Sunday, February 8, 2009

Spotlight 7 Week 22: Mark Velasquez

Our guest curator this week is .Az. Thanks to both Mark Velasquez and .Az for this week's show. On Flickr.

1) Mark, a warm welcome to the Spotlight Seven group. Tell us how you got started in photography.
Its a long, sordid story that really starts by my learning to document strange performance art projects I had been working on since college. Essentially I moved back to my home town, Santa Maria, CA, where there wasn't a lot of those types of outlets for my creative side, so I started carrying my camera everywhere and began taking photos of my friends at homes, parties, bars, etc.

One night at a bachelor party I was standing back with the old men while the younger guys my age were falling all over themselves to get to the strippers. Being unimpressed with nudity that you have no hopes of taking home, I had sneaked in my camera to document the younger guys make idiots of themselves. Over the course of the party one of the dancers came up and asked me about the camera, asked if I had ever shot a portfolio for a model, which I hadn't, and we hit it off really well. Within weeks I was in Ventura, CA shooting her in a kiddie pool while she was wearing only thigh-high red leather stilettos as her husband poured bubbles over her.

That was the beginning and I haven't really looked back since.

2) You often use photography to put across a point or there a politician hiding beneath your skin or are the images telling us you are a cynic?
I wouldn't consider myself a cynic, just a realist. I have studied enough of history and traveled far enough around this country and abroad to know what humans are capable of. I am a huge fan of studying history, politics, and religion. I sit and practice learning Latin phrases, collect old bibles, watch the History and Discovery channel whenever possible, and much more. All of these things are probably not what you would expect from a "nudey-model photographer." But as its been said, "those ignorant of the past are doomed to repeat it."

I do have a strong social agenda. Also, based on my fine art college experience I learned that only a very limited number of people actually go out to look at art galleries and museums. Art in all its forms has always started out as an educational tool, meant to enlighten and challenge how people view things. With that in mind I figured I had to bring art to the people, make it much more accessible and user-friendly, and what better way to do that than by making the harbinger be a lovely woman.

3) Which photographers 'Rock your Boat'?
How much space do you have? Um...there are far too many to mention. Mostly I am inspired by lots of wonderful people I have found online. Just go to my Flickr account and look under "family."

As for the "biggies," my inspirations aren't limited to photography. I am equally inspired by Nan Goldin, Norman Rockwell, Terry Richardson, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Greg Crewdson, not to say that I am limited to their views of the world or believe everything they do is great.

To truly appreciate someone as a genius, you have to not like a lot of what they do. Those revered should be constantly experimenting and exploring so as to not be appeasing anyone but themselves.

4) Show us a picture on flickr that you love, and tell us why.
I have so many wonderful images that I love on Flickr, and so many talented artists I would love to reference. I am again forced to advise whoever is reading this to go to my profile and look under all the images I have "favorited" to get a sense of the range of my interests.

I just perused a few of them right now and the first one that popped out to me was

I like it for many reasons. Its simple, low-tech, real, and appears post-process-free. It is up-close and personal, yet still voyeuristic. The colors are warm and great, giving a sense of a vintage quality to it. Also, its kind of dirty, with her sucking on her thumb like that. It gives you naughty ideas, which never hurts.

5) What are your thoughts on Flickr censorship, as I know this has affected your stream.
My pursuit of "The Censored Project," where I sought to find 100 average women of all shapes and sizes to stand naked censoring themselves was one way I dealt with that. I received a lot of exposure for that project, it was published in Israel, Italy, Brazil, and a lot locally here in California for that piece, but I think it was misunderstood a little. I understand why Flickr and several other organizations censor things, they have a lot of people that they have to appease.

If we choose to be a part of an organization that does things we disagree with, we can leave at anytime. Censorship is never right, though I do believe there is a need for decency or limited access to certain things. Who is to say what is deemed as decent is where the situation gets sticky and I don't have any more answers than you do. For example, I choose not to shop at Wal-Mart because I disagree with what they censor.

Don't get me wrong, I was pretty upset about having my profile censored—and I still am on some level—but I understand it at least. All I seek in my own work is to get people to consider other points of view. I feel that it's important to consider other points of view, especially when they differ from my own.

If you don't like the show, change the channel.

6) Tell us something about you that we don't know.
I love Chicken Salad sandwiches, don't wear clothes with visible brand names, and have never smoked a cigarette or done a drug in my whole life. Oh, and I've never eaten at McDonalds. Believe it.

7) Annie has decided to retire, has recommended you as her replacement (well done!). You have to make a big impact with your first Vanity Fair cover, everyone is queuing up to be photographed by the new photographer Mark Velasquez. Who will you choose to grace your first cover?
George W. Bush. I would photograph him on a beach, zinc sunscreen on his nose, margarita in hand, Hawaiian shirt and shorts, big ugly 1970's thong sandals, sitting in a lounge chair over-looking the ocean, sunburned and laughing heartily. My good friend Michelle, who is a wonderful journalist, would do the interview with him over Mai-Tais.

8) What's the story behind this image:
A few years before Katrina, I went to Mardi Gras in New Orleans and was impressed by the shear audacity of the experience. The spectacle of Bourbon Street, with its blow-jobs in the middle of the road, breast-flashing, and women sliding vials of alcohol down their throats and trying to kiss you so they could charge you ten dollars for those drinks was hilarious and scary for me all at once.

Thinking of doing shoots to illustrate every month of the year, I wanted to avoid the February cliché of Valentine's Day, opting instead for Mardi Gras. This image was filmed in my dirt drive way in Santa Maria, CA. All of these people are my friends and family, even my Aunt Mimi got in on the act as the dour woman looking on disapprovingly. The models are Kari and Laura, who I have used the most in the last few years, and contrary to popular belief, they were only exposing their bras. Even my brother's god-daughter is peaking over a shoulder in shock and amazement, adding to the child-endangerment of this shot.

It almost didn't happen. It was shot early on a Sunday morning and many people flaked on me due to hangovers from the night before. Thankfully, with a few last minute phone calls and some people bringing unexpected guests we filled in the driveway pretty well, I think.

My favorite part about this, as a detail for authenticity, is the "hand grenade drink" that the guy is holding in the foreground, which can only be purchased on Bourbon St. I had a friend specifically bring one back for this shoot when she went that year. Only if you've been there would you know that.

9) The photographer geek in me wants to know what's on your equipment wish list.
A Canon 1Ds Mark III would be nice. A Hasselblad H2, perhaps. And a set of 10 reliable working orange pony-leather Polaroid SX-70s with a lifetime supply of film. My life just hasn't been the same since mine died a few years ago.

10) I'm an editor of a magazine with an international circulation, I loved your first Vanity Fair cover so much that I am going to give you 10 pages for your dream photographic project... what's it going to be Mark?
I really don't have one dream project. Whether I like it or not, I am pretty prolific. The other day I was lamenting to a friend that I was being lazy and hadn't done anything, being fairly mopey about it. Then they brought to my attention that I had done at least one shoot a day for two weeks straight, including that afternoon. I'm never satisfied with what I just did, I am always looking over the horizon.

As for this fictional project, if money were no object I would fly some of my best friends and favorite local models to Montezuma, at the southern tip of the Nicoya Penninsula of western Costa Rica. I would set up my lights and just document the fun, silly, sexy time that would ensue. I think the best photos are captured when you are relaxed and with people you love and respect.


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