An Objective Perspective – An Interview with VICE Photo Editor Matthew Leifheit Speaks
Kathleen Hefty recently sat down with founder and editor of MATTE Magazine, Matthew Leifheit to get a unique perspective on independent publishing and curating. Not only does Leifheit produce each issue of MATTE largely on his own, he is also the photo editor of Vice Magazine and has an active photography practice. Since 2010, MATTE has dedicated each issue to one photographer; the current one—the magazine’s 23rd and largest yet—features photographer Rachel Stern. The following is a conversation on MATTE’s beginnings, what it means to be an “emerging” artist, and Leifheit’s exciting upcoming collaborations.
Kathleen (Blonde Art Books): I think that the people that follow Blonde Art Books are really interested in gaining insight into the inner workings of small press publishers as well as individual artists’ and curators’ practices so thank you for taking the time. Can you tell me a little about MATTE magazine and how it began?
Matthew Leifheit: It started as a print publication; it was my college thesis. I went to the Rhode Island School of Design, and I worked with this agency one summer—a photo agency in New York— and it dealt with photography in a businesslike way, which is what they do. I feel like artists want to work with other artists, and I don’t think photography should exactly be sold as a product. I think there should always be something sacred about it.The program was very hands on. And especially now looking at [how] MATTE deals with emerging photography and so does Vice, and I feel like that’s like my area. So I pay a lot of attention to the schools. I think if I had gone to SVA or Parsons or something like that I would have come out of it with a much glossier portfolio and a lot more connections and stuff. But at RISD I learned to make things, which is important to me.
We Talked Delayed Gratification with Photographer Eric Kim
Eric Kim is one of the most popular street photographers the internet has produced. His shots dominate Instagram and Tumblr, and his Youtube videos have lead to a dedicated following of fans. He’s a tech-head’s tech-head, one who also manages to take interesting, thoughtful street photos that are thankfully not of graffiti walls. He was recently in Australia presenting a series of workshops, so we thought we’d interview him and scam some free advice.
VICE: This is your first time in Australia. Have you seen anything local photographers might underappreciate?
Eric Kim: Australia has the best light in the world for photography—number two is Istanbul. I don’t know if it’s because you guys have a wild ozone system… I think it’s because of the longitude and latitude. The angle the light hits, it’s really edgy—and the lights, the shadows, are absolutely incredible. Look at the work by Trent Parke. The light here is just phenomenal. You can’t get this anywhere else in the world.
So you mostly shoot film—is it practical, or are you a bit sentimental?
I started shooting film because I visited friends in Tokyo and everyone there shoots film. At first I’m like, “You’re all just a bunch of hipsters; why are you shooting film?!” I had my Leica M9 and thought I could shoot digital, use post-processing software, and make my shots look like film. It just seemed pointless to me. They’re like, “Nah, Eric, you gotta try it out.”
Ryan McGinley’s Yearbook Shut Down an Entire City Block
A week ago, on a balmy Sunday evening in downtown Manhattan, a photography show shut down an entire city block. It was the New York edition of Ryan McGinley’s Yearbook
installation at Team Gallery, where vivid and hedonistic portraits of beautiful youngsters have been wallpapered to every surface in the gallery. I saw a similar exhibition
of McGinley’s Yearbook
pictures in San Francisco last fall, but this new show takes the installation to an even more elaborate and all-encompassing level, coating every surface of the gallery in glossy, chromatic youth-beauty, so that not an inch of white wall remains. The photos, shot over the last 5 years in McGinley’s Chinatown studio, picture sweethearts of the downtown art scene, and everyone looks like they’re having fun. The air is getting colder, so back-to-school vibes are strong, and this seems like the perfect time to be looking at photos called Yearbook. VICE asked Ryan a few questions to find out more.
VICE: How many photos are in the exhibition?
Ryan McGinley: The show has over 700 photographs stuck on the walls. Most people have two different photos from their studio shoot.
How many years did it take you to shoot all the portraits for Yearbook?
The project has taken 5 years. I’ve shot peoples portraits ever month for it in my Chinatown studio in NYC since 2009.
Where did the idea to totally cover the gallery walls come from?
I’ve always loved how street advertisements in NYC are wheat pasted on top of each other. I talked with a guy late one night who was doing it and he explained the process to me.
Who are the people in the photographs?
Everyone I shoot is part of downtown’s creative community. Painters, Musicians, Dancers, Writers, Sculptors or Photographers. Those are the people that understand what I do and are excited to pose nude for me.
What’s a typical studio shoot like?
I really love to have people lay on the floor and slowly move around, there is something so intimate about being on the ground together. Then we pick up the pace and the model gets to choose three songs they love to jam out to and we dance. Sometimes we break out the mini trampoline and jump around in circles on it. I’ve also got a treadmill that we’ve cut the guardrails off of and people run on that. I love collecting old beat up chairs that get thrown out from the streets of Chinatown. I’ve got a collection of them that models sit on, they’ve got character.
A Backstage iPad Perspective of Hood By Air’s Latest Fashion Week Show
Taking photos at fashion week sucks. From an objective standpoint, it’s pretty formulaic: you take your fancy DSLR, head to the show early, crouch in the photo pit, and take head-on, head-to-toe portraits of various weenies wearing things. All the while, the guy next to you who works for some other magazine/media company/blog essentially takes the same photo.
So, in the spirit of youthful rebellion (and continuity) we sent out-of-bounds photographer Nick Sethi to document backstage at Hood By Air’s latest showing. And since HBA is known for sending pipe-laden jackets, snowboard boots, and crutches down the runway, he figured it’d be cool if he left his DSLR at home and take his iPad instead. We didn’t disagree.
MOSSLESS: Your images have a transient quality, do you travel a lot for your work?
Suzanna Zak: Taking photos isn’t my main objective for traveling, but the two go hand in hand, like they do for most people. That being said, having a camera in hand has brought me to certain spots that I don’t think I would have had the initiative to end up in otherwise. I guess what I’m mostly talking about here is minor trespassing.
You can read a recent interview between myself and Mossless on the VICE website here.
Jason Polan Is Trying/Failing to Draw Every Person in New York City
Artist Jason Polan
is trying to draw every person in New York City, and he’s failing.
Over six years ago, the idea formed in his head, and when it existed in the laboratory that sits between his ears, the concept was so simple, so clean, so utterly perfect in the way a circle drawn by some theoretical supercomputer is perfect. A) There is New York. B) There are people in New York. So, C) There could exist a total, whole and complete document of Every Person in New York
But then, just after conception, the idea left his head and entered the world—as any art that ends up actually existing does—and became subject to the brutal elements of this sloppy place where drawing a perfect circle is, it turns out, inherently impossible. Suddenly, “Every Person in New York” was flawed, messy, ugly even.
Jason wouldn’t know if he was drawing residents, tourists or those just passing through. He could go door-to-door with piles of census data, but there’d still be plenty of people who existed off the grid, or people who moved here since the last data collection, or babies being born, or people dying, or some other factor that made New York a subject that just wouldn’t sit still. Any way he approached it, there would be countless tiny gaps in a portrait of the city, holes that would render the thing fatally incomplete. And even if Polan somehow disentangled this logistical puzzle, there was still the most glaring problem of all: He would have to draw something like 14 people an hour for 70 years to include “every person.”