’s helpful for me to clarify what I need to see, and obviously from there sketches can be made, and I’m very clear on what I want to see, and I want to communicate that to every one I’m working with. Like well, shit, I focused on “Blue Angel” for all this time and now I have no idea what I’m doing next!

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Moments Of Truth ~ Please break down those creative things that you do? Obviously film is top, but anything you may like to mention…

Andrew W ~ Film making, directing and writing are the primary things I’m involved with now. Every now and then I’ll decide to do pencil sketches on a large scale, and it takes me two or three weeks to finish one, because I’m not very good and I have to work at a square inch at a time to make it look any good. Other then that, I don’t really do a lot of creative endeavors… (finishing with a solid chuckle..)

MOT ~ Soooo in this film “Blue Angel,” or working with film in general, do you know the point where you began with it? Were you taking shots, clippings, or what? Did your interest in film just evolve?

AW ~ I think I knew pretty early on that I wanted to do something creative; something artistic or whatever. I mean, I took all the art classes all the way through school and things like that, wanted to attend one of the art institutes but didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I just figured that was the place for me, I’ll figure it out later!

Throughout high school I did a lot of photography. I wasn’t very good. It was basically if I’d get really lucky I’d have a good photo, but the rest of the time I don’t think the concepts of framing or composition made any sense to me. I didn’t really get that so I couldn’t really apply it at the time. That was an early interest in artistic kinds of things, but I think it was senior year when I actually took a class that focused on creative writing and film. [breaking away to clarify that times have changed] Film is actually video in high school, and they’d give you camcorders and send you out to make your “music video,” and it was terrible, but I had a really great time with it. So that’s when it clicked that that’s what I should pursue. Any time I had an option to do a project on video, that was the direction I went. It was more fun and it wasn’t really work. I think that interest was always there, I just didn’t acknowledge it could be a career.

Greatest video ever though was…, I was supposed to do a project about “Lord Of The Flies.” What it was, was a ‘60 Minutes’ type program where they were interviewing the kids that survived off the island after they got back. I did reenactments of the horrific things that happened on the island.

MOT ~ That’s a good idea. [I’m laughing because that sounds seriously bad ass, and maybe he’s laughing for the same reason. Maybe?]

AW ~ It was high school video though, ya know?! There’s the part where the character in the book, Piggy, gets squished by a rock because the kids push a rock off a cliff and kill him. That was a little hard to reenact so it was Lego figurines. That was probably the most takes I’ve every done, …. To date! It took so long to get that little rock to hit the Lego figure.

MOT ~ So where exactly did you grow up?

AW ~ Milwaukee.

MOT ~ Milwaukee, Oregon? Do you think ‘Dark Horse Comics / Publishing’ had any influence on you?

AW ~ I knew they were there, I wasn’t really into comic books. I was into comic books for a very limited amount of time. I remember reading “Sin City” pretty early on, and that really kind of messed me up at the time. But I wouldn’t say they directly influenced me or anything.

MOT ~ Where there any elements of the Milwaukee community that influenced you in your way of thinking, or your approach to your projects now?

AW ~ I think probably. That’s one of those things where I’ll look back at something I did, some little moment in a scene and when I watch it I all of a sudden connect that to something from growing up. It’s not something I consciously draw on, but I discover later that I did. It’s not a conscious thing, but it’s there!

But yea (laughs thinking about it), I did know my neighbors well. Everybody in that neighborhood knew each other well, and you couldn’t get in trouble with out everybody knowing and telling your parents about it. So it was more of a sense of community then I think most people grow up with.

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MOT ~ Any body else in your family focused, or now focus on creative type of work?

AW ~ In my extended family, there’s some creative types, musicians and that, basically, no though. My moms a teacher and my dad’s an engineer, and engineer’s are about as far from the creative end as can be as they’re a lot more logical. So you don’t see eye to eye very often. My sister is a school councilor, so they’re pretty far from the direction I’m going?

My family’s been really supportive. I think when I first told my parents I wanted to do film making they were like “maybe you should go to community college and check out some other things.” At a certain point they realized that community college wasn’t going so well and that wasn’t where I should be and that’s when I started pursuing filmmaking at the Northwest Film Center. Since that time they’ve been very supportive. They just looked at it like “that’s not a very realistic career, maybe you should have something to back it up with.”

MOT ~ In the process of learning film making, photography, and honing your eye, have you had any mentors that you’d count as having influenced you? Leg to stand on kind of thing…

AW ~ There’s been a lot. Some times I think they might not realize how much they’ve influenced me. It may be some small little thing they said at one point that clued me in. An example is I was talking to another film maker who makes a lot more then what I do, he made the statement that pretty much, if you don’t have an audience, or if… if there’s nobody who likes your film, it doesn’t matter how artistic it is, it doesn’t matter, nobodies going to watch it. You’re making films for the audience, not yourself.

That adjusted the way I look at it. No matter what art form you’re working in, there’s this idea that it’s all about you. Well, you might have all the talent in the world, but if you’re not making something anybody likes, what’s it matter? Sure, you’ve satisfied your needs, but aren’t you wanting other people to look at it?

[Not meaning to disrupt you like the guy who just about ran his van up on the curb to pull out and dusted us with copious amounts of foul smoky thick exhaust fumes, but it’s all about creating a visual experience to go along with the conversation]

That was pretty close (noting the van)!

Just a little thing, I think he was completely hammered when he said that to me, but it sunk in. I’ve been making this work because it makes me happy, but what I’m discovering trying to promote this thing is that it’s all about the audience. And if they don’t like it, well, who cares.

There’s been others who’ve since pissed me off because I feel their point of view is pretty warped, but they managed to say a couple good things that helped me along with what ever I was working on at the time. A lot of my first mentors were into experimental film. When I first started film, that was what I was into. So I took their advice to art then, and some of it has carried through to more narrative work. I reached a certain point in experimental film where it felt like I was just taking everything from my influences and mixing it up and doing the exact same thing that everybody else had done. So now, when those same people try and give me advice, it doesn’t sink in as much. I kind of feel like, okay, …. Ummm, I’m loosing my train of thought.

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MOT ~ Well, let’s move on to inspiration. Do you have a particular source you draw from?

AW ~ Kind of all over. I think my inspiration comes from a ton of different sources. I don’t think any of my work is autobiographical at all, but I definitely take things from my life and mix them up and throw them into something. So that’s there. I’ll take things from some weird job I’ve worked that most people don’t know anything about and write that into something that I’m doing. I also, of course, have some friends that do really dumb things, or better said make bad decisions… (we both laugh because, well, who doesn’t or hasn’t, right?!)

It’s not like in an insulting way, you hear about one stupid decision that somebody made, and it’s not like I’m trying to poke fun at anybody, but that’s a whole story right there. That could stem an entire story. I think inspiration from real things in life, like I’ll steal somebody’s life story I know because that’s a good back-story for that character. It doesn’t actually make it into the film, but I know where the character is coming from and can go from there. I wont name any names ‘cus I’ll get in trouble, but….

It’s kind of weird for a film maker, but I take a lot of influence from literary sources.

MOT ~ That’s weird?

AW ~ It is I think. Because most film makers I meet don’t seem to read a lot. Or they read books on filmmaking or that’s about it. I listen to DVD commentaries and they’ll say something like “well, I don’t really read, this book was the first book I’d read in like 20 years and I decided to base a film on it.” Yea, I think it’s kind of weird. It’s a great place to take inspiration from.

There’s one short story that stuck in my mind, called “A Rose For Emily,” a William Faulkner story with this really subtle eeriness, a general sense of unease. Even though at the time I couldn’t remember the name of it or even what it was really about, I remembered the feeling it gave me. Stuff like that is a big influence on me. When I can do films like that, something not in your face, nothing strikes you as uneasy right on the screen, but it [may leave an uneasy feeling in you]. Stories like that always stick with me, or stories that were so subtle I just didn’t get them at the time and hated them [for that]. Then I think back years later realizing what they’re about and it messes me up. That’s an interesting direction to go in film, because it doesn’t generally go in that direction.

MOT ~ Your film “Blue Angel” is based off a short story, correct?

AW ~ That was exactly the kind of short story it was, a subtle story. A lot of people read it, and didn’t really get the sub text of it. There’s this whole sub text the narrator is saying. I knew there was more to the story than what [the author] was telling. It was really interesting to me in that sense. It was an ideal story. Making that really helped me find a direction I’d like to go in the future.

MOT ~ How’d you come across the story.

AW ~ About five or six years ago the author sent it to me and wanted me to consider making a film of it. Immediately I wanted to do it, there were some things in it that reminded me of someone I knew back in school, so strongly I knew; as well as recognizing the subtle aspect of the story. I wrote back to her and said I’d really like to do this, and that’s when she let me know that she’d also sent it to some one else. Apparently they were interested as well. I had to duke it out.

What she wanted from both parties was to get the idea about why we wanted to do it, and what our impressions were of the story. What’s some other work we’d done and that sort of thing. Apparently they didn’t get the subtext. So it was a pretty easy decision after that. That’s how that came about.

Then once I had the story, I didn’t really think I was skilled enough to make this movie. I didn’t tell her that, but I was thinking that. In my head I could see it, but didn’t really know how to do that. So I put it on the back burner while I goofed around with some other stuff until once I felt I was ready, it went into production. This took some years.

I shot a film called “Voyeur, “ that didn’t get done. It went through a couple of editors, but none would get done with it. Eventually, I was so far removed from it, I just didn’t have the energy to keep working on it. It was tough, I cared about it when I started, but now I don’t feel anything for it. So it was hard to keep working on it. Which I think pissed a lot of people off that worked on it. They felt like “we’ve put in all this work and now you’re not going to finish it.” You know, …. What are you going to do?

I did another really short project called “Tiffany’s Bad Day.” It was really short decent into action. I’m probably never going to be an action director, but I did get to have a car stunt with a limousine done, kinda cool. Nerve wracking though!

This limousine barreling down the street, skid in a half circle around the actress who was running; which was bad ass. It’s pretty freaky when you’re watching this little actress running down the street, and this huge car is supposed to spin around her, yea, I really, really felt sick to my stomach, feeling like something bad was going to happen. In there was a few other things, like “Works For Hire” that didn’t really pan out, until I quit goofing around with stuff that wasn’t important to me and focus.

(Here we took an interlude for beer and WC break, . . . take a deep breath, you can do the same but get right back!)

Oh and just another note on preparing for and making a film, I mean, doing the other film was a really good thing in order to connect with new crew members; a good way to test out people who I’d never worked with before. They were a lot more on the professional end than I’d worked with before. That was a good way to find out who’s good and reliable. So many crew members, when working on low budget projects are more likely to ditch out on you. When it’s something you don’t care about it is a little easier to take.

MOT ~ A lot of technology allows people to work on various subjects on their own, like music. You might be able to do that with some films, but you still have living characters. Filming seems to be a collaborative form of creative expression. How do you develop your own sense of what’s yours in these projects?

AW ~ Really you can do film making now with a minimum of collaboration if you want. I don’t think it’s the best thing. By myself, I don’t feel like I do anything to the best of my ability. I wouldn’t recommend it to any body, but some people do it, and can actually do it pretty well.

MOT ~ Maybe these other forms of expression aren’t as individual as people would like to think that they are.

AW ~ Such as…?

MOT ~ Well, like with painting or drawing, you read a story or see a moment in time and illustrate some basic natural element(s).

AW ~ Well, you can [lose your sense of self], pretty easily. I feel like I have dealt with that exact issue a lot. Usually I’m quite a bit younger then the people I’m working with, and some take it as a sign that “oh, that person doesn’t know what they’re doing. They’re younger, I know what I’m doing, I’ve been around longer.” Not to discredit those people, as they do know what they’re doing; but some bring the attitude that they’re going to have to take over for you and do directing for you. I’ve had directors of photography who will change a camera angle after I’ve walked off. Then, back in the editing room it’ll come up and it’s not what I wanted, it doesn’t really work with anything else that I have.

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Also, people will bring their own ideas and just do that, and you let them because they’ve explained their reason and it sounds reasonable. Later though, you realize that it doesn’t work well, it wasn’t what I wanted at all. I mean you definitely can loose your sense of what you need to get when you’re shooting, then it can end up feeling like not your own film any more.

The only way you learn not to do that is from having it happen to you. You’re pretty naïve when you first show up on your first set and try to tell people, this is what I want, this is what I need and expect every bodies going to do it just because you said it. You know, you’re in the director’s chair, but it doesn’t really work that way. I think part of it is that people have a pretty good sense if they can trust you in that position. If they don’t think you can handle it, they try and bring their own ideas and try to “save you.”

I used to get really pissed when people would do that, take it as a personal insult. Now I don’t because I look back, and can see that I wasn’t always communicating clearly what I wanted. And yea, I was young and you can’t blame them for thinking they knew better. We you have to face that and deal with it a couple of times, you realize that until you take control of that, it’s just going to happen. As the director you need to be the one confident person on the set. They need to feel that you know what you want and if you don’t get it you’re going to let them know. I think it’s all about confidence, they’re relying on you to show them where to go. That doesn’t mean I always know where I want to go when I show up, but I try to pretend like I do. I also try and have a specific plan when I show up, but no matter what, you have curve balls thrown at you and can’t do certain things, or what ever, and you have to adjust. I just have to pretend it doesn’t faze me, even though it usually makes me panic. It also comes down to getting to know the crew-members as much as you can before you get on the set. And feeling them out and seeing what they’re like, so that they have a clear idea of what you’re looking for, and you have a clear idea of who they are and whether they can trust you or not. Whether they can trust that you know what you want.

On “Blue Angel” I took to having discussions with the directors of photography especially. Just pulling them aside and saying “Okay, look, so I’m directing, I give the actors direction and you don’t, is that cool, you know.” Establish the boundaries. And sometimes you might sound like a jerk to say it, but the professional ones take it just fine. Once I find some one who works very well… basically I look for someone who trusts you but isn’t afraid to bring an idea to it and say “hey, if we frame it this way, this accomplishes what you want and allows us to cut this shot.” I love it when people can bring suggestions like that to it. I mean, nobody knows everything. . .

MOT ~ Wait, what? Are you sure… (both laughing)

AW ~ Well, maybe I can think of a couple [people].

Yea, so I don’t think there’s any director worth anything who shows up on set and thinks that they have all the answers. Any great director can take suggestions from anybody on set. I mean, you hear stories about some of the really great directors and they try and take the suggestions from everybody and you never know, it could be a production assistant or an intern that might bring an idea, and if you let them know it’s okay to tell you what those ideas are they might give you something where you’re like “oh, you know what that accomplishes my vision better then my original idea.” The idea is to know what you want well enough to know when somebody else’s idea accomplishes that better.

I think that’s how you make your center. It’s to know the feeling you want to get across, and know the different places you need each scene to go well enough to where when some one brings a suggestion you can identify it as either fitting or not, or even being better then what you want.

MOT ~ Do you set aside specific creative goals that you are working to accomplish?

AW ~ Kind of. I have about three projects that I’d like to do. I think all three of them I want to do because they all have little aspects of things I haven’t felt have gone as wanted in another film. I’m juggling two screenplays at once, and there’s a novel I’d like to adapt. I’m always just looking for projects that allow me to improve on something that I was not as happy with before. But other then that, story wise, I don’t think there’s anywhere I’m trying to go in the future.

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MOT ~ So how do you go about researching and figuring out the ideas you want to use?

AW ~ Experimental film for me was more an intuitive way of filmmaking. I didn’t necessarily have a story, just try to set up some parameters for it where I was free to shoot what I wanted and follow intuition. One of the masters of that is David Lynch. I love his work, I think he does it very well. At a certain point I got really bored, and lost interest in that style. It definitely helped along the way to develop things I’m interested in now. Being able to shoot something very intuitively comes in handy. So much, even on a narrative film, requires you to think on your feet.

When it comes to selecting a narrative story, it differs. If I’m writing it myself, I couldn’t tell you necessarily where that comes from. It depends. When I start writing, it can be for a million different reasons. Sometimes I heard a really good song or something, and somewhere during listening to it an idea occurred to me. Or it pulled together a lot of ideas that had been running through my head that I wasn’t sure what to do with and then got clued in on the path I’d like to take with it. If I’m writing, the things that interest me are character development, to create complex characters who do what real humans would do, and not what you’re used to seeing people do. There’s a very set way of developing characters in most mainstream film, and it’s not necessarily what real people would do. When you’re trying to create very realistic characters you have to figure out “where’s this person coming from, and what would they do here.” When you actually watch a movie like that, it’s surprising when a character just seems to do what they would do. Any time I can take something that’s like a normal genre and put that spin on it, it’s very interesting to me. I have a feeling though, if and when I start shooting stuff like that I’m going to piss some people off. Audiences sometimes don’t like what’s different.

MOT ~ Do you think that’s part of the point as the director? That you have the opportunity that you can take them down a path they wouldn’t necessarily go?

AW ~ Well, yea. Fingers crossed I can do that. Like I mentioned a novel I want to adapt, what drew me to that is that the characters are so well developed, characters that in most stories would be either cut and dry good or cut and dry bad, and there was nobody in the novel that was completely evil and nobody that was completely good. It’s a story about a girl who goes missing in a small town, and all the characters are to blame in one way or another to varying degrees. But you understand their motivations and why they make the decisions they make so well that you have sympathy for everyone in the story which is kind a bizarre thing in that kind of story. And that was interesting to me because any time I hear of a child going missing that kind of messes me up. For a long time I’ve wanted to do a story in that vein. I’m hoping I can pull that off, but that might be another one where I wouldn’t want to do it right away, but shoot something else first to get up to par before hand.

MOT ~ So it sounds like you like to align your projects to prepare for the next project. Are you consciously considering that while you’re working on one?

AW ~ Not really, no.

MOT ~ So how do you know when you’re ready?

AW ~ Usually it when I’m pissed off with what ever I’ve been doing. Then it’s time to do something I want to do more. When I was working on “Blue Angel,” that was all I was doing. There was no thinking ahead to what was next which kind of sucks now, because I’m scrambling to figure out what’s next. Once you put a film out in the world, that’s a question that comes up a lot. Any film maker who’s had any degree of success with a short film will tell you “every body wants to know what you’re doing next and you better have an answer.” So while I was working on that one I didn’t plan ahead at all.

Right now, if I’m writing it’s what I want to, what feels right, and not really planning ahead. The deal is, I haven’t worked in feature film at this time. It’s one thing for me to have my first journey into feature film be a script I wrote, because I’d rather screw that up then say, a novel I really respect. Make all my first time mistakes with that one. I guess that’s what I meant when I said that novel wouldn’t be one I’d necessarily want to do right now.

MOT ~ Do you have any books that you use as resources, say potential sources for your trade, your projects?

AW ~ Nothing comes to mind off the top of my head. Every time I refer to books on film making or web sites, like I mentioned earlier, they all tell you “this is how it’s done, and this is how you do it.” That usually ends up getting me really really stuck more than anything because what I’m trying to do doesn’t really fit into that. Then I’m trying to figure out how to relate what ever I learned in that book to what ever I’m doing. It usually just makes life a lot more difficult.

MOT ~ Do you have anything you do when trying to make a decision, or to get loose, or to reconnect with your original idea, and energy?

AW ~ All the time, it’s never ending. Usually if I feel like I know exactly where I’m going or where I need to be, I am not doing anything creatively. So, are you asking ways to recharge creative batteries?

I’ll go through phases where I wont touch a screenplay I was working on for months. I might think about it, but I can’t bring myself to put in any time on it for whatever reason. Things that recharge creative batteries, I have friends I hang out with to just go have a good time, and usually they have some great story about something they did, and a lot of the times there’s just something in what they said that makes me go, “oh, there’s an idea.” A lot of times it’ll send me back to what ever I was working on to explore an aspect that I hadn’t thought about for the story. You know, just something like that might get me excited about the story again.

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Going to the bar, (laughing because that’s exactly where we are) and no I’m not joking, that’s serious. I wouldn’t want to encourage any one to start drinking, you know, in order to be successful creatively, I have to admit that writers block can be fixed at the bar. I’ve sat here and, well, one time I actually wrote an entire music video treatment during ‘happy hour.’ The deal is, if I’m working in a quiet environment, I’ll get distracted by every little tiny noise I hear, where as if I sit down at a bar and try and write for a while, it’s so loud, noise surrounding me, it’s easier for me to tune that out. There’s that energy around you, but you’re tuning it out at the same time, (imagining a great distraction) the only thing likely to distract you is the really loud drunk chick that comes and sits on your lap (laughing and we’re both looking around for that one. . . nope, not today). But uh,

MOT ~ A welcome distraction right?

AW ~ Nah, a lot of times if I just don’t feel like I’m getting anything done, something about the atmosphere that sometimes works for me. More often than not, if I choose to do that, it works.

MOT ~ If you had the opportunity to sit down with some creative individuals that inspire you, what would ask them?

AW ~ These questions come to me all the time but now I’m drawing a blank. I think they might be questions that might sound dumb to any body else . . . Probably if I met any film makers or writers that…

Well, here’s an example, I wrote a letter to Chuck Palahniuk who wrote “Fight Club” and I felt like I had so many question to ask and I couldn’t really think of any of them. And I think I ended up asking him a bunch of stupid questions and telling him some story about how my letters to Santa were sent to my grandma and she responded. I didn’t get any of my questions answered because I didn’t really ask them. Of course he responded and sent me this big box of toys and stuff. And I thought “Oh man, why couldn’t I think of anything to ask him?!” I think if it was somebody that I admire I would freeze up and draw a complete blank. So something really simple like “how the hell did you come up with the idea to shoot it this way, because I’d never think of that?” What gave you the guts to shoot it like that?

Wrap Up

Thinking back to high school and early college, I was involved in a communications, radio broadcasting, and filming a campus television program. When Andrew mentioned how he had fun doing that in school, and finding ways to create projects around that I remember just how much fun that is. A lot of folks are creating all kinds of short videos, telling stories, humoring people, music videos and all that. Most of them can barely be considered C quality, but the seed has been planted. Everyone has to start some where, right. Well, a larger production sounds a lot like being an organizer slash project manager slash company director. I imagine working a film is a lot like creating a short term business, each one a new and interesting challenge. I’m looking forward to more!

Thanks Andrew for sitting down and sharing some thoughts!

Watch the preview below and if you’re on the my space add him as a friend Blue Angel Movie

“Blue Angel” Trailer

“Don’t Read, It’s Precious”

September 10, 2007

Sitting under the shade of a nice size tree in the back yard of his friends North Portland home where he keeps his studio, he has spread out paintings of various sizes. He unrolls several large canvases he’s been working on, some painted plywood boards and blocks. The studio space, he mentions that it’s also known as a garden shed, is tight, full of work in progress and energy.

Born and raised Portland, Oregon artist Donald Olsen takes some time to sit down and discuss drawing, destruction as beauty, painting, and what inspires him to create an artistic dialog with society.

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Moments of Truth ~ Please describe your primary creative endeavors.

Donald Olsen ~ Probably drawing is definitely my primary, that’s like an everyday thing. Actually, I was thinking today, sometimes I wish I didn’t have to make things, that I didn’t have that pressure, but it’s something just inborn. I go nuts if I can’t express that. So it’s usually drawing. I also like to make music and paintings. I think they are separate, somewhat separate endeavors. And I guess a little bit of writing, although it’s usually not visual.

MOT ~ Which one of those do you think you spend the majority of your time in? Has this changed over time?

DO ~ No, it hasn’t, it’s been drawing for as long as I can remember. I guess when I say drawing I am usually thinking of sitting down with a piece of paper and not having any idea, just letting it come out…

MOT ~ Like free writing?

DO ~ Yea, stream of consciousness.

MOT ~ Do you remember one of the first times you started doing that, how old you were, what you might have first drawn?

DO ~ I definitely can’t remember the first time, but lots of times getting sent to my room (deep chuckle) When I was a kid I used to love to draw surfers, basketball players dunking, and some architecture, like birds eye views slash floor plans of mansions, like my mansion (hahahaha). Some battles, draw the battle lines of each side and then over the top view. And I’d like to play with the G. I. Joe guy’s.

MOT ~ So do you think it worked as escape for you, to live in your imagination and visualize it?

DO ~ Oh yea, definitely an escape. I think paper served as a place to stay while I could brain storm around it. I could kind of like create my own reality, like pornography before I had access.

MOT ~ And music?

DO ~ Music was a later thing, as a kid, I got ruined on piano lessons early on. Mom nagging me on practicing, and I had shelved all of it until I turned 19, listening to music made me start to want to make music at a certain point. So I found myself playing air guitar too much, so I finally bought a guitar. And then learned… I’m left handed and I ended up taking this guitar class in college. At the end of the class the teacher confessed to me that “I could never look at your fingering because it would always mess me up.” So I never really learned the whole reading music or notes, but I got playing cords. And that was enough to have a lot of fun.

More recently, for my brothers wedding, we put together a band. That was a really cool experience that I’d never had before. Probably the most collaborative art making I’ve ever had is working together with people on music. Pretty novice, but I enjoy it a lot. Ya know, three or four basic cords is generally enough to play your average pop song, I kind of dink around and do that. For this band thing though I picked up mandolin. A lot of the people in the band (at this point my cell phone rings and I make a mental note to put that thing on silent) were along those lines of trying new things and new instruments. One of the other guys was a guitar and bass player, Brad, in the band picked up trombone. It was all about trying new things and exploring.

MOT ~ Do you think there are other mediums that you would interest you in the future?… like say sculpture or carving….

DO ~ I’ve done some sculpture and carving, I mean my masters degree was in printmaking and drawing, so I’ve done printmaking too, but unfortunately I don’t have a set up for it now. I guess that’s what I appreciate about drawing is the materials are so basic that you don’t have to … printmaking requires the press, various tools, etc.

And I am writing a book, which is sort of a different medium. I am integrating computer more into what I’m doing lately. I don’t know, I guess I’ve always seen drawing as the foundation, a way I gather and figure out my ideas so those ideas can go in any media or direction after that. I haven’t made very many videos but I don’t count it out as a way to make art.

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MOT ~ Where did you grow up? And talk a little bit about that community and if it influenced you in any way.

DO ~ Well, I grew up here in Portland. Which now is like an oddity, every time I tell someone I’m from Portland they’re like “really, you’re like the first one I’ve ever meet.” (Which brings a good laugh to us both) It’s kind of weird, I feel like it’s now this town of ‘out of towners,’ and I don’t know how I feel about that. On one hand, it’s made this town a lot better place, bringing a lot more things to do especially for younger people, but on the other hand there’s a character about Portland that people don’t understand. They don’t understand what it was like before.

I think Portland and the Pacific Northwest has definitely influenced my work, but it’s more about this place then the people. Just being able to get out and see all these different types of areas. The beach has been a place that inspires me, being able to get to the desert or forest easily. Access to really changing your environment easily… I don’t know exactly how that’s influenced me, but I’m sure it has. It’s part of me, so it comes out in my work.

The other thing is this is such a fertile place, it’s like a place that has been creatively fertile since the Native Americans were here. A place, at least to my understanding, that you could fish for a few months and have enough to get through the winter, then have enough time to make art. I think that’s still here to some extent. It’s cheaper to live here, so you can get by on less, and make more time for your own interests. I think the rain can make people pull inside themselves, especially during the winter, and that’s a good thing.

MOT ~ Hibernating…

DO ~ Hibernating, yea, and focusing on your own unique weirdness, what ever your thing is, ya know.

MOT ~ Would you say you had any mentors that helped guide you? Or folks that may have just given you encouragement?

DO ~ There’s been people, … yea, my next door neighbor growing up influenced me, and she wasn’t even really one to even call herself an artist, but she was. She’d make these Christmas cards every year that were insane, insanely processed, just complex. I’ve always been more of an observer than an inter-actor, and just picked up things from people without them even knowing.

Drawing for me has always been a very solitary thing. Also, just other artists that I admire, I usually admire from afar, from books or things like that.


MOT ~ Do you have any particular sources of inspiration?

DO ~ There’s been a couple recently. Most recently I’ve been reading about this area of the ocean between here and Hawaii, where huge amounts of plastic have ended up. Have you heard about this?

MOT ~ Nooo…

DO ~ It’s twice the size of Texas where the currents go in a vortex like whirlpool, and all this stuff ends up there. That’s been really on my mind a lately, as far as how gross that is, and what it must look like. This tangled mess of all this stuff. I think about that as far as my work, and [find it] inspiring.

Another thing that’s been going a little longer then that is an interest in these floods that happened about twelve thousand years ago in this part of the country. There was an inland ocean [near] Montana area, and this massive amount of water flooded through Eastern Washington into Oregon and they think it may have occurred forty times. Like ten times the flow of all the rivers that exist on earth today, crashing through. Basically stealing all the top soil from Eastern Washington and depositing it in Oregon, which is partly why this is such a fertile green place. So, trying to imagine what that looked like, or imagining what the after math of that could have looked like has been inspiring to me.

I think it comes through in some of these pieces. What would a 200 acre forest look like all just in water stranded on the side of the moon or something like that. And that beauty comes from violence over time. Tremendous violence brought about this tremendous beauty. Thinking about those issues… I like to find inspiration in science or environmental things.

I think art is a language and you have to find something to talk about. For me I like to find subjects outside of the art world. Art tends to be such a mirror ball just looking back at ourselves so much and I try to jump out of that.

MOT ~ Man, yea, that’s good. There you go. (I’ve got to work on this thinking thing)

Do you have any specific concepts or symbols that you like to work in? (Didn’t the man just break it down… I’ve also got to work on breaking away from the outline.)

DO ~ Kind of on that flood tip, I’ve had a lot of log jams popping up, or tornados flying around messing everything up. Those have been popping up. What else. . . I always think that’s interesting because I never try to control the symbology. Like, alright, these are the seven symbols I use… I always thought that was restrictive so my symbol library just happens by accident, mostly by looking back at what I’ve done, kind of intuitively. I’d say log jams, and tornados, and thinking about that huge pile of plastic, like a lot of stuff, just tremendous amounts of built up stuff all piled up.

MOT ~ Like natural imagery.

DO ~ Natural, but that’s not really natural.

MOT ~ Well, maybe unnaturally natural. (Both trying to make sense of it)

DO ~ Well, yea it is kind of natural the way things just get stacked up like drift wood on a beach; just how things kind of end up. I feel like I paint that way too. I do control things, but I do want it to have that look that it ended up that way. Which is probably why it’s really hard to finish them. When is the pile of the beach ever finished, it’s continuously changing.

MOT ~ Well, there is that moment when you see it, or take that picture, captured that moment, that’s all, it’ll change again.

Do you think you have specific goals you’re working toward?

DO ~ I do, yea, I do. I’m working on this book. That’s been my main goal recently. I find it hard to have, …with these paintings, it’s been hard to have a goal because the way I work is pretty intuitive. So, umm,

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MOT ~ So you’re able to work with out specific goals , just relax. .. Well, the question is more to delve into, like a lot of people in the business world have to have the goal. With out the goal, they have no direction, is there a way that allows you to balance your direction, err?

DO ~ Hmm, balance my direction…? I don’t know. (laughing) I think I’m at a cross roads. I don’t know what my direction is right now.

MOT ~ But you’re definitely working.

DO ~ Yea, I find that I have to work, I have to keep going, but I guess I don’t know where it’s going to go. The motivation is always there so I always keep moving forward.

MOT ~ It’s an internal motivation, you don’t need external end point, you just work from the inside…?

DO ~ I guess with these paintings yea, I just keep going. Now, say having a show scheduled is good. But that’s more about finishing, forcing me to finish. Or decide that this is where I let it stop. Right now I don’t have anything scheduled, so I’m not working in that way. Just kinda keep it none players paint. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.

MOT ~ Do you do any exercises to stay energized or other methods that you may use to prepare your mind and body prior to painting or like, once you feel like you’ve drained your creative energies, is there any thing you go do to recharge?

DO ~ Well, one thing, with this studio, I almost always ride my bike here. I almost always have a few ideas I’ve thought up on the ride, and know once I get here. I find that having that distance and that time between my home and studio is a practice that helps clear out [my mind]. Now I’m leaving real world behind and entering studio world where (just getting excited thinking about it) possibilities are endless. I don’t have to worry about finding a job or doing the dishes. Physical exercise in the form of transportation, I find works for me. I find it hard to just exercise for exercise sake, so I have to trick myself. I like that my home and studio are far from each other so it forces me to do that. Mentally it’s good. Walking, I take walks, I find it helps recharge me too. I always attribute that to our hunter gather-ness from way back in our evolution, that walking around helps us think. I definitely find that I can think better when I’m moving.

MOT ~ Some people, artists, graphic designers – I know you do some graphic design work – bouncing from one element to the other you probably have to take into consideration the audience. How do trigger those elements within you?

DO ~ While I’m painting I’m always considering composition, stepping back and thinking about how somebody might find their way through this painting. I think a lot of my work is about is about how we receive information and how we deal with HUGE amounts of information that we’ve never had to do before. Like right now we have the whole world at our finger-tips, and what do you do at that point. And when you’re faced with a river full of logs, or like, ya know that board at the airport with all those different lines; how does your eye figure out where to go first and decode all that stuff? That’s how I picture the viewer dealing with these paintings, and I want them to have to come back more then once and see different things or not be able to always have the same path through the painting; for them to be able to take different things away from it.

MOT ~ Have you been able to witness the reactions?

DO ~ That’s the hard part. With paintings I’m not always there with them, you can put a comment box, but it’s like whose gonna . . . hahaha. What I’d really love is to video tape someone’s eyeballs and what path they take. But, so no, I haven’t, I think that’s something that’s been triggering this interest in interactive work is to get that feedback. I’m putting out something and I need that feedback, and it’s hard to get with traditional work. Maybe putting plexi-glass over my work and providing dry erase markers for people to draw on it or have blocks that can be moved around and rearranged.

I think the challenge with that is the stumbling block of “don’t touch the art” that most people have inborn, “don’t touch that, it’s precious!” That’s something I would like people to get over. I treat my work like… I sit on it, tear it apart, sand it down. For me it’s not precious any more, I think the challenge for me is how to get the viewer past that and gauge the reaction.


MOT ~ Do you have any books, resources, or particular tools on hand regularly that you turn to?

DO ~ Well, there’s a graphic designer named Tibor Kalman, that’s totally my guru for… everything really. There’s a book I think just called “Tibor” that I keep handy. He did a bunch of Talking Heads [album] covers and designed products like a black umbrella with the underside clouds. He did this whole series of paperweights that were crumpled up graph paper. Things like that, he took the every day and flipped it over and handed it back to you.

There’s an artist named Tom Freidman, I really love his work. He does a similar thing, he takes everyday objects like paper and pencil and obsessively works with it. He took all these pencils, cut each at a 45-degree angle and stuck them back together until he created this mound (doing some motions with his hands) like this, a tangled mess. He’s done some other stuff with paper. He did a piece with bubble gum, he used 1500 pieces of bubble gum that he sculpted into this perfect sphere and he pressed it in the corner of the gallery at head height. And he did another piece, where he had an empty gallery and stretched this gum from the floor to the ceiling.

MOT ~ Damn, that’s got to be a lot of gum!

DO ~ He had another with this pencil in the shape of a lighting bolt that went from the ceiling to the ground. So I keep his books around, he’s influencing me. Ummm, Basquiat, he’s been an influence. I’ve found at times I have to put him away because he’s too good, too influential. So I’m kind of off of him right now. He was ahead of his time.

MOT ~ Can you talk a little about your process? You mentioned riding your bike and coming up with ideas. Like your process from idea, dream or where ever in your head or like reading about those different natural things that are occurring and how you may work with that in your brain, consciously or subconsciously, and how you work on bringing that out into a final product.

DO ~ I think that’s just usually happens on paper. I keep sketchbooks, and make sketches on paper a lot. Sometimes I’ll have little flashes a lot and scribble it down and usually just develop it on paper. Just last weekend I had this idea about how tied to laptops we are, and thinking about – this might be like a t-shirt design – having a person and a laptop in love, like “you complete me.” I don’t know, a lot of things just like that, having little flashes and scribbling that down. The floods and stuff like that, I think, “Oh, I’m thinking about the floods,” okay, so I’ll just start drawing endless log jams on paper. I think that’s my main process is thinking on paper, thinking through drawings. I’m not sure if you answered the question…

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MOT ~ Any particular technique’s to you that allow you to distinguish your style?

DO ~ With painting, it’s all about layering, I almost always paint with just one color at a time. I’ll often paint on multiple paintings at once with that one color. So I don’t know if that’s unique to me, but that’s how I’ve always done it. I do a lot of covering up of other things, or covering mostly and leaving little parts to show through.

Let’s see, I also like to use rags, and be really rough. Using wood panels allows me to be really rough, and getting back to that element of not being precious. I think about painting as scrubbing a floor. Except I don’t like finishing things, so it’d be like scrubbing about 75% of the floor and leaving the rest. I think I do that a lot. My drawing style may be unique to me, but it’s hard to put that into words specifically.

MOT ~ Are there drawing tools. . .?

DO ~ Yea, I mostly draw with ball point pens. Ahhhh. What’s the kind I use, just Bic’s maybe. I like ballpoint pens because you can get a wide range of marks. If you push really hard you get a deep mark or you can barely touch it and get a really fine hair mark. I haven’t found another art material that can be so far ranging in marks. I don’t know, I guess I might like them because they’re cheap, always around, and leave money out of the equation.

MOT ~ True. So, we’ve talked about this a little bit. You’ve been working on these paintings for quite a while. How can you tell when something is complete? How do you keep from (said in almost unison) working it to death?

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DO ~ Oh man, I think some of these I have worked to death. I’ve just not worried about finishing and just kept going and going and going. Some of them have reached a point where I think they’re just fucked. It’s over! Over worked. Maybe they’ll come back around on the other side if I keep going. I don’t know, that’s the question. I don’t have an answer to that yet. I think it’s finished at midnight the day before you have to get your show up.

I guess I could talk about the mural in Brazil. It was this all over style and that’s one way to get around that problem. If the style itself is to fill up the wall to a certain level of density. That particular mural crawled out and stopped at a certain point, it was almost like a virus or bacteria that stopped at a certain point. It crawled up to the wall, onto the ceiling a little bit, around two or three corners and then stopped. I consider the shape that it becomes. The finishing is “is it dense enough everywhere? Yes, okay it’s finished.” But as far as these paintings I haven’t found that or let myself go that way.

MOT ~ With graphic design or say the book you’re working on, how do you know you’ve completed that?

DO ~ Well, graphic design I feel is different. I feel more of a corner that you turn and it finishes. Or I guess with graphic design I’ve figured it out more, or have more of a sense “okay, this is finished right here.” And that happens once in a while in the paintings.

So, I don’t like to finish. I don’t like to finish anything in my whole life. I’ll read a whole book and leave the last ten pages. Or do all the dishes and leave a fork, knife and bowl. I don’t enjoy finishing things at all. There’s probably other examples of that I’m sure. Finishing anxiety. Once it’s finished it has to be on its own.

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MOT ~ Say like with Tibor, say you were able to sit down and ask him like three questions. What would you ask him?

DO ~ Maybe something about how you deal with failure. How do you deal with getting your idea chopped off, something like that. One of his things was ‘you’ve got to go out and find the client that will let you do what you want.’ Like, he did that magazine called “Colors” which was paid for completely by Benetton’s, they took no editorial control over that How do you find that? How do you find that sponsor or person that sees your vision and let you do what you want. Another paraphrase of his I thought was cool, “You want to find clients that are smarter than you, not stupider. Because if you have clients that are smarter than you, you’ll be able to expand. If they’re stupider then you, your time will be spent trying to catch them up or just being frustrated they wont let you do what you want.

I’ve never been good at talking to people that I’ve admired that way. I feel like (changing voice) “duhhh, I really like your work.” Like seeing the lead singer after the concert and saying, “hey, great show,” (almost seeming slightly nervous just thinking about it) but what do you say after that.

MOT ~ Do you want to talk a little about how you were selected for that trip to Brazil and about that?

DO ~ It’s a funny story. A student of mine, sort of, well when I was in grad school I was a teachers assistant and this woman Alana was in two of my classes. She got this scholarship to go to Brazil. She went down there for a year, started talking to all these different artists and hatched this idea of ‘artist as ambassador.’ So she organized this exchange of five artists from Brazil that were part of this gallery called ‘Al gen shil Carioca’ and carioca is a person from Rio de Janeiro, like a Portlander from Portland, so like a gentle person from Rio.

They’d just started this gallery and their whole mission was education. Putting contemporary art in front of the average person and building a creative community. Five artists from Brazil ended up coming to Portland and doing a show at PNCA (Pacific Northwest College of Art). It was great stuff.

One artist had a piece were she wove feathers on to live chickens in Carnival style costumes, with a whole chicken coop that was built in the gallery. For a month these chickens were there in PNCA gallery, squawking, laying eggs and all this stuff. And some really experimental sound art that was happening. A video of this guy slow motion biking on the beach in Rio, he had a gut. Ernesto Neto (Ernesto Saboia de Albuquerque Neto) had a sculpture there, that was awesome. He does this kind of soft sculpture.

So that happened in August 2005, this last January 2007 5 artists from Portland went to Rio and put on a show at this “ Gallery”. I ended up getting selected I think because I knew Alana, and they liked my mural work. The all over murals, I’d done a couple.

I had done one at ‘New American Casuals,’ do you remember that shop? Do you remember ‘Poker face?’ Anyways it was a clothing store under the Morrison Bridge, he was a real proponent of street art and sold aerosol and sold all sorts of clothing. He cleared out his whole shop and I covered all the walls, 15 foot walls with this all over black lines on white wall. Dense covering on every inch of the wall. That’s what I showed the selection team and they liked that.

I ended up making drawings that were both things from Portland, flood themes, log jams, and also stuff that I saw in Brazil. It was interesting because some of the imagery was decades old and some of it was seconds old. Some of the artists from Rio would come in and… like this one guy had a rubber stamp of his face, and just stamp that on his work. It was just constant on everything, and I put one of those stamps in the mural, and I put the chickens with the colored Carnival feathers. So it was like everything and the kitchen sink idea, it’s all going in, no editing going on.

We went there with 8 students from PSU that were there assisting us, which was great, I’ve never worked that way before with so much help. I had all these drawings created and we used digital projectors to put’em up on the wall and I had all this help tracing them with black paint. It was a really fun experience to have all that help, it was kind of overwhelming at the end how much work had been down.

MOT ~ Did you notice any cultural elements that would allow them to do one thing versus here where there are cultural elements to do another thing?

DO ~ Probably the coolest thing we saw there was these kids. Rio is surrounded by these slums, favelas, and we got to go into one which is pretty rare. Mostly tourists don’t because they are pretty dangerous, yea

MOT ~ “City of God?”

DO ~ Hahaha, yea, that’s what we saw before we went and we were scared shitless, hahaha. This guy that was staying at the same place as us had come to work on this project in the favela. So we got to go in and see that these kids had taken bricks from the surrounding houses and with a little hammer had pounded out little windows making a mini-favela. All of a sudden one brick had become one house. They had made this scale model, they had everything, even little lego guys, toy cars, police… everything. They had built it on this hillside.

That would have been cool enough, but now these kids have traveled all over the world with this. And they were in the most recent Venice Biennale (Biennale di Venezia) where they flew over there, flew a bunch of Brazilian bricks there and built this whole thing. They’ve been to France and Barcelona, all over the place. That was just insane. It’s such a cool project but it’s cool to see these kids who looked like all the other kids in the favela, except they had gold chains around their next and would be talking on their cell phones constantly. And here are these kids that are basically way more famous as artists then any of… I mean a lot of the people I was with from Portland were some of the best artists in town. Much more distinguished then me, most of them. And you have these little kids who’ve shown in Venice Biennale, climbed half the mountain.
Just seeing how what starts off as play and is a good idea can just, well, there’s no end to what that can become. That was an inspiring trip.
That was like our last day and awesome to finish on that note.

It was so inspiring to see those kids doing that really making it happen. You watch “City of God” and think it must just be a horrible place to live. If you ask those kids “so you make a little bit of money now have you thought about moving outside the favela?” Their response, “no, I love the favela, it’s great.” I can see why, it’d be like if Multnomah Village was on top of the West Hills. They had the best views of Rio, they could see the whole thing. It’s interesting to flip the script and see the other side of things.

You have these conceptions of how something is, that living in a favela is a horrible thing, but maybe not necessarily. Just incredibly nice people. But violence was a way of life, it was there. Luckily nobody in our group had any problems. Another girl staying in the same place as us got robbed. Her camera, passport, everything stolen. It is a totally dangerous place, but they’re also the nicest people you’ll ever meet. There’s definitely creativity in that kind of environment, like all or nothing. The stakes were raised or something.

Then we got back to Portland and it snowed. From 90 degree weather to snow. That was hard. Tremendous culture shock when we got back even though we’d only been gone for two weeks.

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Thanks for joining in on another installment. Hopefully these are getting better or providing some interesting reading for you. Let me know what you think. To see more work by Don stop by

Don Olsen dot Com

Scatter Grain

This session had been tentatively arranged the night prior, but I wouldn’t have felt bad if he’d canceled because I knew Zae began his day around 5am and made it home 8pmish. That being an extremely long day usually leaves a person mentally drained. About 7:45pm I received the call that he was about home and wanted to know if we were still on. After collecting the necessary tools (the digital recorder and camera), confirmed the location on Google maps, warmed up my motorcycle and was off. The nights adventure to score an interview had just begun.

Portland Riverfront

Arriving at his place he explained the need to head to a particular location where he could hand off some cash to a friend of his girl’s who is currently studying down in Guatemala. Because of his hours he was unable to make the much needed deposit to her account. Zae figured he could take out several birds with one stone, getting some dinner, a few beers, and this interview done at that same spot. Well, first things first, to get there.

With no valid drivers license he asks if I would mind driving his gf’s car. After confirming that insurance was cool we went out to fire up the ’84 Accord. Ummm, no go, some electrical problem. I’d give him a ride on my motorcycle (something I still have yet to do) but he’s got no helmet. The alternative became bicycles. Truly, I can’t remember the last time I really rode a bicycle anywhere.

Through the dark side streets of Portland we cruised, and I could feel the breeze of autumn in the air. After dodging a couple of hairy intersections, and retrieving my digital recorder before it got ran over we arrived at Tiger Too, ordered a couple Bridgeport IPA’s and introductions were dealt out. Zae ordered himself the 1/2lb pepper jack cheese, bacon and sliced jalapeños fire burger. Unfortunately, for some reason we didn’t get around to the interview here, the fries were good though, and the pints might have warmed us to some decent conversation. Even more unfortunate was that I hadn’t noticed just how tired this guy had become.

The nights adventure to score an interview had just begun.

Regardless, back at his place he made the attempt to go through with this interview, the best that a sleep deprived delusional individual can.


Moments of Truth~ Please describe your primary creative endeavors.

Zae~ Graffiti art slash vandalism slash bike riding, masturbating slash gardening.

MOT~ Okay, umm, so is that how you want to break it down? Maybe, what medium do you most focus your creative energy?

Z~ Rampant vandalism.

MOT~ Why have you chosen this medium versus all those other fantastic ones out there?

Z~ There are not that many other fantastic mediums out there as far as I’m concerned.

MOT~ Alright then, well, break it down where you grew up?

Z~ Primarily grew up in North East Portland, spent my early childhood years in Olympia, Washington where my childhood memories rest. I preside in SE Portland now-a-days.

MOT~ Tell me a little bit about this gardening that you do.

Z~ Gardening is a meditational experience. Vegetable gardening not landscaping, you can watch things grow and get to eat them, it’s kind of fun. I’m not as into it as I should be, it’s more of an old people hobby, even though old folks might not exploit it as much as they should, uh, tomatoes are amazing, fruit, obviously it’s a very exploitable region. I mean if you don’t have to buy produce in the store why should you? Heirlooms, the most legitimate thing you can work with.

MOT~ Do you have any particular memories when you started focusing your time and energy on your creative endeavors? Say, about the time you started switching off all other avenues of the other not very many other creative endeavors and started focusing on this rampant vandalism thing?

Z~ Around the time when I switched off was when my brother David was murdered down in Eugene, Oregon. Uhhh, I kind of shut off completely. I was already pretty anti-social as a kid, and I had very few friends and it stuck me in a whole different world. I was already kind of getting into graffiti and I accelerated that world, graffiti art, graffiti vandalism, what ever you want to call it. From there just went into a few years of depression and uh finding myself and making friends finally that has brought to where I am now.

MOT~ So you think you made a lot of friends through that avenue that you wouldn’t have necessarily made in any other way?

Z~ I think with out graffiti it would have been a lot harder for me to grow as a person and find a community. That was my community and that was my way to come up in the world which I didn’t have before.

Portland Backyard Garden Vegetables

MOT~ That’s a good transition to my next question how would you describe the community you grew up in and do you think that the community influenced your ideas style or just the way you approach life in general?

Z~ My community was both very positive and very negative at the same time. It was very polarized. You got your violent shit head irresponsible side and you got you artistic expression community blah blah blah, whatever people call it. A lot of people try to label, catagorize, every thing’s a category, label or syndrome these days, soooo I like grey areas, I like things to be grey, except for walls.

MOT~ So do you think the community had a large impact on the way you think about things or do you think you would have just come up with them on your own?

Z~ If the world wasn’t fucked I wouldn’t think the way I think. I mean it’s not like we live in some third world country. Things are handed to Americans that aren’t handed to the rest of the world. I can’t say I grew up in poverty. Nobody in America really grew up that impoverished, I mean maybe a handful of minorities, perhaps if your in the dirty south.

MOT~ Yea it’s tough to say that over here in the northwest, people are pretty well taken care of.

Z~ You can do what you want to do if you have the right mind-state. But sometimes, family has a lot to do with it, . . . I lost track of the original question falling out into different tangents.

MOT~ How would you describe your creative style? What is it you are trying to accomplish or express with the medium that you choose to use?

Painting by Zae photo'd for Scatter Grain blog post and Street Cred

Z~ Well, as far as graffiti goes it’s full on freedom of speech, full on freedom, you’re not allowing someone else to speak for you, or going through some commercial medium, it’s all you and your own community. Which is an excellent thing, and it can also be a retarded thing half the time. But you get your good with your bad and your happy and sad, smile now cry later.

MOT~ But like in any medium [of life] you’re going to have rules people are supposed to follow, there’s like levels of engagement, it’s like it breaks down to a militaristic form of combat. How is that free versus something else? How do you set yourself apart?

Z~ UngWell, you’ve got your rules and boundaries, you’ve got those that choose not to follow any of the rules or boundaries and you’ve got those that are strict to the rules of the game, what is allowed and not, ya know. I don’t know, in a smaller city like Portland everybody makes there own rules, and nobody really gets checked. But I know in bigger cities the graffiti community is tough. You can’t really fuck around in some places. In Portland I’ve gotten away with some shit, and shoulda’ got my ass kicked, but I didn’t. But ya know, I’ve also given people passes on getting their ass kicked, it goes either way. Maybe I’m just a mellow dude.

Portland Characters



MOT~ Do you have any particular sources of inspiration, what ever might inspire you, it doesn’t necessarily have to be artistic or creative….

Z~ I love nature, I love the balance between nature and civilization, that’s an inspiration. I love my dad, he’s an awesome person, with out him I wouldn’t be anywhere.

MOT~ Do you have any particular artistic influences, styles of thought you might emulate?

Z~ As far as artistic influences, you gotta go back to the old school folks. I’m not even going to elaborate that much. Your “Style Wars” people and what not. As far as artists, Salvador Dalí, Picasso, I haven’t studied art really that much to know this or that. I’ve always been mostly a free thinker, but I am considering trying to be more structured, get into meditation, reading a lot more books, basically, because I don’t feel like I know shit about the world. If I ever expect to travel and learn about the world, I am really way off base. It just involves traveling and reading, hopefully I will eventually figure out a true direction. Right now I’m pretty much in limbo land, and that can happen when you chose lifestyles that I’ve chosen. I’ve been a wandering graffiti writer up until about two years ago. Those two things combined, being a traveler and artist, you can experience a lot of things people don’t get to experience, but you can also put yourself in a void where you don’t learn other things about the world. A kind of tunnel vision.

MOT~ Do you have any creative goals in mind? A direction you plan to work toward? Some specific goals you’d like to try and achieve.

Blackbook Sketches

Z~ I’ve always wanted to be a free lance journalist. Originally I begin putting out my own magazine, now everybody seems to have their own magazine. Everybody’s a graphic designer… I put out three independent graffiti slash commentary magazines from ’99 to 2002. This was back when Kinko’s was very exploitable, and my dad has a printing background so that was helpful. They were full size, color.

My dad’s been running printing presses since the 60’s, that’s his official trade. And now he’s dabbling in it a little bit, and part of the teachers union. He’s a major inspiration, done a lot.

MOT~ Were you able to glean any knowledge or methods of printing from him?

Z~ I would be around when he was running them, and he’d be helping people with their poem books. Always working on something whether through work or helping other friends, and obviously that rubbed off on me. The ink kind of attracted me, I thought “I could get into that.” I’ve always had a writing urge, although it’s kind of died off in recent years. Everything goes in cycles, so I’m likely to get back to it, eventually. I need to get back into the practice of writing, reading more, and educating myself, dancing around questions that people ask me.

MOT~ Zzzzzzzz (loosing my train of thought as ‘Mr. Bungle’ surf rock plays in the background)

Z~ Yea, I’ve been working the blue collar muscle and beer drinking muscle the last two years. It’s feels good, certain aspects, but it’s also pretty exhausting.

MOT~ Do you have any books, resources, or tools that you turn to for your main creative endeavors?

Z~ I used to rely heavily on music as a kind of guide, which I forgot about in recent years. I’ve been getting back into music as inspiration. I come from a very musical artistic family so it only makes sense, I’m destined to be a whore to some sort of art. So it’s no surprise that I’ve dedicated myself to graffiti, music, some sort of art (drifting off to sleep)

An interview moment captured for Scatter Grain blog post

MOT~ Well, do you think you have a particular process from start to finish? Like from the development of an idea to

Z~ Basically I’m a scatterbrain so any pocket of creativity I relish in….

MOT~ How do you collect it, organize yourself?

Z~ It just comes to me, a lot of the time I’m really lazy and I’ll spend a lot of my time thinking I’m really bored and in reality I’m not, I’m just not living up to what my potential offers me…. (questioning his sleepy thoughts) that doesn’t make any sense. Not living up to my potential is what I meant to say.

A lot of the time I don’t record my ideas, I don’t stick with them, and I don’t follow through with them.

MOT~ Why not?

Z~ Uhhhhh, scatterbrain laziness that’s somehow imbedded in me. I don’t know if it’s a birth defect or what. I mean I definitely have honed my creative abilities in the past, so I know it’s there. It’s definitely always there, that’s the thing, I know it’s always there, but I can always put it off. . . .

MOT~ Do you enjoy having these ideas? Why not capture them, what might keep you from taking them into fruition? Do you not see a need for it to become part of physical reality?

Z~ I think a lot of the time I am very picky and I scrutinize myself too much and don’t let things just come out, and I don’t let things happen; therefore I eliminate them from my thought process and forget about them. That’s not a good thing, because I do have a lot of good ideas, “Oh man, I could just take off on this.”

I don’t know, what’ll happen is I’ll get off work, forget about it, have a couple beers, ‘whew.’ A year later I’m like, “I wonder if I could still work on that?”

Sometimes I do, sometimes I can come back and do it, paint something, further the idea, put it back on the back burner and let it marinate. I figure with youth, I’m still young, 27, got a lot of steam yet to blow off, a little bit of partying left to do, not too much but I figure, ya know, I got all my 30’s and 40’s to hunker down and finally capture all that creative process. Write, read, art, travel, I mean, it’s all still there, right now I’m just working on trying to get a career together as far as making money, I’m going with the trade, I have no desire to go to college or an office and sit behind a computer all day. I don’t know. Hands on. But I’ve paid for it, physically and mentally.

MOT~ When you’re working on a project, putting something together, what tells you it’s complete?

Z~ I try to like to work in one big spurt, I try to be 90% done from start to finish. I try to get it started, come the next day and tweak it out a little bit. I like to get things done all in one, that’s probably part of my problem sometimes, with the continuing artistic endeavors is that I don’t allow myself time to put things together in order, and I just want to get it done I guess. I mean, I might take my time, but I want to get it done. I could add this little rinky-dink there, or through this in there. It’s like with music, you can come up with a simple song, figured out the lyrics that night, bust it out and record it, sometimes that’s the best way to do it. It sounds like a corny comparison but I know Tu Pac would just sit in the studio and just pump out songs.

MOT~ What about the possibility, I mean, I don’t know him personally, but that he sat down and thought these songs out in his head years and years ago. . . . I don’t think that’s something to be discounted, to be able to develop something in your mind. The challenge can be in manifesting it into the material world, put it down, to share with other people. In your head it’s one thing. . . he could have easily done that.

Z~ Yea, that’s how my thought process works too, maybe not exactly like that, but I definitely lay out plans in my mind. A traveling freelance journalist in my 30’s, been thinking about it for a while. Maybe because it’s such a fantasy idea that you could get hired by the ‘New Yorker’ to say do a story in Brazil one day “Oh wow, that guy that wrote about Brazil for the ‘New Yorker’ was amazing” and the next another rag wants to hire you to interview some ghetto g’s in Harlem….

Fuzzy moment at Tiger Too captured for Scatter Grain blog post

MOT~ Why do you think you do an artistic thing instead of others who’ll just come home and watch TV?

Z~ I don’t know. I’ve tried to be the guy who comes home and watch TV, but I’ll be watching a show and think “this isn’t funny, I know people who are funny in real life, this doesn’t fucking compare.” I mean, I’ll get one laugh out of some hit show, one good laugh, and yet I can go hang out with one of my funniest friends and be cracking up for hours, just drinking a couple beers and laughing harder then I ever have in my life. I’d say Bore (RIP) for instance was someone like that. I’ve never met a funnier motherfucker in my life. He would just entertain you to know end, to the point where you’d just be on the floor and couldn’t handle yourself, and coming home and watching TV doesn’t compare.

I mean, when I was a kid, and didn’t have any friends, I could sit and watch TV for days and days, and maybe I got it out of my system then. I can understand lonely people, people who grew up on TV and that’s all they know, but that’s not me. I can watch a movie.

MOT~ Do you have any particular style?

Z~ Off beat, I try to do something a little bit different. I come from an off-beat family, I can’t live with myself if I’m just some generic dude, just going with the flow. If you’re in an art medium, especially graffiti, you can’t just be some Joe Schmoe, like I’m gonna copy Twist style or something and live off of it for years. A lot of folks might do that, copy generic do-dads or do different variations on different peoples styles, and it’s just boring. I might find myself doing that, and “well yea,” I’ll call myself out and switch it up. Other wise what’s the point, you got to do something different. People get all egotistical about shit, yet they don’t do anything different then the last thirty years of thousands of people who have done it. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

If you’re not weird and off beat, . . . you don’t necessarily have to be weird, but if you’re not having fun with what you’re doing what’s the point. You get all those attitudes and egos, I don’t know, that doesn’t apply to me.

I feel like at points graffiti has become a job for me, I don’t like that. I like it to be fun. People stress me out on going painting, and want to go paint some dumb spot that’s been painted a hundred times before, and push to do something I don’t care about. I don’t know, graffiti, there’s more to life then that, people can get caught up dwelling on one little thing. There’s more to life then that.

Painting by senior isaiah and the monk photo'd for Scatter Grain article

MOT~ Do you have a potential direction you’d like to go?

Z~ I could go in so many different directions, that’s probably part of my problem, I’m a scatterbrain. I’d love to be a jack-of-all-trades, but it’s not realistic. Basically I could be the guy who does graffiti, owns a bar, is a photographer, journalist, prints a magazine, travels the world, I could be all these things at once, in my mind. I don’t know if it’s realistic, reality crushing a lot of things sometimes, but if you are clever enough, and time things right, I think you can do a lot of things, life is a long time. I think life is pretty long. I’m 27 and stressing out, and I don’t think I should be stressing out. I’ve got like God know’s how many years in front of me. . . right?

Sometimes you’ve got to push yourself a little farther and live dangerously. Maybe I should climb a mountain or something, I don’t know.

MOT~ Who are some of the musicians that inspire you, and what about the creation of that music inspires you?

Z~ Well, I’ll throw out ‘Captain Beefheart,’ he’s kind of like balls out free flow of music, sometimes it doesn’t make any sense and sucks, and sometimes a beautiful song will just materialize and you’re like “where did that come from?” So that’s one example. I feel like that’s me, I go on different wave lengths. I could come out crazy, or really chill, or smooth, I could come out psychotic, I feel kinda psychotic these days. I’m a metal head at heart though. I love some Iron Maiden, probably one of the best bands that ever existed, Metallica is classic, I can just really chill out to them. Metal for a person like me, and I’m sure for most metal heads can geek out because it hits that wave length, relaxes you, go along with every note of the shredding guitar. It equalizes the brain patterns that aren’t quite normal. That’s where metal comes in for some people. Ya gotta hear some thrash, out of this world musicianship that equalizes those brain patterns. Not that I can’t listen to some mellow music, I love good folk, really I’m all over the place. I enjoy gangsta’ rap, I could go on for days about music.

Oregon's Nature

Final thoughts:

It would seem obvious, and probably most people know the need for it, but actually developing and sticking to a regimen or routine that allows a person to exercise their creativity regularly is a tough act to follow. Working long hours the majority of the week leaves a person exhausted mentally and physically.

There are endless bound reams of paper on “How to…” do this or that. The act of dedicating oneself to a craft on a constant long-term basis that does not provide monetary results is energy wasted by modern American societies predominant standards. This leaves me a little stumped. Every individual seems to be essentially on their own in that no one else can truly make a decision for another. I think Zae is of a much more optimistic bent then myself. His paradigm is one filled with time; I, on the other hand, think time ends with every passing second. So ends this post.

Catch the light

NYC Corner Stand

For my first interview I was able to sit down with a friend made during 2002 while living in San Francisco. He recently relocated to New York to take full advantage of the short remaining time on his visa. New York beckons as one of the most challenging locations in the United States and a point where the world, its cultures, industries and ideas merge to create new forms of human expression.

Joji Shimamoto grew up in Chiba, Japan, a place he compared to New Jersey because of its size and proximity to Tokyo. We sat down at the ‘Bar and Grill’ on 83rd and Amsterdam in Upper Manhattan for a few pitchers of Kirin to discuss his creative philosophy. He is what I would refer to as a hands on type of photographer. Attempting to do a lot more with the photo then just use the moment captured. He works to create new ways for the viewer to see into the moment, past, present, and future. Most recently delving into color, he believes his eye sight has now changed from his previous focus on black and white a greater confidence in what he captures in color. Not that being published means one photo or photographer is better than another, but it is sure to help build confidence. Joji has most recently had two photo’s of Venice Beach released in the Japanese publication ‘Tokion.’ Just the night before this interview he’d organized and promoted a roof-top party in Brooklyn. With full on DJ’s spinning and wall displaying his photography experiments with light boxes back lighting particular photos wrapped around the box he gathered the peoples reactions into feedback on his work.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket


Joji Shimamoto catches the light. “I do photography, always catch the moment, but now as I’m making the light, maybe I’m thinking about more mixed media as my next form of shooting pictures and present some other style.”

Moments of Truth~ You develop your photos different too, using some interesting techniques like splashing and drips. How do you come up with those ideas?

JS~ Actually I began using those elements in High school, because the first time there I was in the darkroom with no teachers and had a kind of freedom to do anything. Tools were scarce, there was a brush so it was like I was drawing with the developer and maybe two or three years later, at the dark room in college I thought “I wanna do it [dark room development experiments done during high school] again.”

MOT~ Do you know why you gravitate toward photography versus other mediums like say painting, sculpting, music or design?

JS~ Because photography is like reality, it’s the only way I can show my life of reality, and, yea, I guess it’s like pure trueness to me captured through taking pictures. I think the most key thing is that when I was in high school, I had the key to the dark room and if I was bored with school so all the time, say well even night time you know or be up around dawn, I’d get done with whatever I was doing and go to the dark room and smoke cigarette, it was a safe spot to smoke cigarettes with the red light and they had a small CD player. I would bring my favorite CD and just listen to music, smoking cigarettes and printing all the time.

MOT~ And this was back in high school?
JS~ That’s right. Eight years ago, not that long.
MOT~ Still going strong, still love it?
JS~ Yea, but like I would change a little bit, like the presentation. The way to show the people my pictures, a little bit different. But like my main things is still the same, just taking my life, what I saw and sharing my view. Because now I’m spending time in New York City one Japanese kid set in. . . most Japanese people don’t get to spend time here, and I just want to show them what life is like over here, yea.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

MOT~ So where exactly did you grow up, what was it like? Your community, how would you describe your neighborhood?
JS~ It’s nothing. It’s like deserted, forty minutes train ride to Tokyo, and everyone is always going to Tokyo to have fun. When I was in junior high school I was hanging out with kids that were kind of considered gangsters. My parents worried about it, because I wouldn’t go home for like five days at a time, just hang out at my friend’s house.
MOT~ Do you think your environment and that situation influenced your views; how you approach the photography, capturing life around you?
JS~ Oh yea, sure, a little bit, because I think every kids always they like, I’m not sure how to best say it, but they want to be gangster or bad people, and I did too. So I just saw that and tried to be cool. No more though, it’s stupid [trying to be a bad person to be cool] but it’s like a version of having fun with the homies, you might get caught up in doing some bad stuff that’s my junior high school times. Around this same time is when I began skateboarding. Now it’s much more common to find someone skating in Japan, but when I started skating, skaters equaled bad boys [an activity that was initially looked down on by Japanese elders].

MOT~ Ah, okay, so is that why you started skating?
JS~ Nah, I remember the first time I saw skate, at some park in Tokyo, I mean I’d kind of skate even when I was six or five but I could only do this, [tapping his hands on the table as if he has a mini-skateboard in his fingers he motions just the most basic type of movement] I didn’t know how to ollie, and in junior high school when I saw an ollie for the first time I thought “what the fuck, jumping, oh so cool! I want to do that,” and I started. I was lucky, because in Japan skateboards are so expensive, like three times as much [as the US].
MOT~ What, like $300.
JS~ Yea, say for everything complete. Some three hundred something or more. But I got a deck from my friend’s cousin, we went to skate with him and I said “I want to go” and he let me use this deck, graffiti on it, but it didn’t last long. After about two weeks it had broke. Skating is one of the key points for my life because in skate you have so many people and so many things I can see from skating. So many things I’ve learned from skating, like attitude, how to talk to people, how to approach the world. Because skaters just do it man, doesn’t care about it, if some one says stop you’ll stop and move on, but they’re not going to go up and ask, never asking, just straight skate. That has been something I’d apply to my shooting. Now I do it a little different. But before I’d just walk up and be shooting, and if someone said “Stop!” then I’d stop. The same approach as skating. (finished with a soft chuckle)

MOT~ That’s just how you get down. Just do it! So what do you think inspires you the most to keep you motivated and energized to keep going?

JS~ Actually, I would say two or three things. One is like from my friends, my friends come out in a book, get their work published, having a good project and getting a lot of exposure or if I’m looking at magazines and say find Kento’s or Dustin’s picture accidentally I think “oh shit I want to like keep going.”
MOT~ So some healthy competition a little bit with your peers?
JS~ Yea, I might say that. If I see you doing good I want to push too. Another is from my old pictures. I could be going through old negatives and never printed this picture, but maybe three years later I see the picture and wonder “why didn’t I print this one?” And think, hmm “oh, I have some good pictures.” Motivation often comes from an event like yesterday, I threw the party and showed people my work and they might say “Wow, that’s great” and I believe I’m doing good. Yea, because I some times worry about it, “how am I doing” but once I have a good exhibition or show the people, I receive a lot of feedback and know to keep going. Just sharing with people.

MOT~ What’s another, do you think? Another reason for motivation, you describe the competition, exhibiting your pictures and getting feedback, vibing off of people…
JS~ And well, I would saaaaayyy, ummm “Love.” (said in a low voice with a soft embarrassed giggle)
MOT~ Love?
JS~ Yea, Love. Because I’ve learned recently if I like someone I will do more, because I want to show her my way show them. If I have a lover I can do much better.
MOT~ You think so?
JS~ Yes, but like a real one. Yea, yea (at this point a little nervous about this thread of the subject) hahahaha. But I think motivation is going to be about what somebody likes or other
I just want to share [with] most people.

MOT~ Do you think while you were learning photography, say in high school, did you have a mentor, or anybody that inspired you?
JS~ (shaking his head and digging deep) Actually my school mate, she’s Korean, she’s really into photography. We the main ones to use the dark room. Her stuff is more fashion, like taking people. At that time I took mostly cityscapes, cities with people.
MOT~ Did you learn anything from her?
JS~ Just like different approach. I think mostly just me, I think about it and it came out. My photography is one idea and theirs is theirs. They’re taking their life and I mine. It’s different, I can only capture my life.

"Please Watch Your Step!"

MOT~ So how did you learn about photography, the different equipment and processes? By reading books, talking to people…?
JS~ I just learn the basic, the very basic, how to print, develop the film, that’s it. Because in high school there wasn’t really a teacher. The teacher was a beginner too, learning it all for the first time too, we are learning together, no assignment just shoot shoot shoot and print print print. That’s how I came up with my style.

MOT~ What do you think about the difference between digital and film?
JS~ I don’t care actually. Like my ideas don’t matter if it’s film or digital, it’s about catching a good moment, a good picture is good. I’m not doing Photoshop stuff. I do like film though, because you have to wait to see it, sometimes there are surprises there. Digital is about grabbing a moment and sharing while film is developed in the dark room and seen by only me, and going “je je je.” So for fine art I like film, because I can do more.

MOT~ Before you go out shooting, do you have any exercises, or do you just have your camera with you all the time?
JS~ Generally I had my camera all the time, but this year it’s changing a little bit. Now I am making a once a week book, so I have to shoot it. Sunday is always a deadline…
MOT~ Is it a personal deadline?
JS~ Yes, a personal deadline for the personal book. Sometimes Sunday [comes around] and I don’t have enough pictures to make the book [forcing me] to go out and shoot it. Today I didn’t carry a camera because I wanted to take a rest. That’s why I’d like to have a small camera in my pocket, just in case. So many things are going on, and I want to shoot everything. Catch as much as I can. Like on the subway tonight I saw some kids. . .
(Then I rudely interrupt suggesting Joji take some pictures with my camera and we don’t get to finish that story)

MOT~ Are there any books or specific resources that help you?
JS~ A book by one of the best photographers in Japan, shoots everything, maybe every moment. Seeing his book inspired me, changed my photography a little bit.

MOT~ Do you think there’s a point when it’s too much?
JS~ No, I don’t think it’s ever too much. I think too much is good (in the background a siren blares, and you see his eyes light up at the prospect of a great photo op) I think art if you are happy, happy with it, with what you’re doing it’s not too much. If you are happy with what you’ve created, that’s art.

MOT~ How would you describe your process, from your idea to going out and finding things, finding moments, your flow from beginning to end?
JS~ (A long pause)
MOT~ Have you ever thought about it?
JS~ No, not really. Actually, I do have some time line. Shoot shoot, I would say while I am shooting pictures there’s something, because when I see the old pictures I can get back to the point. I don’t know how to explain, photography sometimes tells the future, and sometimes I can go back to a picture, and remember what followed and it was like those pictures predicted the future. I think that the process of developing the negative, well, so many processes in filming. I shoot it and put it inside in my brain, then print out the film, and look through all the negatives to choose the one to print. That’s the process. A really good moment is going to be remembered.

MOT~ Do you think a really good moment is emotional, an emotional connection or more a spiritual connection?
JS~ I would say spiritual connection with the moment. Sometimes it’s scary. One example, I got arrested recently right, before I got arrested I’d made a book using for the back cover using a picture of a kid posing near the police car, kind of making fun of the police. After getting out, a couple days later I was shooting and a the picture I took happens to look like a girl in jail. It’s spiritual. Anyway, I would say the process is a making of my lifeline, making my history.
Trying to capture the moment is also like capturing a parallel world. And the blurriness [helps represent] the difference from the reality, you know.

(At this point, the beer, lack of good sleep, or the back ground action is starting to takes its toll on me. I’m about to miss a pretty profound explanation of Joji’s work and philosophy. Luckily for me he takes the time to expand on this idea)

JS~ I like blurry pictures, the movement, it’s like drawing sometimes [with light] and I when I try to capture the moment also capture the modern world. Ten years later my pictures [taken now are] gonna be [like] I was in a parallel world, because I’m trying to shoot not normal stuff, it’s normal but different the variety of a drama moment. Not quite the answer to the question but, hmm, that’s what comes to mind, my life.

MOT~ How do you know when something’s done, or pick out that picture that you like?
JS~ It’s automatic, I just know.
MOT~ Well, how do you feel, what is it inside you telling you this? I mean well why is one better then another?
JS~ Ahh, it’s all good, (laughs)… I have no idea. I would say that they touch me, maybe it looks like a movie shot or something. It’s hard to describe.

At this point our conversation trails off into other matters for about ten minutes before this women wanting to buy a cigarette interrupts us. Actually, I think he made about $3 selling three cigarettes to different folks randomly asking if he’d sell them one. They followed through and paid up, I was surprised. He liked to point out that the brand was ‘Peace’. So it seems proper to end this with the stock phrase:

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“Peace, I’m out.”

For some great examples of his work, stop by his lower east side Manhattan show at Sunita bar 106 Norfolk St in New York near the Essex subway stop. And be sure to drop by his web site Jojiphoto.com or become his friend at myspace.com/jojiphoto.