Friday, 5 October 2012

An Interview with Victor Cobo

Michael Christopher Brown interviews fellow photographer Victor Cobo.
from the series 'Flâneur' © Victor Cobo

What are the special ingredients in your picture making process?

For me, photography is escapism. It always has been and always will. Now I create a sort of universe for myself, searching out characters as if I was a director making a film. I find landscapes and objects and characters which seem surreal. For me it is about the experience, putting myself in situations where the experience is going to yield something that is interesting. Maybe a tension between me and the subject matter, or a strange sort of flirtation, it depends on the situation. These pictures are done in my backyard, I don’t really travel to make photographs. To some extent it is dramatized, but it is basically my life.

Do you think people understand your work?

I don’t know, I think there are misconceptions about it. Some people have a problem with the nudity and don’t understand what is going on, or that they think I am exploiting people. But people will always have issues with work that is tough to fit into a particular genre. If it’s not fashion, documentary or fine art, then what is it? I used to be a photojournalist, working at a newspaper and later for magazines, and I think this history makes the work I am doing now more interesting as there is a hint of journalism in the work.

Why do some people believe you are copying other photographers?

I don’t know. Perhaps it is because I am photographing similar things that others (Daido Moriyama, Antoine D’Agata, Anders Petersen, JH Engström) photographed. But many people are doing similar things with a similar style, playing on the amateur snapshot, the vernacular photograph but done with a keen and perceptive eye. We play with these two worlds in similar ways, so it’s easy to say I am copying or doing the same thing. Though of course, the work certainly fits into a genre: There’s a book coming out called MONO, I’m in there with Moriyama and Peterson, etc, and much of the work in that book is of similar subject matter and all in black and white. It takes time to get to the point where people say ‘ok that is Victor and nobody else.’ Maybe I am not there yet or maybe I am and don’t realize it, but either way I’ll get there.

from the series 'The Spectre of Theatre' © Victor Cobo

What is your project ‘The Spectre of Theater’ about?

The series consists of self-portraits, where I’m in disguise or wearing make-up to create these alter egos. For years I have photographed characters, finding them on the streets, but now I often become those characters, playing with the idea of being them, or something like them, by using theater like settings. Some of the images are influenced by black and white film noir, thrillers and early David Lynch. But this is a loose self-portraits series, because there are several images that are not me but i wish they were. Then there are other photos that look like others but are me.

from the series 'Remember When You Loved Me' © Victor Cobo
from the series 'Remember When You Loved Me' © Victor Cobo

How about the project ‘Remember When You Loved Me’?

This one of my more psychological projects, and is based on coming from a dysfunctional family, which means it is based on love and how that love is unattainable and how there are certain people we wish we had love from. It extends from childhood and my parents, like I haven’t seen my father in ten years, he is an incredibly lonely person and basically sits in a room by himself with severe depression. I don’t do that, but instead have the drive to illustrate loneliness and isolation in my photos.

from the series 'Down In The Hole' © Victor Cobo

What about ‘Down in the Hole’?

I began this series around 2003 in the tenderloin district and the underbelly, the fringes of San Francisco. I came from a middle class background and was just drawn to this side of life which i didn’t experience growing up. So the work is based on that adventure and the efforts to enter a world that were foreign to me. There are more self-portraits in this work, as in general I consider all these projects like a diary, in terms of the way they are put together. The isolation, the loneliness, the desire to live a life not considered normal middle class American, I enjoyed throwing myself into these situations and in a sense I became what I photographed.

So there are pictures in these projects that are from your life, that might not have been taken in the same place or during the same time but just seem to work together?

In general these projects are based on a sort of lyrical song, where the pictures work together abstractly, they are certainly not an objective story line. It is interesting when you turn the camera around and photograph yourself, it throws a whole other context onto the work while making things deeper and more interesting. Also, because the subjects I’m working with are part of who I am, I am photographing myself when photographing others.

Are you then saying that anybody you, Victor Cobo, photograph becomes a photograph of yourself?

To some extent, yeah. Some photographers say they photograph what they know, and for example I’m not an illegal immigrant from Mexico or a heroin addict from the Tenderloin, but I am Spanish and have experimented with drugs in the past. So there’s this aspect of photographing a mirror of yourself, as other wise why would I be doing it? It is about a sort of sizing up of oneself, an identification towards some sort of stability.

Michael Christopher Brown (Foam Magazine #27/Report)


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