I like Moby. I met him for the first time at Kopeikin Gallery for “Destroyed”, his first photo exhibition. He’s discrete, down to earth and apparently content. In most cases these are not the qualities you find in Rock Stars or Hip Hop Artist. Because he appears content it doesn’t mean he lacks ambition or isn’t motivated.
Jen DiSisto of Project Gallery was good enough to add me to the Press and VIP reception, where I was going to take photos of Moby and some of the celebrities that would be attending the night’s gala. I arrived early and shot some of Moby’s photographic work, as I prepared for what would be a packed house. Moby was busy doing interviews while others in the gallery were getting ready for the evening. It was quiet when I heard Jen say to me, ” Do you want to do an interview?” This was something I wasn’t expecting, so I responded to the request with a, “Yes!”
Thankfully, I’ve had my fair share of interviewing over the years. I’ve interviewed Duran Duran, Discharge and Lydia Lunch, to name a few. So I put on my thinking cap and jumped in deep! Moby and I sat down for a while and dug in for what I think is an interesting conversation.
Continue With Interview After the Break
Moby: It’s such a good question. And I’ve been asked it a few times. It makes me feel really inadequate because I don’t have a good answer. I want to be able to say that there is some very specific relationship between the music on my last record and these images or I want to be able to say the methodology is similar or the work… I honestly can’t for the life of me see how they are related at all. My only thoughts are that are both the product of moving to LA and they are both a response to the strangeness of Los Angeles. The music on my last record, I think, had a very gentleness to it. Not always, but for the most part, it was kind of, it was fairly quiet. I think that’s one way people respond to the strangeness of LA, is like, making dinner with their friends and setting in the back yard with the dog and listening to NPR. I think the music reflected that. Of course, LA is such a deeply strange place. I feel like photographs better represent the post millennial apocalyptic strangeness of Los Angeles.
LA Beat: When did you or have you always photographed or did you pick it up here?
Moby: No, I started doing picture the same time I started doing music when I was 9 or 10 years old. My Uncle had been a photographer for the New York Times. So when I was 10 he gave me my first camera, which was a Nikon F. It had been one of his Vietnam War camera. So I started shooting film. Then in high school he gave me his Omega D2 enlarger. I started printing film. Then I went to college, where I was a philosophy major with a photo minor. I then worked in dark rooms. I worked as a photo assistant. I worked on film shoots. I spent a lot of time in dark rooms developing film, printing and then, I finally about 10 years ago I went over to the dark side of digital photography.
LA Beat: How was that adaptation?
Moby: I find what really interesting is the way in which so many artistic disciplines were based in craft. To be a photographer, when I was growing up, 50 or more percent of it was craft. Like, How to understand your film stock, understand your paper, understand your chemicals, understanding your processing, printing, your dodging, your burning: the amount of effort it took to get a true black, to have a print, where you would have a true black with a true white in the same print. So I would go to art show with my Uncle when I was a teenager. We would look at prints and be amazed by how they made these prints. And so much of that craft doesn’t really exist anymore. Now I feel whether it’s music or photography, film making, graphic design they all use the same instrument, which is the computer. It’s funny because they used all such specific tools and now when I’m working on music I turn on my computer, when editing movies I turn on my computer, when I’m processing film, I turn on my computer and when I’m writing… It’s like everything is this one computer. Now this is my long introduction from film into digital photography. And now it’s this question of, in the age of i-Phones, that takes amazing pictures, how does a photographers justify their continued professional artistic existence? It’s simply like, if someone self identifies as a photographer, how does that person go up to a 12 year old with an old i-Phone and tell them their pictures aren’t as good as theirs. And there is a degree of craft in being able to print: the one thing you can’t do with an i-Phone picture is print it 5 feet by 8 feet.
LA Beat: That is true. I’ll tell you a really quick story. I was shooting Devendra Banhart at Coachella. I wanted to get closer. Back in the eighties I did a lot of photography with film. This doesn’t have anything to do with film or digital. I wanted to get closer to Devendra. But everybody had a phone or a little camera, right? There’s no more, like, dude you can go up and take pictures from the audience. It was very competitive. Little boys started slapping me on the back of my head and the girls wouldn’t let me go forward because Devendra was there. And it was like, I just learned something new. I think that is part of the culture of everybody having a phone.
Moby: The fascination with everything needs to be documented. It almost getting to the point things don’t exist or have value for many people unless they are able to document it and share it. I even find that I’m guilty of it myself. If I see something beautiful it’s hard to just observe it. If I see a beautiful sunset all I want to do is run and grab my camera. It’s like a challenge to sit in the presence of something interesting and observe it, and not immediately try to document it. The phone is, I’m stating the obvious, it’s becomes such an extension for everything. It’s entertainment, communication, it’s documentation, it’s information and it serves all these purposes: which is in and of itself odd, interesting and maybe unhealthy. Probably very unhealthy. But what really interest me is putting it in perspective, and saying, technologically speaking the smart phone is in its infancy. You know, its conquered the world! Everyone is attached to their smart phone. What happens in 20 years when it’s a thousands time better. What happens when it’s capturing 3 dimensional holographic images that you can step into. Like right now it doesn’t do that much and everyone is obsessed. What happens when it gets really, really good? How is reality in any way compete with the virtual world. Why should I accept being a 48-year-old bald guy, when I could be 600 feet tall standing on the surface of Jupiter battling space ships and not be aware it’s not a real experience. I wonder how people will be able to choose to spend time in their physical bodies. I think this is incredibly fascinating, we as a species, for some reason respond to things in a very static way. We respond to technology, as if, this is the way technology is and always will be. Even if we know it is in a state of flux and change, we still tend to have really strong opinions about the way things currently are, which is so odd, because things are changing so quickly. It’s kind of like the music business getting really worked up about Napster and Limewire, whereas, if everyone stopped to think about it, everyone knew they were temporary manifestations of a paradigm shift. I feel that in technology there’s the linear progression and then there’s the almost tectonic geometric shift of technology, where things all of a sudden change dramatically. An example of linear technology would be, going from the rotary dial phone to the push button phone, then the wired phone to the portable phone. Then going from cell phones to smart phones, to me, is like a huge tectonic shift, where all of a sudden the technology looks similar but it function very differently. I really feel technology, we’re on the edge of a very strange baffling tectonic shift. In 20 years, when technology is even more immersive, the real world and the technological world are sort of indistinguishable, that’s when I think, I don’t know, things are going to get very, very confusing.
LA Beat: You were talking about the strangeness of Los Angeles. I thought you might want to elaborate on that. I know you’re fascinated or you like the idea of entertaining at home as opposed in New York where you met in bars or restaurants. I found that curious.
Moby: I live in New York for so many decades. It got to the point I realized that the majority of people I knew in New York, I’d never actually seen where they live. Most people in New York live in very small spaces. It would never dawn on them to invite people over to their home. One of the things I like about LA, there is, sort of, a provincial intimacy. You know, you go to someone’s house and you see where they live. You see the things they have in their refrigerator, you see their bedroom, their living room. You see things that reflect them and who they are, what’s their choices. What’s interesting in New York the only examples you see are, basically like, people shoes and their clothes. It’s really odd. I’ve had instances in New York where I’d be dating someone and you’d realize you’ve never seen where they live, because you’re always meeting them in public places. There is something nice about it because it fuels this constant over-crowded public sphere, but I really love the strangeness of living in a city of 15 million people that is essentially a giant suburb.
I found my surprising impromptu and rather spontaneous interview with Moby to one of the most interesting and compelling I’ve ever done. Before our interview, I liked Moby and enjoyed listening to his music. I knew something of his musical career and liked its arc as a musician coming into his own. But during this interview my perspective of Moby dramatically changed! His photographic work is dramatic, beautiful and somewhat twisted: as it should be with any artistic self-expression. But our conversation introduced me to his conceptual drive and motives behind Moby’s work. For me he moved from artist to theoretician, futurist and intellectual in less than 15 minutes. I was flummoxed, in the most pleasant way, at his grasp of ideas and possibilities. In my mind, his transformation puts him in the sphere of artist like, David Bowie, Brian Eno or Johnny Rotten. This new perspective has added a greater dimension to him, from my perspective, as a conceptually driven artist whose work deserves closer examination to be felt and completely understood. Moby is a very compelling figure and grasps a lager view of the world we should all more keenly examine. One aspect of Moby’s conceptual pie can be seen at Project Gallery running through March 30th.