Jim Lucio was one of my first Polaroid heroes, and getting to meet him a few years ago really showed me how awesome the internet can be. We’ve been friends ever since, but will one day become the bitterest of enemies, fighting over the last packs of Polaroid film in the world.
But until that day, interview!!!
Here we go:
How’d you get interested in photography?
I’m not really sure. I have always had a camera handy since I was about 16. It probably coincided with my deep infatuation with the Warhol Factory and seeing photographs of Andy with a camera around his neck and surrounded by the most interesting looking people.
What is it about photography you like, as opposed to other artistic expressions (painting, or drawing, or writing)?
I used to paint a lot and I’ve always doodled and dabbled with writing. I enjoy all of those things. But photography is the only creative outlet that I have never lost interest in…it has always been there. Some years have been more active, but I never had to say, “I’m gonna go dust off my camera and start taking pictures again.” Painting and writing take too long and I can’t draw very well. Photography is much quicker and I’m probably better at it, so that would probably have something to do with it. I would like to get back into video/film production though and have a couple of projects that I’m planning.
You’ve got a very strong internet presence, with several websites featuring various aspects of your work. How has the internet helped you as an artist?
How can it not help any artist today? Even on a local level, where I am pretty well known, the internet serves as a reminder to people that you are still working and that you are putting on shows and photographing people they know and helping to keep a community alive. If you don’t constantly have somewhere to keep showing your work, people forget. They move on to the next thing that hits the top of the queue. You have to keep putting your work out there and the internet makes that very easy to do.
Financially I don’t know that the internet has helped me very much, but there are people around the world that know my work and hopefully talk about it once in a while. I’ve gotten into a couple of publications and shows through internet exposure and it’s one of those things where you never know who or what will come your way if you have an internet presence.
What is it you’re trying to accomplish with your photography?
I don’t know that I’m trying to accomplish anything super specific. I don’t really like thinking about those things because then everything starts sounding really pretentious and it reminds me of artist statements and how much I think they are bullshit.
It’s all selfishness. I really do it all for myself and if anyone likes it, awesome. If not, then I’m not doing it for you, am I? But I truly, deeply do care about people and specifically those who march to the beat of their own home-made musical instruments. I like to photograph people who I think I would want to hang out with. My more staged psychodramas are amusing to me. I don’t look at it like, This is ART! I do it because I think it’s funny.
Where would you like to be, artistically, in five years?
I could say I’d like to master some lighting techniques and be technically proficient with a medium format camera, but technique and “gear” have always been secondary factors to me and my work. I am more about how my photography evolves as I put more focus on nurturing friendships and seeking out people who really interest me and whose work and identities I admire. I just want to keep meeting amazingly interesting people and seeing the results on film.
You’ve been in Baltimore for several years now, how do you think the city’s affected your work?
Baltimore hasn’t really affected the look or style of my work, but it did inspire me to shoot more than when I was in New York. The people are different here. It’s kind of hard to explain, but they all seem to take this weird pride in being behind the times and not caring what is going on in the rest of the world. This is really apparent when you check local fashions … that was the first inspiration in wanting to document the people here, but it goes beyond local fashion. I love the unpretentiousness of the people. I’ve detected some change in the past couple of years, but for the most part people are very down to earth and tell it like it is…or couldn’t give two shits…I love that.
Your boyfriend, Jeremy, is also an artist. Do you think he’s contributed to your work? Do you find that you guy influence each other?
Yes. Jeremy is a painter and can be really obsessive about his work…which over the years has evolved and become really strong. We definitely both have a little bit of the other person in our individual work. I am also a casting agent and if there is nobody around to model for me or satisfy my need to create a new character to photograph, Jeremy is here to do it. When we first moved to Baltimore we only knew one person and we’d have that person come over, make a few drinks and I’d get the two of them dressed up in ridiculous outfits and take these outlandish Polaroids of them. They were like monsters in cocktail dresses and bad make-up and we were shooting single frames to lurid exploitation movies. As to Jeremy’s work, I usually just like to tell him when a painting is done or not, but he has started to make it a little bit of a habit to go through my trash and stuff that I’ve thrown out will end up as background and collage work on his paintings. Recently I threw out an old medical book and kept the stuff I wanted and the next thing I know he’s starting a whole series of portraits from images he pulled from that book…they all have these weird vagina mouths with surgical incisions in them and stuff. I think you have to see them to fully appreciate it.
Last few people I interviewed have had tattoos, what made you get yours?
An old Eastern European woman told me that the devil would take my soul if I didn’t get any. So I took her advice and got a big tattoo of Satan on my arm with the words “Jesus Saves” below it.
I first found your work through your Polaroid photos, what it is about Polaroid that you love so much? How are you preparing for its demise?
I’ve answered this question before and should have a stock answer for it. I love that with each Polaroid, I am creating a unique little artifact that goes beyond being merely a photograph. I could get a bunch of great digital shots of something and not feel very strongly about them, but if I get a single Polaroid of the same subject, I am thrilled. It’s the tactile quality that makes it more real and permanent. I put more into a single Polaroid. It’s more interactive and involves the subject much more than when I’m shooting digital.
I have about 500 exposures of Polaroid film left in my fridge. I stocked up in Feb. 2008 and it’s now Dec. ‘08 and I haven’t even used half of my original stock, so I’m doing pretty well, plus I don’t shoot as much in the winter. But I am thinking about “the end” and will probably look at the different ways I can present these photos and ways of using them as a basis for something else. I’m not losing sleep over it, really, but the whole demise will free my mind up to focus on making digital photography cool, haa haa.
Digital vs. film, valid discussion?
There are photographers who are screaming right now about analog and how they develop their own film and work with it in their darkrooms. It’s kind of like hearing some old geezer talk about how he used to walk to school in three feet of snow. I have absolute respect for them and their mastery of darkroom techniques, but it’s kind of over. Look at how fast McCain conceded? He knew it was over. Call me a quitter, but I kind of felt the same way about the “Stop Polaroid” and “Save Polaroid” websites that don’t want to see the end of production for this film. I mean, if Fuji or some other company does end up producing their own brand of instant film, I’ll probably use it, but I like to leave all that stuff to the activists and I’ll just sit quietly and watch and enjoy what I have while it lasts.
Who are some photographers you admire?
Clearly, Diane Arbus. I love her work and her character. Not to feel the need to compare myself to someone as legendary as she is, but we share a similar sensibility and the need to know the people we photograph. She loved people who lived on the fringes of society and I gravitate to those people too. I love Weegee and any lurid photography from old true crime and detective magazines. Mostly I enjoy photographers who document the people around them and the situations they get into. I love Maripol’s Polaroids of the New York club scene. Those were taken in the late 70s through the early 80s. Also my friend Jim Jocoy’s punk portraits from the same time period in LA and SF are an incredible document of that time.
Would you consider photography cathartic?
Not really. I need to do it, but I don’t need to get anything out of my system either. It feels like a necessary thing in my life that I know will continue to evolve and change over time. I may feel a little differently about it when I get to the bottom of my Polaroid film stash, but as far as photography in general, it’s like eating or sleeping to me. I just do it.
Thanks to Jim for the interview, and you can thank him, too, by voting for him in the Baker Artists Award (requires only a quick registration):
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