Email interview on March 14 (thankfully not face to face as I would not have been able to ask questions through the laughter)*
KL: What drew you to photography as a medium? Is it your only creative outlet?
CV: There’s a quote from a movie that says, “I’m like a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do if I caught one.” This is how I feel about my life and photography. A camera is a tool, and this tool allows me to romanticize that nomadic life so many of us drool over. I’ve yet to locate, definitively, what drew me towards photography, but I’m working on it, and when I find it I’m sure the sky will split open, lightning will strike me down, and it won’t matter. (eye wink emoji)
I’m afraid that photography and worrying are about the only things I do moderately well, and I can say that I’m excelling rapidly at worrying.
KL: Do you believe there is a narrative to your photography?
CV: I believe I can bullshit the hell out of my photography. I can say that I document my life (Denver, Los Angeles, Mexico, New York, Jeonju, Beijing), or garbage bins in alleyways, or the random passerby on a scooter or those stupid 2 wheel future thingies…or the 92 year old Sunday pedestrian unaware of me popping off a sloppy frame because I’m afraid he’ll go from docile to violently offended at the click of the shutter. I’m taking the long way to spout that maybe I can say there’s a narrative, line up the right photos, force the story, but really, I haven’t found it yet. I’d like to refer back to the movie quote I used in the above.
Aggression, I’m attracted to fearlessness, aggression, and intensity, but if there’s going to be a real narrative, like a true blood and sweat narrative, I need it to matter to me more than just life in general. I also don’t want the subject to wake me up, I want to be awake and make a conscious choice to cover the topic with a purpose.
KL: You do a lot of street photography but you often focus on cityscapes, what is it about skylines and buildings that attract you?
CV: A person may look at a body of mountains and attempt to ponder all the workings of that mountain-scape. I look at architecture and do the same. Everything from ‘how did they make that’ to ‘I wonder what weird shit might be happening in there.’ Really, when it comes to structures, old and new, I love the contrast of the established old and the bulldozing new…past and future being forced to coexist. Whether urbanization is a bad thing or a productive sort of evolutionary occurrence, as an observer I find it exciting.
…Okay, I’m trying to sound smart. ^ Who am I kidding? I look at massive structures and I picture the apocalypse. I envision giant robots, lean, scary, lethal, just peeking around some futuristic building ready to wreak havoc. I hear sirens, people reacting, some mesmerized, some terrified. I’m a giant kid who likes giant structures, mega industrial vehicles/machines, trains, etc. A building, especially one with character (old or new) inspires that overactive kid who can’t seem to give up his daydreaming days, to imagine a world years into the future. What kind of plant life will cover the CCTV building 200 years after the apocalypse? What kind of animals will roam the ruins of the Getty? All that being said, one thing I know I need to change is the angle and height I’m at when photographing structures. I’m getting bored…need to go get higher.
Also, a building’s not gonna cancel on me or tell me “I feel fat today” or “Stop that weirdo! Why did you take my picture?”
KL: How much has the move to Beijing impacted your work? How does it compare to Jeonju or New York?
CV: My whole life I’ve been shit at planning, but I can say that China was on the list of things to do. I had lived in various parts of the United States, but never overseas. The UK wouldn’t let me, fine. Korea did, and although I was a real moaner there at first, it opened up my eyes a bit. New York is a formidable place, and so far, in my opinion, the most photogenic city in the United States. ------
KL: Most of your work is in colour, what informs your choice in whether to process photos of colour or black and white?
CV: Really it depends on my mood. If I’m out somewhere and it’s really colorful or maybe the subject doesn’t match the color (i.e. happy colors, but not so happy subject or vice versa) I’ll feel that color plays a vital role to convey the emotional contrast, add some intensity to the moment. Not sure if that makes sense. However, I find black and white to be pretty damn sexy. When I used to shoot film, black and white was all I shot. I remember a friend telling me that black and white photography was pointless. It was a strange moment because I remember just wanting to rabbit punch his face. It revealed to me how emotionally invested I was. I can’t explain the technical terms of color vs BW, film vs digital, iphone vs a 50 gazillion dollar camera, but I can feel provoked, at any given time, by all of it.
KL: Explain what photo editing you use and why. What are you trying to add to the image through adjustments?
CV: Before I say anything about editing, I will say this – I don’t give a shit about purity unless purity and “truth” is what I’m after. I feel the need to say this because I hear so many different perspectives that all end up sounding the same….#Nofilter. Whenever I see this I think #goodforyou followed by #Ifilterthehelloutofshit or #tonsOfilters or #filtersabound or #yesIeditedthisphoto. Journalism, with this genre of photography there should be integrity or simplicity when editing – color correction, perhaps a crop, contrast, etc. However, when shooting whatever you want, I figure I can do whatever I want afterwards. My editing is brought on by several variables 1. My camera and all it’s artificial intelligence doesn’t always capture what I’m seeing in regards to color, contrast, etc, so I have to try and find what I saw via Photoshop (Computer), Snapseed or VSCOcam (Phone) 2. If there’s a preconceived concept before I take a photo, and it calls for something a bit more than what was available there during the shot (light and colorwise and so on). 3. I’m bored and I just like messin’ with shit.
In the last few years I have subtly slid away from intense editing and developed a hankering for simplicity regarding my approach to capturing an image (This is what happens when your torrented Photoshop goes tits up and you’re not smart enough to fix it). Although these days editing seems simple to me, I’m hoping to make it even simpler. Who knows, perhaps in the end I will be after that purity and truth, but until then #Ifilterthehelloutofshit.
Sidenote: I do believe in method and skill. Never just slam a filter on something at 100%.
KL: Do you enjoy portraiture? Is that something that you would like to do more? Is there something holding you back from doing more of it? How important is rapport between you and your subject?
CV: I love portraiture. I started off wanting to pursue photojournalism before photography school, and then discovered, after the first year of pounding my head into the wall, that I’m pretty decent at portraiture. However, my portraiture had always been something under my control. I’ve never executed a body of work that involved getting portraits of people on the street. That’s a whole other ball game, and I’m not there yet. I don’t like being intrusive, so I think before that happens; I need to figure out a more organic, human approach rather than the trigger happy ‘shoot first ask questions later’ approach. When I set up a portrait session, the older I get, the more I’d like to cut away the bullshit. If I’m getting paid, fine, lets look at your concept, do what you want, hopefully we end up connecting to better pull the quality of the portrayal forward. If it’s a session I’ve set up for the sake of shooting something, I enjoy natural, very open interactions
KL: I know you’re involved in collaboration with another photographer for an exhibition coming up. Can you tell me more about it?
CV: Yeah, Ben Ashley and I are teaming up to be a part of an exhibition about urbanization and tradition here in Beijing. We have to come up with an installation to present our images. We will try and find a rhythm between images that capture tradition and images that convey rapid growth and the effects this influx has on tradition.
KL: Is this your first collaboration? How’s it working out? Any future collaboration plans after the exhibition?
CV: Yeah, this is my first collaboration. I know that this is a typical thing to say when working in any creative vein, but I don’t usually work well with others. The reasons vary from ‘the other person just doesn’t get it’ to ‘I’m perhaps too dumb to keep up with them’ or ‘I’m lazy’. Sometimes two or more people approaching something from different angles can just confuse things, but Ben and I get along, he’s a good friend, and we don’t take certain aspects of life too seriously so we tend to laugh it off if things get stressful. As far as shooting with any other digital photographers, Ben’s my guy, no need to change that. He refers to us as “Vega and Son” which always makes me chuckle a bit.
KL: Have you had relationships in the past with particular models etc? How did these interactions work out?
CV: Past working relationships, hmm they’ve ranged from rapper clientele to models building a portfolio. I enjoyed the contrast of subjects because they ranged from lethal to beautiful…. one of my favorite moments is when lethal and beautiful mingle into one subject. Back in the states I had a few muses who made themselves available to photograph. They were female, and full of so much character, but most of all they were fearless and intensely contemplative. I enjoy capturing these characteristics in a person so long as it’s genuine.
KL: What are your plans for the future (any projects up your sleeve after the exhibition)?
CV: I’ve been talking film with a couple of friends (Ryan and Jon), but I’ve yet to take on the task of reintroducing myself to the poetry of the darkroom. As far as digital photography goes, I’d like to go after portraiture again, but seeing as how most people I’ve met here don’t fare well in the cold, I’ve been waiting for the temperature to pick up a bit before I fully tackle any new portrayals. You know, and I know this is going to sound a bit (jerk off motion) douche-baggy, but it’s not about the camera, or the parameters of my work. It’s about an evolution that’s hopefully taking place in my head. There’s chaos, there’s the whole dog chasing cars thing…there’s this mess that I used to think stemmed from a lack of intelligence, which still may be the case, but ultimately there’s storm brewing, and I like it.
Some say that Christopher Vega was born in Oceanside California and raised by a pack of wolves in Pueblo Colorado. It’s been said that he Studied photography at the Art Institute of Colorado where instead he should’ve just purchased a ‘how to’ book and made friends with a couple of Photoshop nerds. Check him out on tumblr and instagram.
Or visit the exhibition:
City Tradition : Tradition in Urbanization runs from 23 April till 13 May at Yan Huang Art Museum, 9 Hui Zhong Road, Asian Games Village, Chaoyang District, Beijing
*As the interview was conducted in writing, answers appear in American English