For your daily dose of Adam’s contemporary collage art, follow @the.daily.splice on Instagram.
Thanks to fellow commuters leaving behind free magazines on London’s Tube, Adam Hale (@the.daily.splice) compiles material for his daily collages on the go. “I thought it would strike a chord on social media, as there’s an immediacy to the work in which current topics, trends and affairs are given new context, turning something disposable into something of permanence,” says Adam.
Although a lot of people assume that Adam’s works are created digitally, everything is done by hand. Adam sees the analogue art form of collaging — and its challenges — as a welcome change from his day job at a digital company. “It’s often very hard to ‘splice’ images together without the ability to flip or resize individual elements as you would on a computer, but I enjoy problem-solving and it feels great when something finally slots into place.”
To explore more of Fred’s photos, follow @photoaskew on Instagram.
On his eighth birthday, Fred Askew (@photoaskew) received a momentous gift. It was a Leica M3 camera, bestowed on him by his beloved grandfather — a painter, a musician and an avid large-format, glass plate photographer. The elder artist died many years ago, yet remains a huge influence on Fred, who grew up to become a musician himself, playing drums for a time in a touring rock band, and then a news photographer documenting conflict overseas and political unrest at home in New York City.
In his gallery, Fred finds creative refuge, a place to practice a more personal sort of journalism through poetic text and imagery shot and manipulated mostly with his phone. His dreamscapes explore themes that haunt him, such as “the insanity of aging” and “memories that don’t sleep.”
His distressed images recall not only his grandfather’s process but also his own early days experimenting with frugal techniques — walking on negatives, scratching photo paper, pouring coffee over his lenses — when he couldn’t afford the chemicals and tools of an analog darkroom. Then, as now, says Fred, “I was finding a new layer to photography. I could make prints look closer to how I saw them in my heart.”
For more portraits by Jojo, follow @jojo.jonah on Instagram.
“#Hellomynameis Jojo Jonah (@jojo.jonah) and I am 17 years old. I was born in Ghana, then moved to Montreal and now I live in Denver. When I take the train, I will go out of my way and go up to people and talk to them. I ask them questions about their lives. I try to take the things they tell me — small phrases or stories — and portray them in a painting or a photograph. Sometimes, I get to hear things that they have never told anyone else.
I rarely ever like to refer to myself as a ‘photographer,’ but more as a creator. I want to expand into films, designing, music, poetry and architecture. Photography is just how I choose to express myself at the moment. It feels like there’s more to every picture I take than just the picture. In some of my work, I hope that people will see things from a different perspective. Sometimes my portraits will involve me expressing myself through that other person and their words. I sometimes get feedback from my followers like, ‘I thought I was the only one who felt this way.’ That’s beautiful to me.”
When Maria Jose Govea (@thesupermaniak) travels, she brings along a companion. He’s short, has brown, wrinkly skin, an infamous index figure and was the star of a beloved ‘80s movie. He’s also an alien.
“I carry [the] E.T. [doll] with me all the time. He’s just very symbolic to me,” says the 35-year-old music photographer. “It’s funny because a lot of people hate E.T. They’re like, ‘He’s so weird. He creeps me out.’ Really, you don’t like E.T.? What’s wrong with you?”
Like Spielberg’s creation, Maria considers herself a bit of a loner. However, her origin story begins a bit closer to earth. She works by herself and leads an untraditional life –– a nomad who travels with musicians, takes their pictures, stays out late, then comes back to edit the final photos until 8 a.m.
After growing up in Venezuela, Maria moved to Toronto to study film, but ultimately wanted something else. With her visa running out, she decided to take up photography. By then, she had been throwing parties and DJing on her own, posting pictures of the events to her Myspace page. She soon built a solid portfolio and started getting freelance gigs at an alt-weekly in the city. Even then she didn’t know much about photography –– or the politics and stage rules that came with it.
“I was just shooting like there was no tomorrow,” she says. “I only had a fisheye lens. Everything was fisheye –– a fisheye and a flash and I was just going wild and shooting and getting people’s faces and DJ’s faces. But somehow I was making content that people were really relating to. So I started taking it seriously. I started learning a lot, and I started shooting rock and indie shows and buying different lenses and shooting from afar and trying different angles and really thinking about it. At the same time, I always go with the flow and follow my gut.”
Around 2009, Maria would meet a then-relatively unknown Skrillex, who discovered her thanks to the work she did with the DJ 12th Planet. When Skrillex came through town, he would invite her to shoot on stage. They became fast friends, and she’s continued to travel with him over the years, including a recent train tour across Canada.
“He became one of the biggest stars in the world,” says Maria, of Skrillex. “It’s unreal to be so close to everything that he has done. It’s also been great to see how he stayed exactly the same. He has not changed at all. He’s stayed really humble. Everybody loves that kid. Everybody asks me, ‘Oh, you’re friends with Skrillex? How did that happen?’ It’s weird because to me he’s just Sonny. It hasn’t sank in, I guess.”
As Skrillex’s career has grown, so has Maria’s approach to photography. She’s more interested in shooting the intimate moments on tour: musicians hanging out after hours, or prepping behind the scenes, or skateboarding on their off days.
“The more and more I get to know these DJs, the more access I have to them,” she says –– and she’s right. Not every photographer gets to sit in the observatory car of a train at three in the morning with the world’s biggest DJs and an E.T. doll and watch as the northern lights pass by in the distance. When you have opportunities like that, it’s hard not to go with the flow.
For more of April and Ken’s magical family moments, follow @kinzieriehm on Instagram.
When they aren’t shooting for magazines and mainstream children’s companies, photographer couple Ken Kinzie and April Riehm (@kinzieriehm) turn their cameras on something much more familiar: the adventures of their three children as they grow up in balmy Orlando, Florida.
“School’s out and we’re all together in the summer — that’s where the magic begins,” Ken says of the backyard adventures and beach excursions that provide the backdrop for the moments they capture.
“It’s not all sunshine and popsicles. We have the same struggles as other parents. But we’re probably not going to show the tantrums and nose-picking,” April says. “We’re not trying to portray a perfect lifestyle,” Ken adds, “when there is a breakdown or a trauma we put the cameras down and deal with it.”
The children are often eager participants in their parents’ photos, bringing their own creative ideas to their activities. “Our son has begun to want to direct more. He wants to set off smoke bombs over the pool,” April shares. “It’s fun to make photos collaboratively as a family. I never imagined that before having kids. As the kids get older, it’ll be interesting to see what creative influences they have on our images.”
And ultimately for all of them, their photos tell a story. “They look at these images and they can remember what happened last week and last year,” April says. “They talk and ask questions. It’s like time traveling. We get to go back — we get to experience those tiny little moments again and again together as we’re flipping through the feed.”
Weekend Hashtag Project is a series featuring designated themes and hashtags chosen by Instagram’s Community Team. For a chance to be featured on the Instagram blog, follow @instagram and look for a post announcing the weekend’s project every Friday.
This weekend’s prompt was #WHPsayhitothewater, which asked participants to creatively capture their own reflection in the water. Every Monday we feature some of our favorite submissions from the project, but be sure to check out the rest here.
To see more of Sabine’s neatly arranged garbage art, follow @virgin_honey on Instagram.
(This interview was conducted in German.)
Broken figurines, outworn toys, battered shuttlecocks, random bits of plastic. These seemingly useless items, carelessly tossed away by others, find new purpose in the playful assemblages of German artist Sabine Timm (@virgin_honey).
A practiced scavenger drawn to the sun-bleached and oddly shaped treasures found in flea markets and on beaches, Sabine builds amusing scenes from her collections at her home studio in Düsseldorf. Each arrangement is fleeting — most live only to be photographed and then are quickly disassembled. “I am always a bit sad to part with my ephemeral little creatures,” Sabine says. “But in taking them apart, I can again give rise to new characters.”
For more invisible worlds and fooling perspectives, follow @mau.cp on Instagram.
(This interview was conducted in Spanish.)
Things aren’t always what they seem. At least that’s the mantra behind Guatemalan visual artist Mauricio Contreras-Paredes (@mau.cp), who likes to create visual incentives to prompt an interaction between art and spectators.
“Imagine an empty world, without curves, almost totally blue. It’s a world where perspectives fool you and where planes interact almost randomly. That’s my artistic style,” says Mauricio.
Mauricio’s choice of blue, however, is not random. “I am really invested in blue because gaseous bodies or transparent liquids, like the sky or the sea, are perceived as blue. As my work explores invisible or imaginary architecture, somehow transparent blue is conceptually perfect.”
Mauricio enjoys his creative process more than the final piece and also combines pictures of food with his own art. “I believe that food is also an art, a brief kind of art. What’s the difference between a dish by Ferran Adrià and a painting by Picasso?” he asks.
When Nika Roza Danilova (@zolajesus) was a little girl, she and her brother would pretend they were Trinity and Neo, the characters in the sci-fi blockbuster The Matrix. No surprise then that the singer who’s known as Zola Jesus is piqued by everyday things that aren’t as mundane as they seem–– from a scrawled bit of graffiti that reads “This life is a lie” to a rubber breathing tube snaked on a bed.
“That intrigues me, to try to find a really beautiful moment in a very plain, everyday experience,” she says over the phone from her home in the Pacific Northwest. “I see shapes and geometry –– things that aren’t usually that obvious.”
Since the release of her haunting 2009 debut solo album The Spoils, the 26-year-old Nika has repeatedly surprised critics and fans with her own unobvious choices. She first caught people’s attention while studying philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Describing herself in an interview with Pitchfork as “the kid in all black,” she was quickly branded a Goth girl. But she also possessed the kind of big voice Broadway belters are known for, and her karaoke song of choice is Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby.” “Dangerous Days,” a soaring single from her latest album, last fall’s Taiga, would fit comfortably on the playlist of any mainstream radio station.
Still, her aesthetic tends to be stark and minimalist, even when presenting a photo booth strip of pictures of her and a friend goofing off. “I have really strong ideas about what I like and what I don’t like — I feel like everyone probably does,” she says. “But maybe what I like is extremely specific? And so everything I see is through a very specific lens.”
As evidenced in her photos, that lens is drawn to showcasing vastness both indoors and out. The images are beautiful and startling, not least because they show just how small the human world is in comparison to the natural world. “It’s really interesting when you have the context of a human body within the photo, because it creates this life force in an otherwise very still environment,” she explains. “So I’ll use myself as the object that gives context to the scenery or the landscape. The human element makes photos powerful, not just a bunch of objects in a vacation photo: ‘This is a canyon!’ There’s an interaction between human and the outside world in a way.”
She comes by this ideology naturally, having grown up on over 100 acres of forest in northern Wisconsin. Her parents would take only one trip into town a week. (“You learn to stock up on everything. My parents have like four freezers.”) And she mostly played by herself, making up “little musicals” about her life.
“Things like that will always stay with you,” she says. “Rural mentality.”
Due to her husband’s job as an entomologist, she lived in Los Angeles for a while. With 72-and-sunny weather and the constant hustle of being in the music industry, the city was an unsurprisingly bad fit for a woman accustomed to icy temperatures and actual stars in the sky. “So much of your life is about the industry and working. It’s so easy to think what’s going on in that world is the entire world, when it’s barely even a sliver of it,” she says. “And once you remove yourself from that and move outside of those big hubs, it’s very grounding because you’re like, Oh right — what you’re doing is inconsequential to the greater world. I think it’s really important when you’re an artist to have that perspective.”
That greater world is often the subject of her work, especially since her move to the state of Washington. The transition has suited her, both artistically and personally. She’s been writing a lot lately, experimenting and preparing songs for “anything that could happen” — including a possible move back to Wisconsin. Wherever she goes, she’s sure to continue capturing the extraordinary in the ordinary, seeing through the matrix and dazzling us with what we thought we knew.
—Rebecca Haithcoat for Instagram @music
Around the Community
To see more photos by Patricia Lay-Dorsey follow @patricialaydorsey on Instagram.
Patricia Lay-Dorsey (@patricialaydorsey) is masterful at finding new ways to see herself. In old photographs, in hand held mirrors, in soft focus or sharp, in straight ahead poses for her camera and obscured reflections, she is willing to study her gaze and her body in them all. “I was a storyteller back when I was into performance art, and I guess now I’m a storyteller with a camera,” she says. “And the story that is easiest for me to tell is my own.”
As an avid documentarian of her own life, Patricia, who is 73, pays close visual attention to living with multiple sclerosis, a disease of the nervous system that significantly impairs her use of her hands and legs. For years her photography centered on self-portraiture and her relationship with her disability. In joining Instagram, Patricia moved into a new phase of picturing herself and her life in Detroit with her husband Eddie, whom she calls her Instagram muse. “Nowadays I wake up every morning wondering what pictures I will take that day and how the story will unfold,” she says. “I feel like a child again, that little girl who let her imagination and sense of play lead her into magical realms.”
For more of Malin’s amusing drawings of life, follow @mahjorth on Instagram.
For Malin Hjorth (@mahjorth), drawing is a way to represent the amusing situations of life. A project manager at a kitchen company in Oslo, Norway, by day, Malin’s playful images are of collages of hand-drawn figures mixed with real-life objects or photos from interior and fashion magazines in delightful compositions. “I start out with no idea, then I start drawing. I cut out the figure or object and place it on the wall or at a photo. When composing my photo I think of the light, and of the shadow my objects are creating,” Malin says.
Malin’s inspirations include the artist David Hockney, her grandmother and people on the morning bus. “For one year I was an exchange student at the Academy of Fine Art in Oslo, and one teacher said to me, ‘Malin, stop talking! Start drawing!’ And I did!”
(This interview was conducted in Portuguese.)
Weekend Hashtag Project is a series featuring designated themes and hashtags chosen by Instagram’s Community Team. For a chance to be featured on the Instagram blog, follow @instagram and look for a post announcing the weekend’s project every Friday.
The goal this weekend is to make photos that creatively capture your own reflection in the water. Our inspiration for the challenge comes from Brazilian photographer César Ovalle (@cesinha), who created the #sayhitothewater hashtag. For César, this hashtag was a way to break away from his usual photographic style and connect with his community on a more personal level. “Since I rarely share photographs of myself on Instagram, this was a way to say, ‘Hi, this is me. I exist,’” he laughs. Fascinated by the natural mirrors that often emerge from urban puddles in his hometown of São Paulo, César can often be found searching for the perfect reflection after a big downpour. “The photos usually happen after rain comes through the city,” he explains. But rain or shine, César’s inspiration to make photographs comes from everyday life. “I try to photograph daily scenes with a different perspective, bringing out what is interesting or beautiful, things that others might find ugly or nothing special. The intent is always to surprise people, to try to get them to see things in a different way, be it through a simple portrait or an interesting architectural shape.” Some tips to get you started:
PROJECT RULES: Please add the #WHPsayhitothewater hashtag only to photos taken over this weekend and only submit your own photographs to the project. Any tagged image taken over the weekend is eligible to be featured Monday morning.
To see more of Sabeena’s paper typography, follow @sabeenu on Instagram.
When Sabeena Karnik (@sabeenu) started making alphabet letters out of paper, she had no idea her creations would someday appear on billboards and the covers of magazines. “I started doing paper typography by accident,” says the 32-year-old artist from Mumbai, India. “Since I was always making things out of paper, one day I decided to combine it with my love of type and created the entire alphabet series.”
As a paper typographer, Sabeena takes inspiration from a vivid palette of complementary colors and her daily ritual of drawing letterforms by hand. “Every design starts with an idea in its tiniest form as a sketch,” she explains. Once she decides on the design, Sabeena brings the letters to life with strips of colored paper and glue. “The paper speaks through the type it creates,” she adds. “The versatile letter ‘S’ is never easy to make, but it is my favorite to create.”
Sabeena now has big aspirations for the future, such as exhibiting her work and engaging in larger projects that combine type designs with abstract art. “Every step is a discovery of new things, and this profession has taught me a lot about paper — its strengths and limitations, as well as my own,” she says. “It’s very fragile and has to be treated with care and love.”
For more bright, fun moments from Eva’s life, follow @mylifeaseva on Instagram.
“#hellomynameis is Eva Gutowski (@mylifeaseva). I am a third-year college student from Orange County, California. When I got to college, I started making videos on my dad’s old Canon camera and posting them to Facebook so that my friends from high school could see them. Through that, I decided to start a blog. And then I started posting videos on YouTube — which grew an audience super quickly. But Instagram is where you see my personality off camera: where my followers can find out what photos I like, what colors I like, what clothes I wear and what I’m doing every day. It sounds cheesy, but it’s all about my theme. There’s just an explosion of color, and there’s so much to look at.
I want to be known as a person who accepts herself for being who she really is, and not changing that for anyone. If you knew me back in high school, you would know that I’m the same exact person — just with better eyebrows! I’ve always kind of accepted the fact that I am a total dork who makes way too many SpongeBob references. Figuring out that there are millions of people out there who love that has helped me embrace myself even more. There’s so much acceptance on the Internet. You just have to open yourself up to find it.”
Universities, take note: If you’re looking to prep the next generation of great reporters, introduce them to Nardwuar the Human Serviette (@nardwuar). At 47, the Vancouver-based radio host and on-air personality is the world’s most sincere, enthusiastic and fashion-forward music journalist. And he has simple advice for anyone who wants to conduct great interviews: Do your research.
For Nardwuar, that means going online or even flipping through vintage publications to find out exactly what holds sentimental value to his subjects. Based on his findings, he collects a stack of pop artifacts to present to them.
“People are too lazy to find that information. They don’t want to take that extra step,” Nardwuar says, over the phone from Canada. “But I just think, what the hell? You might as well do it. If I can do an interview, anybody can.”
Pharrell (@pharrell) called Nardwuar’s interview “one of the most impressive” he’d ever experienced after the journalist pulled out one of the beat-maker’s favorite albums, Carl Sagan’s The Music of the Cosmos, on vinyl. The rapper Tyler, the Creator (@feliciathegoat) let out a trail of expletives when Nardwuar revealed that he knew Tyler’s mom was half-Canadian. And, the moment Nardwuar gave a rare issue of the fanzine Rocktober to Questlove (@questlove), the Roots drummer wondered aloud whether the man could have found Bin Laden before SEAL Team 6 did.
“I try to zero in on stuff people haven’t asked,” he says. “Maybe they thought, Oh, I am doing an interview with Pharrell, he’s been asked everything, what’s the point of trying to find new stuff? I guess I was able to break through that barrier because people had given up to find different questions.”
Nardwuar (born John Ruskin) is easy to spot. He is a walking, talking meme. Not only does he arrive with his gifts, he shows up in his standard outfit — red plaid pants, a multicolored sweatshirt and a tartan hat — a style that has been described as both an “exploded 1970s Soviet golf catalog” and “a sartorial no-man’s-land between first-wave punk and PGA Tour.” He also finishes every interview with a sign-off message –– “Rockin’ in the Free World,” a nod to Neil Young’s 1989 democratic anthem, and the end of the “Shave and a Haircut” jingle.
“I always looked to bands that dressed cool,” he says, about his style inspirations. “Like The Cramps, they always had a cool sense of style. And Poison Ivy, she looked pretty amazing. Even Jello by Biafra, of the Dead Kennedys, he had weird T-shirts. So I guess it was just looking at records and seeing what people are wearing and then you see it in the store and going, Oh, I will try to get that.”
Nardwuar got the tartan from his godmother, replacing a toque Sebastian Bach stole from him during a 1994 interview. The Skid Row lead singer later destroyed the only evidence of the crime — a VHS tape — because, Nardwuar says, Sebastian thought he was mocking him. Other artists thought they were being pranked by Nardwuar too. During a conversation with Blur, the band’s bassist Dave Rowntree stole Nardwuar’s hat and glasses. While interviewing Sonic Youth, guitarist Lee Ranaldo broke a rare 7-inch record the journalist had presented him.
“As long as the video camera is capturing what’s going on, I will be OK,” says Nardwuar, about these more aggressive moments. “Right now there’s no evidence of [the Sebastian Bach or Skid Row] interviews because they thought I was making fun of them, so they destroyed [the tapes]. There are situations where it does get scary and it does get intense. However, I am not scared if someone is documenting it.”
Nardwuar has been taping his interviews since high school. He remembers the date of his first one: September 26, 1985. He was president of his school’s student council, and therefore in charge of getting a band to play the school dance. He picked a group called Poisoned (not to be confused with hair metal gods Poison), fronted by Canadian punk rocker Art Bergmann. To mark the occasion, Nardwuar decided to ask Art a few questions. Two years later, Nardwuar landed his own local radio show at the University of British Columbia, which still broadcasts to this day.
“I tried to be an engineer and an accountant, but I just gravitated toward the radio station,” says Nardwuar, who also plays keyboard in his band The Evaporators. “I didn’t really think of pursuing anything. I am still trying to get to the top of the rock pile myself. I still have a long way to go. But it was fun to be able to live out these fantasies of being on the radio. I still can’t believe I have a radio show. People can actually hear me on the radio!”
Nardwuar would eventually get his chance to shine on television, with a freelance gig on Much Music in Canada. By then he had already become something of a cult favorite in his home country. What really propelled him to fame was the rise of the Internet, where people were able to view his work whenever they wanted. Still, he’s quick to remind you that not every interview he conducts is as revelatory as the ones with Pharrell, Questlove or Drake. Sometimes the conversations click, sometimes they don’t. He’s just there to try to make the discussion interesting.
“I still feel like I am doing my first interview,” he says. “I think that’s what makes me want to strike and find information on people, because a lot of times people show up to radio shows or video interviews, they think they know it all, and because they think they know it all, the interview turns out boring … Most of the time it’s pretty straightforward. I just want to have a fun conversation with somebody.”
An early morning walk on the beach was Marc Quinn’s (@marcquinnart) inspiration for his new show “The Toxic Sublime.” But the subject of this week’s #whereartthou, on view at White Cube (@whitecubeofficial) in London until September 13, is a fresh take on a classic subject.
“I was struck by how water is like the blood of the world, connecting every country in oceans and rivers like arteries, then into the veins a capillary system of drains, taps, showers, baths and ourselves,” says Marc, whose show includes large paintings that have the wear and tear of found objects as well as stainless steel sculptures of shell fragments shaped by the sea. “It seemed to be a really good subject for a body of work in our age of environmental uncertainty.”
“The Toxic Sublime” includes paintings that begin as a photograph of the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. “I print that image onto a piece of canvas,” Marc says. “I scrape lines into it, perhaps like the lines of a map, or flight paths, or electric wires, then tape it up with the same aluminum tape they use to fix cracks on airplanes.”
After obscuring most of the photograph with spray paint, Marc takes each painting onto the street outside his studio, then grinds the texture of pavement and manhole covers into the work. “The canvas is then stuck to a sheet of aluminum which I wrestle with, kick and fold to achieve the shape I want,” he says. “The ultimate goal would be if the work appeared to be more like the back of an old truck, or a piece of old airplane fuselage, rather than an artwork made by an artist.”
Not long after Kiev-based photographer Anna Remarchuk (@annaremarchuk) found a bunch of old envelopes that belonged to her great-grandfather, she received a gift of snowdrops in the post. “At the table there were those envelopes. I saw them together and decided to make a photo,” she says. The simple combination gave birth to a new creative project — the #envelope_series.
Anna buys the flowers or receives them as gifts, then looks at the colors and tones of the envelope paper and the natural beauty of the flowers before shooting her pairings on her phone. “During the process I forget about all, because I am in love with what I do,” she says. “I want my followers to be able to understand my flowers’ message without any words.”
To see more photographs by Alex, follow @alexkpotter on Instagram.
As a nursing student from a small town in the American Midwest, Alex Potter (@alexkpotter) might not have imagined living through airstrikes and civil war in the Middle East. But a university trip to Jordan sparked an interest in learning Arabic and led her to Yemen, where she now, at the age of 25, works as a freelance photographer and writer. In Alex’s alternate life during her occasional visits to the United States, she still works stints as a registered nurse.
Alex describes her path and her professions:
“There is an expression here that says, ‘If time doesn’t teach you, Yemen will.’ And taught me it has. Everyone who comes here learns so much about themselves, the power of faith, family, community and politics — and the good and bad that goes along with all of those. Yemen mostly has two kinds of journalists that inhabit it — those who come for a week, and those who come for life.
Life isn’t always enjoyable. Prices have doubled, there is no petrol (lines are days long). Many families are in the line of fire and can’t even afford or access their next meal. Most places in the country have no electricity, so people must rely on generators (for which there is no petrol) and solar panels (which are thousands of dollars). My neighbors burn wood for cooking, and everyone (myself included) has to carry buckets of water from public tanks donated by philanthropic Yemenis. Ramadan just finished, and many people can’t afford gifts for their children for Eid, much less the elaborate celebrations usually put on. Yet amid the sounds of airstrikes and long lines for waiting for petrol, people do their best to make the situation as normal as possible: sharing food, recycling gifts and spending time together.
As far as working here, I have found it the easiest place I have ever worked, especially as a woman. I dress like a local to respect the culture and speak the local dialect, so that helps, but everyone wants their photo taken all the time. Usually, my biggest problem is not enough memory in my camera! Yemenis are so welcoming and loving, and really do care about foreigners living in their midst — as long as you respect them first. As a foreign woman, as in much of the Muslim world, I have access to all parts of society. This has changed a bit with the war — people are more wary about photography, so I just have to do a bit more explaining. Logistically, I now have many more safety concerns to take in hand — planning, security, accountability, et cetera, but no more than in any other conflict zone or unstable region.
I go back to Minnesota to do some nursing work, center myself and see family and friends. Personal relationships are important to me, and it’s difficult but essential to stay connected to those who know me the best, especially in this line of work.”
“Chaz would never do that, but Internet Chaz would,” says the 28-year-old musician who’s better known as Toro y Moi. “I think as a musician, showing a humorous side of you, whether it’s making a funny voice on a recording or taking a funny photo, shows that you’re a little bit more human. If people think you take yourself too seriously, it’s going to push them away because they can’t relate to you.”
Being relatable does not seem to be an issue. Today, Chaz is drinking coffee, taking photos and walking around his current neighborhood in Berkeley, California. While shooting different objects and patterns — stacks of furniture, zigzagging shadows, colorful doorways — he discusses his life in music and background in graphic design. After growing up in South Carolina, Chaz went to school for the latter, thanks to encouragement from a high school teacher. He compares the experience to that of Mason Jr.’s, the protagonist of the movie Boyhood.
“I felt that movie was all about me,” says Chaz, while snapping a pic of green school chairs against a pink wall. “My family life was pretty stable, but I was like the angsty art-punk kid in South Carolina. It’s nice to have teachers like that who are still aware that the kids they are teaching are from small towns and need some inspiration.”
Chaz would eventually find more creative outlets in photography and, of course, music, as Toro y Moi. The group began as more of a one-man bedroom project until expanding into a full-fledged, successful touring outfit. Later, he would launch a separate dance-focused project on the side known as Les Sins. Though Toro y Moi takes up the most time — he writes, records and produces most of it on his own, and then performs it with a group of musician friends — Chaz always finds moments to draw and take pictures.
“I think on the whole I am looking for different materials, and it seems to me the more man-made it is the more interesting it is to me,” he says, about his photo work, while stopping to admire the outdoor setup of a local party store. “See,” he says, pointing to the display. “I like how the plastic in the trees makes the reflection work on top of the vinyl confetti. It’s just so many different layers of image.”
Like most people who draw, Chaz began when he was young. He never jumped all the way into illustration — he prefers to keep things to a simple pattern then blows them up on a shirt or print – or, for that matter, an album cover.
“I try to draw whenever I can’t do music,” he says. “I wouldn’t mind designing every aspect of my world. That would be pretty cool. I think inspiration for me is the Vignelli’s. They were husband-and-wife designers. They did the New York City subway design. The husband passed away already. They designed every single thing they owned and wore. And that’s what I want to do. It’s like a more highbrow version of submerging yourself. The stuff they made wasn’t crazy expensive, their aesthetic and bar was very high.”
Until then, Chaz will have to complete the tricky goal of progressing as an artist while also creating things that feel relatable and exciting. (Keeping things humorous certainly helps; take, for instance, his Instagram user name, @lukespukashells, which was inspired by a line uttered by Mischa Barton in the show The O.C.). Above all, he knows you can’t be afraid to try new things.
“It’s nice to just constantly keep making stuff,” says Chaz, with a camera in his hand, “no matter how much or how far it goes.”