Interview with Sidney Lo
Interviewed by Thomas Bradley
Produced by retrogurl
When did you decide you had artistic inclinations above and beyond what is considered to be the "norm"?
I think that decision, or realization, hits you at various points in your career. For myself, the consistent networking that has naturally matured from my projects allowed me to meet and observe other artists involved in this industry. After a while, I guess I considered myself on the same plane as other fellow artists sometimes you don't recognize you've become an artist until you get enough exposure to your peers.
Then again, I've always said that anyone can do what I do with the camera. It's just a picture after all. I don't think what I do is special at all. I would hate to say I'm special since I see a million Asians with cameras in New York, so I don't feel particularly remarkable.
What I focus on more, and some would say this is the artistic inclination factoring in, is the relationship between my camera, my subject, and myself. The image becomes secondary, and in a way, I think that energy is channeled into the photograph, making it naturally more visceral and candid.
How has your life before you began taking pictures influenced your photographic life? How has it changed since?
I was in San Francisco when I started taking photographs. Being young and naive about my opportunities gave me the chance to explore photography in high school. I wasn't really into photography until I got accepted into NYU before that, I was into portraits of friends and stupid shit I shot with my Russian point and shoot 35mm. That camera was so ghetto but it produced some awesome stuff.
Now, my intentions are more concise. I know what kind of audience I want to hit, and what demographics would be interested in what I have to offer. It's very cumulative. My influences are everything I've experienced since moving to New York. Everyone who's been involved in the Portrait of a Sneaker project has contributed to my interests and future projects as well.
Have you found your style and approach to your work to change over these formative years?
It's always changing. Ultimately, I'm a fine artist photographer. I dabble and crossover into various genres of documentary and fashion, but I think the intention and delivery that my photographs express is very much unorthodox and non-commercial.
I have been channeling photography into many other endeavors lately, and for me, it's the only way to express all my ideas. With the accelerated pace of technology, everyone has a blog, flickr, digital camera, and photoshop. I've found myself trying to synergize all these collaborative thoughts into my photography and have even more impact than they do already.
What is it about the street culture that makes it a via:ble photographic/artistic subject?
It's ripe with idiosyncrasies. Underlying issues such as racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., are really serious and heavy topics we as participants love to skirt around but never address thats the most viable subject.
Materialism, objectification, and influence are rife within the blogs, forums, and day-to-day interactions within this culture. Before I started the Portrait of a Sneaker project, I had researched and gotten my feet wet for about four or five months. When I decided to immerse myself and live this type of consumer lifestyle, even I was victim to these preexisting notions.
Not to say that these negative things I've listed are a laundry list that is exclusive to street culture because it's present everywhere. It's the timing of this Internet generation, where we can see the exact demographic that is affected, that makes it so much more relevant and immediate.
Are their any other subcultures you've found yourself documenting as of late?
I feel that they are all related, so it is tough to label them as subcultures. Rather, they are all interrelated in some sort of sexy Venn diagram. Seriously.
One topic I've found myself enamored in is the perspective of the woman in the context of street/mash culture. Although we have seen a lot of female driven brands lately, while I have nothing against them, they can be just as superficial as their testosterone driven counterparts. There is no focus on the people behind the brand. And there especially isn't any focus on the struggles of a woman in this demographic.
It is a tough issue of hyper-masculine and hyper-feminine ideas. Have you noticed how guys go apeshit for a girl in dunks? What ever happened to girls in heels and men in grown men clothes? How are they supposed to adjust for the real world? Are they stuck in this demographic and just hope they will get a gig as their own CEO of ____ Clothing, or what? Maybe that is just my personal beef with the culture, but there isn't enough dialogue for my liking. I plan on talking about it and making people listen, and hopefully make their own opinions instead of following the norms that have been set by others.
Where do you find the majority of your inspiration to work? What might give you the audacity and courage to take pictures?
I think as a photographer, it's tough to find inspiration because at the end of the day, anyone can pick up a camera. For me, I visualize and contextualize my subject in my head and from there I recreate it. Whatever it is that sparks my interest is what I go for, and I think any unique aspects within my body of work stem from that mentality.
As for the audacity and courage, it boils down to how badly you want the photograph and if anyone has seen me at work, I will throw myself into harm'ss way. I have the approach where when I'm in the moment, the subject, my camera, and what I am trying to create are the only things that are present in my mind. I could be strewn across the floor, or in someone's face.
Take Sneaker Pimps NYC for example. Way too many people flooded the stage prior to the Clipse coming out to perform. By the time they had arrived, I was competing with a hundred different people, and a handful of other photographers. When the Clipse started their show, I just had to jump right in and put myself in front of Pusha T and Malice to get the shots I needed. There were tons of people with cameras that night, but it's how you go about it that matters. I was pretty content with how the pictures came out considering the insanity of the moment.
What projects have you been working on lately?
I'm currently working on a book with a writer from the Boston Phoenix, Camille Dodero, about some of her past subjects that she has published articles about in the past year (and if you don't remember, she wrote that feature article about Rob Heppler, Lori Lobenstine from Female Sneaker Fiend, and others.) They'll encompass some of the sneaker/street culture, but it will also capture a broader audience with various subcultures and tie it into something tangible for everyone to relate to.
As always, I've been working with Jeff Carvalho, Rob Heppler, and Frank the Butcher over at WeeklyDrop.com. They've been nothing short of amazing to me, especially when Rob calls me a gook. Other than that, I assist them, when I get the chance, in creating media to make WeeklyDrop more accessible to the fans.
For other projects, they're all tentative, but the groundwork is there. I have got a great team of people who have been supportive and willing, and when all the pieces fit, there's going to be one hell of a gallery. Along with the book idea, I'm about to embark on a follow up "documentary" of sorts. It is going to tackle women in street culture and beyond. There's a huge demographic for that, and I don't think anyone has been willing to make an investment into it. Not to name names, but the women in Portrait of a Sneaker will definitely be involved, and I've got more compelling subjects and topics to follow that, such as ex-Bathing Ape employees, etc. It is funny because I got some people in trouble at the company for doing what I did. I'm glad they took notice of me though it was a pleasant surprise.
Are you moving along some type of artistic arch regarding the sophistication of your work and how it is produced?
I'm a lot more serious about my work. Ideas are fleshed out and my projects don't really allow for anyone else except myself to really grasp the finalized idea. In a way, I've honed in on my own process and can now execute it. Sometimes being a photographer and taking pictures the way I take them, I have to be deceiving and very likable. I've gotten my formula down and can get the candid portraits I need to convey my message.
How would you describe your career so far?
I would describe my career as very young as well as very lucky. I've been fortunate to meet and associate myself with interesting and powerful people in various industries who have given me many opportunities.
Is there any work that you are particularly proud of and why?
I am proud of the relationships I have been able to build with my photography the external connections beyond the photograph really compel me to push myself. It is the process of being adaptable and creating a new persona for every project I do that keeps things exciting and rewarding.
That and everything else non-photography related has been very rewarding. Making t-shirts, silk-screening on paper, and jewelry making have opened my eyes to the subjects I have been able to survey.