Monday, 18 October 2010

An interview with Ross Farrar of Ceremony

Last Thursday I had the privilege of sitting down with Ross Farrar, a photographer, writer and poet perhaps best known to most as the frontman for North Californian Punk band Ceremony. A group who in my opinion are the absolute leading light in Hardcore today.

We spoke predominantly about Ross' photography. Being an amateur myself I was eager to know the ins and outs of his approach to taking photos as well as to learn about what drives him to express himself through such a wide range of mediums. I loved every second of it, Ross is a great guy. Needless to say Ceremony had played a blinding set before we sat down. It was great to finally hear tracks from Rohnert Park after months of pissing off just about everyone around me by playing it constantly at a less than friendly volume.

Anyway, we shot this interview on video camera, which I'll try to upload soon. The following is a complete transcription of the interview. Enjoy.

The first question I wanted to ask,
Was Photography instilled in your mind from an early age?

Yeah, my dad kind of got me into it, he was going to The Brookes in Santa Barbara, It's like a commercial Photography school now, it used to be different, it was I guess involved with the arts at first and he went there in the early 70's and was really into photography. He is still kind of involved with it a little bit but not as much, and then when I got into high school I was taking a photography program so he gave me all his equipment. He gave me his 35 millimetres, he gave me a 4 x 5 camera, a rolleiflex - 125mm rolleiflex. He kinda taught me what to do, I was like 'OK, I kinda like it', I was getting into it and then I left it for a long time, maybe three years and then I started taking a class in a junior College and I was like, ' Well, I actually really like this.' My whole life i've kind of fell into stuff that my dad was into, It was kind of weird, I guess you can say it was instilled in me somehow. Everything that my dad was doing, I kind of fell into at the time - right around the same time he got into Photography when he was a kid, I started getting into it.

The same age he did, the same age you did?

Yeah, the same age, and, I don't know.. I've just been doing it ever since, because I'm always on tour, always on the road and there's always interesting things to take pictures of, we're involved with all these great countries, cities, people and everything so there's always a very wide variety of subject material that you can take pictures of. So I've kind of been doing that, I don't take it as seriously as I used to. I went to school because I wanted to take pictures for a living, but then I realised, well, I don't know if I want to make this my living, I don't know if I want to make this as a job, I'd rather maybe keep it as a hobby.

You shot the Trash Talk - 'Eyes & Nines' back cover, how was that?

Yeah, they asked me to take their picture, because I'm really good friends with those guys, they live close to me. We're always hanging out and shit so they were like 'Yeah we're gonna be in the city so can you take the picture for the back cover?' I was like, yeah, sure. I did that, and a few other random things, there's a couple of other people who have asked me to do things for publications. It's pretty cool, I've been lucky thus far with that.

Did you follow these opportunities through with various publications?

It's cool, I mean I lived in San Francisco for a long time and there's a pretty big photography scene there, and there's the culture, the arts. Of course San Francisco is very involved with all sorts of stuff. When I moved there I met a bunch of people and I was lucky to meet certain people. I knew a guy and he published a bunch of stuff for Upper Playground. Stuff like the International Toy Camera thing, I was taking pictures with Holga just randomly and I knew the lady and she was like 'Oh give me some pictures, we can publish some stuff.' It's been pretty cool, thus far.

When you go out to shoot, and you're motivated to shoot, is it an artistic motivation or is it a motivation to document friends, family, environment? Is it art or is it documentation, where do you see the line?

Well, I guess there is a time and a place for everything, sometimes I go out on hunts where I try to find things that are pretty or captivating that I want to take pictures of and at other times I'll just be with my friends, you know, taking pictures of whatever we're doing. Ever since I started taking pictures I was told by my dad or the teacher, whoever, to take pictures of what you're doing at the time - take pictures of what you know. If you're skating, take pictures of that, if you're going to Hardcore shows take pictures of that, if you're smoking crack.. take pictures of that! Take pictures of whatever you're doing because there's going to be a niche somewhere, there's going to be some place where people are going to want to see that you know? There's going to be some kind of window somewhere, where people are going to be like 'Okay, thats interesting, I want to see that.' It doesn't really matter what it is, there's people who take pictures of rolls and cheese and food, because there is an interest in that. You could just be like 'Oh I'm going to take pictures of couches for a month' - and you could do a couch series or something, so there's all different kinds of shit you can do but I would say that the most important thing you can do is just take pictures of what you're doing at the time because you're going to get the most interesting pictures, because you're interested in that.

Do you see the work that you've done so far being intrinsic to your locality, as in Rohnert Park, North California? Or do you think your work would be just as strong somewhere else, say New York or wherever..?

I think it's probably more intrinsic to me, I grew up in Rohnert Park and I've taken pictures of all my friends and family and the culture, the scene. Whatever is happening around me, I've taken pictures of that. I think it's important to me, I mean now that I'm in Ceremony everything I do is more public and now that it is public it's going to somehow reach out to people in a certain way, people are going to get interested in it, like you, you got interested in the pictures that I've taken so i've been blessed that way. There's people randomly all over the world, I'll meet people in Japan who will be like 'Oh I like what you've done.' It's really because of Ceremony, it is because of who you know and what you're doing. It's hard to make a name for yourself unless you're involved with something certain and something concrete, like a band. It helps, lets just say that. It's really hard to be an art student, or a kid just trying to make it in the art scene. When I moved to San Francisco I was getting involved with Ceremony and I was like oh I'm going to be on tour all over the world, I've got to start taking pictures, thats what I like to do and it worked out, I was really blessed that way. I do feel like it's important to me, to take the pictures that I take, because I'm cataloging all the things that I've seen. I was in Milan, in Italy the other day and I was taking picures of Catholic Priests, walking out of the Chapel, I just happened to be there, but it's really hard to get pictures like that because they don't want you to take pictures of you, they hate it - the whole time he was like 'No, no, don't' as I tried to get a portrait. If you're able to travel and be in that position then you might as well take advantage of it.

I would like to do a huge, huge project on Rohnert Park, thats what I want to do because thats where I'm from and I know a lot of people, that would be cool.

Final question, I wanted to know, with your photography, your writing, poetry and short stories .. and then the band - do you see them all as standalone projects or is there a big interweave between the whole thing?

It's a little bit interweaved, but it's hard to balance everything at once. If I get involved with a photography project then I'll find I want to do that, but at the same time I'm trying to write all the time too, so it's really hard to find a balance between everything. I would say that the photography has been pushed aside more so lately because what I'm trying to do with my life in general is write. Thats what I want to do, I want to write things for people and I want people to be able to connect and feel things, I feel like it's a little harder with Photography. It's harder for me because I don't want to make it my full time job, I do it as a hobby, but writing, I do it everyday - I do it all the time, but writing poetry and then writing short stories and maybe something longer, if I'm involved with that at the time then thats what I want to do.

I'll wake up in the morning and some days I'll just be like 'Fuck?!' - I want to go outside and walk around, I want to go to San Francisco and take pictures or skate around and take pictures or whatever. Then there will be days where I just want to be in the house, you know? Not talk to anyone, just write stuff. I think it kind of depends on your emotional level at the time, because if you're out doing street Photography you're going to be out in the public, you're going to be interacting with people, it's a little more social, I mean, you can be voyeuristic about it obviously. Writing is a very very solitary thing. You can go and write around people but it's not going to be the same, you'll feel like you have to go alone somewhere and sit in your room or some other space where you can write. Theyare two very different things, Photography you're out in the world but when you're writing it's solitary art, whether you're in your house or whether you're in a cafe in the corner. Wherever you're writing you're going to need to be alone. Your girlfriend can't be like *raises voice* 'OH HOW WAS YOUR DAY?', when you're trying to write something. It's more of an introverted thing.


Thanks to Anthony of Slowmotion Promotions and my brother Lewis for helping out.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Alexis Gross - Drop Some Acid

Alexis Gross confesses that she feels almost too old for her bones, as if by some cosmic imbalance she has somehow been born in the wrong era. Her life so far has been a chaotic disquietude of moments every right wing, flower sniffing, Tory voter would much rather expunge from their conscious drift altogether, let alone document it on colour film for the world to peek at through finger obscured eyesight.

She was born some 21 years ago, raised in Westhampton Beach, a speck of a village located in Suffolk County, New York. A village which had its agricultural consuetude levelled to make way for a rainbow of summer homes and the hotel industry. This dramatic shift in disposition could almost be seen as a tidemark of this town’s suicide, nevertheless Gross found herself growing up with two parents ‘still feeling the affects of an acid trip and a sister that really needed to drop some’ – a combination of what sounds like free spiritedness and brusque sorority.

After several years of regularly exposing her camera to her imbibed underworld of choice; made up of the resentfully beautiful yet fucked up types commonplace when it came to Dash Snow’s Polaroids or Ryan McGinley’s ‘The Kids Are Alright’ series, Alexis made the move to Toronto to further her work. She now resides in Brooklyn, a full two years on from her stint north of the border, where she continues to document the writhing scene of motorcycle oiks and innocuous long haired beer-swillers, as well as taking a closer look at skateboard culture and the associated party overload induced malaise.

Alexis grew up around skateboarders and subsequently her photos reflect a very real way of life - a way of life that she herself has lived by both behind the lens as well as dancing in front of it. Alexis Gross triggers a shockwave of fervour in her subjects, capturing the ardent passion to chase exhilaration that exudes so glaringly from the people around her. She takes photos of life’s ongoing party, documenting her local group of skateboarding friends, a scene almost closed off to any outsiders because of its tribal nature. The prints showcased on her website are tremendously gritty, they strike the senses with an assault of abrasion. A lot of them look as if they have been printed, carried around in a bag for a week, left on a coffee table to collect the stale air of blue smoke and dust for a further few days and then finally scanned in and posted to her site.

I look at Alexis’ work and see striking similarities between her, Laura Lynn Petrick, Nina Hartmann and Ross Farrar. Not only her physical preset to taking photos, and by that I mean shooting with low-grade film, but also kinship by way of the people she is so keen on documenting. Many, if not all of my photographers of choice have an eye for shooting their friends or the contemporaries around them. Quite often these friends are representations of a sub-culture, a counter scene to the capitalist money crunching economy mechanics, a tumult of people more concerned with art, socialising, representation, human nature and enjoyment than anything Ronald Reagan had to say.

There is a rather intriguing collection of photos on her website grouped together under the word ‘FUCKS’, which depicts a series of men and women in all manner of settings, from laying in bed semi nude to cracking open a bottle of beer, strumming on stage or inspecting a fresh bodily injury. The young Gross is as unapologetic as they come in terms of talking about her portfolio of work and in a recent interview with Foam Magazine she happily answered the interviewer’s inquiry about her collection of ‘FUCKS’, stating that ‘“The fuck section is about dudes I've f**ked, my friends who are f**king each other and dudes who are just f**ked!” Clearly Alexis’ intention of honesty knows no bounds, an observation that attracts me to her work in a very strong way.

Gross is progressing further and further along the line of photography infamy. Her fabled shots of situational occurrences have so far led her to a stream of job prospects. Only recently has she successfully completed a printed photozine of her photos, working with Dan Pelissier from Young Healers, further to that she has successfully shot an ad for Glamour Kills which went on to be featured in Nylon Magazine and perhaps most impressively she has taken on a position as contributing photographer for skate magazine Color.

Alexis Gross’ plethora of photographic documentation is more like a recounting of activities in photo form, as if Gross herself is the treasurer and we as viewers are lucky enough to be given a ‘through the keyhole’ glance at life on the other side. I’m sure the obsession with Gross will not taper off anytime soon.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Sump - Taken Dead


This is currently pinning my bollocks to the floor and giving me a good lesson in how to create the most satisfactory Black Punk imaginable. These guys are from Leeds, I found them through my good friend Thom who is more than clued up on that entire scene. Don't think of this however as ill deserved bias towards fellow Yorkshiremen, Sump are well worth your time if you're willing to dip a toe into what sounds like a pool of noxious exhalations from once living matter. Their sound - specifically their guitar work - reminds me at times of Saccharine Trust, albeit if Saccharine Trust literally did not give a shit and had distorted themselves out of all known dimensions to a place where up became down and ugly became beautiful.

Head on over to The Funeral Stench to download this death rattle.