New York to LA: A Rookie’s First Photography Showcase
A burgeoning filmmaker and photographer, Corey Deshon is getting ready for his first showcase — and the first time his work will appear in print. Recently transplanted to LA from NYC, Corey uses film to study cityscapes and tell honest stories about their residents. For Polarr, Emily von Hoffmann chatted with Corey about his upcoming showcase, “making it” as a young photographer, and his future plans.
Emily von Hoffmann: Can you describe the spirit of your contribution to the next RAW: Hollywood showcase for our readers? How might you characterize your images? What do they confront or make conclusions about?
Corey Deshon: I’ve decided for the RAW showcase to highlight my NY street photography. I shoot a very wide range of subjects and styles so narrowing down to that was tricky, but I think that series does a really good job of depicting how I approach composition and lighting in some of my other subjects as well. And also because I’ve found a lot of people I’ve met from LA to be fascinated by the NY culture and lifestyle, so I feel like it’s a subject they would really enjoy seeing. I’ve focused the bulk of the shots on the NY subways, which as many will tell you move at a much different pace than the metro lines out here. Movement at different paces is a common theme throughout the photos, whether it’s speeding through subway tunnels or sitting still in the stations. I’ll also have a few shots from various other places of the city, possibly Harlem jazz clubs or restaurants and other street-level scenes. Something else to show other pieces of the city. Still narrowing down my final picks.
EvH: Your images seem a combination of street and portrait photography, although there are some slightly more staged or commercial-looking fashion shots as well. How would you describe your style?
CD: That’s hard to say. I don’t think I have any one particular style of shooting. I approach each subject very differently and try to just aim for what feels right given the context of the shot. One thing that I do keep in mind though when going into most shoots is narrative. I like for there to be some element of story in my photographs, whether they’re street or portraiture or fashion. The stories will vary based on what I’m shooting, but I always try to keep them working toward some “cohesive whole,” either in individual shots or in a series. A lot of my motivation for photography comes out of writing, so I’m often going out in search of new stories to tell visually as well.
When it comes to the fashion shots specifically, those are for a long term project I’m working on to publish as a hardcover book celebrating the beauty and diversity of multiethnic and multiracial women, through artistic photographs that directly represent their interests and personalities without overly glamorizing or sexualizing them, as is common in a lot of photographs of “urban” models. So each of those shoots even follows its own “day in the life of” style narrative while I explore what makes each person unique.
Other than that, if I had to put labels on my style as a whole I’d have to go with ‘raw’ and ‘natural.’ I try to represent the world as I see it, without any sort of cropping or retouching in Photoshop or anything like that, beyond some minor color correction if I’m not happy with how the digital scans have come back.
EvH: Who or what are some of your visual influences or inspirations, in any medium?
CD: I draw a lot of inspiration from a wide range of photographers, directors, writers, cinematographers, essentially anyone who really makes their work their own and has a unique perspective to offer. To name a few there’s Stanley Kubrick, Saul Leiter, Alfonso Cuarón, Roger Deakins, Emmanuel Lubezki, Henrik Purienne, Larry Smith, Pedro Almodóvar, and I could keep going for a while. Most recently I’d have to add Anna Mia Davidson, who I discovered through your very own Pixel Mag article.
Outside of specific people, I draw a lot of influence and inspiration across different platforms of art. I mentioned before that writing inspires a lot of my photography. Going even further, the photographic work will inspire how I direct. Music will influence the kinds of subjects I write about and the moods of any given piece, while film and television often influence the types of music I discover to listen to or even compose / produce myself (another hobby of mine). Everything kind of bleeds together that way.
EvH: You’re a big proponent of shooting on film, and often use cameras that you pick up along the way. Why? When did this preference begin? Do you have any examples of fun or surprising ways in which you happened upon a secondhand camera?
CD: Being such a strong advocate for film actually started after getting bored of digital photography. Starting back when I was a kid, I loved taking pictures of everything, everywhere I went. I loved the act of it: walking around, looking for things that stood out to me, composing and shooting the image. Mostly on little disposable cameras until digital started taking over and I’ve have little point and shoots and then eventually a DSLR in college. Then I’d get home from a 60 minute shoot with 500 photos that I’d proceed to spend the next 4 hours narrowing down and editing to the only 10 or 20 that actually came out good. And that was something I absolutely hated. I wanted to be out shooting, not sitting behind a computer desk for hours buried in Photoshop. But that was what it took to produce quality photos then. The unaltered digital shots just looked stale, there was no personality to the image until you put it under the Photoshop microscope. And that wasn’t what I signed up for, and so eventually I just got bored of it. Not that people can’t or don’t produce fantastic digital images, it just wasn’t my thing.
Fast forward a few years and now I’m living in LA, focusing 110% of my energy into my creative passions, and I started to really miss photography. The closer I got to realizing some of my filmmaking goals, the more I was starting to be turned off by the industry’s push toward shooting everything digitally as well. It felt like the personality was being sucked out of movies and being replaced by those really stale and generic looking images. So I realized if I wanted to have a fighting chance at pushing to shoot on film as a director, I’d need to have some more practical understanding of why I liked it so much. So I bought a Canon AE-1 off of eBay for $35 and to this day, that’s what’s behind 90% of what I shoot.
Ever since then, I’ve made it my mission to experiment with and shoot as many different types and formats of film as I still can, and have been collecting cameras along the way to do so. Every time I bought a “new” film camera (either on eBay or Craigslist), there would be something that made it distinctly different from the last. My first one was a 35mm SLR, so then I wanted to try a Medium Format SLR, then a different negative size Medium Format SLR, then a 35mm Rangefinder, then a Polaroid, then a different format of Polaroid, etc. etc. Next I’ll try a Medium Format Rangefinder., and so on. I’m essentially taking this self-guided crash course in the history of cameras and photography in the way that some of the photographers I look up to did in their generations as these different formats of cameras were first being released.
I’d say my best example of acquiring a new camera that also highlights why I love film photography so much came earlier this year when I was shooting a wedding for the first time. Now, I don’t consider myself a wedding photographer at all, but the bride really loved my work and for me it meant a free trip to San Diego, so why not? Not really knowing what I wanted to do, I brought all of my cameras with me, then on the way there decided that I was most comfortable using the AE-1 for the majority of it. Then I thought, “What if something happens and I lose this camera body, then what?” So I scoured Craigslist in San Diego to find a backup AE-1 body. All I could find was a guy selling three bodies in a package with about three or four lenses and some other accessories. When I got there, none of the cameras “worked,” so he said $50 gets the whole lot. Done. Knowing the AE-1, you’ll know that the shutters are electronic and won’t fire if there’s no battery. So I bought three perfectly good Canon AE-1 kits for $50, spent $15 on batteries and I was good to go. That’s another upside of film photography for me, the incredible gear you can get for next to no money at all. 90% of my work is shot on a beat up $35 Canon AE-1 with electrical tape holding the battery in place, and that’ll hold me over just fine until I’m making Leica money.
EvH: This will be your first experience exhibiting your work in a gallery (Congrats, by the way!). Before this, you mostly promoted your work on Instagram and flickr — do you have any advice for other photographers who are at a similar stage, but may not have had their big break yet?
CD: Thank you! Not only is it my first time exhibiting in a gallery, but it’s actually my first time printing any of my work ever. That’s just as exciting to me, as now I can finally experience what it will be like to see a darkroom print being made. Due to a severe lack of space in my LA apartment, I haven’t done any development myself, so the darkroom aspect of film photography (which is why half of the film enthusiasts out there love it so much) is still unfortunately pretty foreign to me. I can’t call myself a purist yet, but I’ll be looking to tackle that hurdle next year. For now, I can’t wait to see this printing process through. Again, I’ll be avoiding digital processing entirely and going with Gelatin Silver and Chromogenic printing.
My advice for others is to just shoot what you want to shoot and get your work out there for people to see. It’s weird to think I go through so much trouble to only shoot film, just to have the negatives scanned and transferred onto a cellphone so I can post them on Instagram, but that’s what’s necessary to get noticed today. I wouldn’t be exhibiting with RAW if they hadn’t discovered my work through Instagram. A lot of the models I’m working with for my book project came from mutual likes on Instagram. So the most important thing to do is get your work out there however you can. Actually, I take that back. That’s second. The most important thing is to shoot the things you want to shoot. Have your influences and your inspirations, but don’t let other photographers’ styles hinder your own because you’re trying to be like them. There are so many people out there doing the same thing, the ones who really get noticed do so because they presented something fresh and original. Even if you think some people might not like what you want to shoot, shoot it anyway. Over time, you develop your own signature style that new people will come to like for new reasons. I’d rather have 50% of the audience love my work and 50% absolutely hate it than 100% of them have no opinion of it. So be true to yourself in your art form, whatever it may be, and get your work out there for people to see. Then, opportunities will find you.
EvH: If you could go anywhere for a shoot, where would it be and what would that project center on?
CD: I have a few “must visit” travel destinations on my list. The first would be Thailand, which I’m hoping to get to early next year. After that, tied for second place would have to be Cuba and Morocco. If I could get to all three of those places next year and fail at absolutely everything else I try to do, I’d still end the year happy. I just love to travel and experience new cultures in general though, so any chance I have to see something new I’m open to. Ultimately, I do want to publish a street photography book of various travel destinations, which like the model book, would try to highly the unique traits and personalities of each city I visit. But even if the book doesn’t happen, it’s the exploring and shooting I enjoy the most, so I’ll be happy just to see the world with a camera in hand.