A Short Interview with Jack Greer about his photography.
While I was collecting pictures for my Kickstarter video I spent a lot of time on Jack Greer’s website Digital Ashtray. The older photos on DA offer an intimate glimpse of the era I portray in None of the Bad Ones, and the newer images feel like part of the same conversation about skateboarding, coming of age in Manhattan and the difficult transition into manhood. His photos became the backbone of my video — I wouldn’t have been able to effectively tell my story without them — and I’m really grateful he let me use them. The NOTBO Kickstarter has been a collaborative process and I feel like it’s important to give credit where credit is due, so I did a little interview with Jack to find out more about about his photography and spending the summer of 2014 with the Paych Kids.
Your photos have a great vibe that transcends the classic party photo thing, but you’re more known for your painting, sculpture and fashion design. Can you tell me a little more about your photography, do you have any training?
Well, I haven’t taken any photography courses, it’s been all trial and error with range finder and point and shoot cameras. Also my dad shot athletics while he was a student at UCLA. He showed me how to use the F Stop and things of that nature, so I was given some guidance — pointed in the right direction — the rest I picked up on my own.
Have you ever considered taking your photography into a gallery setting or has it always been just a fun hobby?
I’ve definitely incorporated my photographs in installation based pieces, situations where there are many different components, a sculpture that bounces off a photo and other things and ideas spread out across a room. But for the most part I don’t find exhibiting individually framed photographs that exciting, but yes, I do include it in the work I do, just not as a singular element.
A lot of people only photograph street style, or partying, or important hipsters, but you seem to be willing to point your lens anywhere. When you’re out with a camera what do you look for, is it image based or a feeling that compels you to shoot something?
Well, in the beginning I was compelled to shoot still life and mix those images with pictures of my friends, but over time I’ve become much less interested in the landscape of the city and random geometrics. I don’t care about those things anymore. Now I mostly just want to document the individuals that exist in the microcosms of my life, these very close groups of people, very pack oriented. Also now that I’m older I can see what’s going on with the people 5 and 10 years younger than me, I recognize the importance of the transitional states they’re in. [When I was their age] I was lucky to enough to have the camera in my pocket and take some of those pictures, but I didn’t understand the significance of those photos until more recently.
That was part of my next question actually. There are a lot of amazing photographs on your site from the summer of 2014, tons of images of that whole new generation of NY skate kids ripping and becoming adults. Did you purposely document those Paych guys or did you just happen to have a camera around?
100% on purpose. I was extremely conscious of them and I was shooting more photos than I’d shot in like five years. Before that I was going through maybe 1 roll of film every 2 or 3 weeks. I was shooting one image of one scene as it happened, then putting the camera back in my pocket. But last summer I saw that there was something really special happening amongst this group that I’d been lucky enough to find myself a part of. I felt like they saw me as a peer so there wasn’t this exploitative nature in documenting them. I was documenting them from the inside, not out. It felt very pure and honest. They were going out to bars and clubs for the first time, spending their first real summer in the New York that I know, so I decided to document that from my 28-year-old perspective, and I made of book of the images from that summer.
Really? Where is this book? I’ve never seen it, did you print copies?
Only a couple. I wanted to treat it like a piece. With a sculpture there’s maybe an edition of 3 and an artists print. It’s not 72 individual photographs meant to be exhibited on their own. The idea is that there’s one image, or one aesthetic, created by viewing the images held in the tactile object.
So you keep them all together to create a mood or collective image?
Yes, it’s not about the pictures individually. You hold onto this object and you get a glimpse of this summer or this time in these individuals lives. The Book’s about viewing the whole thing in its entirety, which is why I’m not really into exhibiting individual photographs.
Were you compelled to document this time for these kids because you didn’t do it when you were their age?
No, I was basically living the same lifestyle as them last summer. It was a symbiotic relationship; I was as much a part of it as them. It felt honest and I was just in a position where I’m able to buy a bunch of film, shoot the images, and have a book made. I wasn’t making up for anything, I just didn’t have the means or the mind to work in this way when I was younger.
One thing I noticed about your photos is you don’t push them on the world. You have this amazing archive on Digital Ashtray and other stuff on tumblr, but you never post them on Instagram or share them anywhere. Is that a conscious decision?
Yes, something I’ve learned from life as a DIY, existing in subcultures person, is to maintain this privacy of experience. And although I’m an open book and willing to talk about and show anyone if they’re interested, I’m less interested in pushing that on the world than I am in creating a body of content. And it exists, but it’s not my responsibility to thrust it into your hands or promote the content I’m creating. I think that if it’s good, then people will see it, it’ll eventually get to them and they’ll take the time to look. Digital Astray is such a personal archive, like for me. It’s there to keep the work from disappearing, so it doesn’t get lost on an old hard drive that breaks. I don’t care if it spreads beyond the immediate network of people I’ll send the link to. It’s almost like a secret website that’s not for anyone.
Last thing, any opinions on the Richard Prince Instagram pieces?
I’d like to wait a couple years and look back on them. Instagram is so now and it’s the way people are accessing imagery. Using it as his platform to appropriate is in line with all of his previous work. Do I like it aesthetically? I haven’t put much thought into it. I don’t think he’s doing anything fucked up or anti-women, but do I think they’re great pieces of art? We’ll have to give it time.