An interview with my daugter & I:
(translation from the French below)
– If I understood well, you’ve been separated from your father for a long time. How was it to meet him again and what has changed since?
We have actually been separated since the day I was born because I was adopted, so when we met it was really like we were meeting for the first time. It’s not that anything has changed it’s that everything was new. It was really interesting getting to know him because we were almost the same people growing up. We had no contact until I received a letter from him through the adoption agency when I was seventeen, yet we did or became interested in the same things around the same age. When we were both around six or seven we became interested in Japanese culture, when we were in our teens we both starting getting into cooking and photography, and throughout both of our lives we were always drawing or painting.
– Were you familiar with his work before you’d met and if so what were your opinions of it?
Yes, he sent me his website shortly before we met. I was very impressed with the creativity and originality and was especially taken by the unique themes of his shoots. All of his shoots have something special about them, so no two look the same. His style has something about it that just captures your attention.
– Was it he or you who had the idea to shoot together?
He first suggested that we should shoot soon after we met. It took me a little while to get comfortable with the idea because I hadn’t shot with anyone except friends, and that was a couple years ago. I also didn’t have any professional experience so I was nervous about how well I would do.
– Had you ever done any modeling before shooting with him? Would you like it to lead you to shooting with other people?
The only modeling I’ve done prior to this shoot was with friends who were practicing their photography, nothing with anyone professional. There aren’t a lot of modeling opportunities in Florida. I would definitely like this to lead to more shoots with other people. I’ve wanted to model since I was thirteen and this is the perfect opportunity to start a possible modeling career.
– What does this shoot represent to you, about your relationship with your father? Are you planning on shooting again and if so what would your ideas be for those?
It represents our creativity coming together, because the shoot was a collaboration of both of our ideas and personalities. Yes we are planning on shooting again. My ideas for upcoming shoots would most likely involve even more creativity to make it especially unique. I want to brainstorm ideas with Fox to come up with something really different that will capture people’s attention.
– What do you think about his body of work ? How do you feel about some of the more graphic or controversial pieces and have they affected you or your relationship with anyone else you know?
I admire his style of work, it’s unique and original, and that’s what’s gotten him so far in his career. I don’t mind the graphic or controversial pieces because nudity doesn’t bother me. I don’t understand why some people are so offended by the bodies they were born with. The human body is beautiful and should be appreciated, not shamed. Some of my friends and family members were uncomfortable with his work at first but it didn’t take long for them to change their minds so it never really affected any of our relationships. The key to changing their minds is explaining to people how illogical it is to question Fox and our relationship just because he takes nude pictures. It doesn’t make any sense to me to be offended by a naked body, something we all have, and actually are, yet for some reason we try to cover up and shame ourselves and others.
– Does that kind of subject matter affect the way you view your relationship with your father (is it awkward or does it help you view him more as a person rather than a parent, etc.) ? Does seeing yourself in his images make you view yourself differently?
It definitely helps me to view him more as a person and has made me realize how alike we are in our ideas and beliefs. We both hold the belief that it’s illogical to shame the human body like it’s unnatural. It’s made me appreciate him more since he isn’t afraid of doing something risky even if some people may not like it. Seeing myself in his images makes me view myself a little differently but definitely in a good way. I see the potential I have for doing something I’ve always wanted to do.
– Anything else you’d like to say? Anything special to add?
I would like to add how proud I am of my father and how far he has made it in his career. Making a living from being an artist is nearly impossible, especially in America where the arts aren’t as appreciated as they are in other countries. His originality is truly the driving force in his success, which is something many people lack today.
I would also like to add how special my relationship with Fox is to me. We have tried to get in contact for years but with an unorganized and lazy adoption agency between us, it wasn’t easy. They had told Fox they were sending us letters and leaving us voice mails but we never received anything. They also held a letter Fox wrote to me for four years before actually sending it. I’m glad we finally met though and he has definitely changed me as a person for the better. Even though he couldn’t be around until I was eighteen, he still has managed to guide me as a parent. There will be many more photo shoots after this, I can assure you.
From Fox Harvard:
– Please tell us a bit about yourself/your work.
I was born in Tampa and raised in Sarasota, actually. Sarasota’s considered the “cultural coast” so that’s where the arts became the norm for me; most of our school field-trips were to places like the Sarasota Opera, the Sarasota Ballet, the Ringling Museum, etc. My parents noticed what they saw as a drawing talent and enrolled me in arts classes when I was around 8 or so; I also started private painting tutors on the weekends and afterschool. At fifteen I was accepted at a private performing arts high school, and went on to study studio arts for a few years at university.
I started shooting loosely when I was 16; my grandfather gave me my first camera when I was a sophomore in high school (my father was into photography when he was younger as well, but he only dabbled in it when I was a kid). My focus then was large-scale mixed media so I wasn’t shooting photography for photography’s sake but rather as a secondary element included in my mixed media work. I’ve only been shooting “seriously” for about five & 1/2 years or so now–and that started mainly because the camera was the most convenient tool to work with when I gave up my studio–but now I think I actually prefer it as my main creative outlet. It’s ceaselessly challenging and admittedly the hardest medium I’ve ever worked in as far as being able to successfully execute what I imagine internally with any satisfaction; I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be with it yet.
– Why do you think your work has evolved the way it has?
A mixture of circumstance and choice, to be frank. A lot of which has nothing to do with art, so buckle in.
As much as I loved painting and creating mixed media pieces I never bought into the bullshit idea of being a starving artist. I guess my wake up call came when I realized that my tastes and the income that lifestyle provided weren’t exactly relative. After seeing how disillusioned or just plain oblivious the other kids were to this fact I really wondered why the hell business classes weren’t a requirement for dreamers in school.
Right after my senior year in high school the girl I was with at the time got pregnant. And due to youth, timing, and other unpleasant circumstances beyond my control we were forced to separate and give her up for adoption. It was absolutely the hardest fucking thing I’d ever done–unimaginably tough on me. Horrific anxiety, guilt, panic attacks–the lot. I still have sketchbooks from that time filled with dream sequences that I’d frantically scribbled down in detail after being blasted out of sleep by night terrors so lucid & vivid that some of them left me rattled for what seemed like hours, unable to move from bed until I’d figured out what I’d just dreamt wasn’t real. I’ve always had certain obsessive elements to my personality, which is genuinely helpful in the way I create, but when coupled with reliving disturbing events isn’t pleasant, to say the least. Having something akin to hyperthymesia on top of that only compounds the trauma. A lot of people view it as an intriguing novelty but it’s more a curse than anything else; having to relive things in Technicolor detail on a video loop that you’d give anything to be able to erase or forget. I normally try to bury it by categorizing what’s really worth replaying, which gives me the tendency to forget peripheral things that I should be remembering. Anyway, for a while I withdrew from everyone I loved; I fought with my parents, I left home & lived out of my car for a while, sponging off friends & family for food or places to stay, and after a while eventually regained some semblance of normalcy. As ridiculous as it sounds, for a few years–regardless of whom I was seeing or what I was doing–the only thing that gave me any real consolation and peace of mind was art. On a side note, it wasn’t a conscientious decision at all, but looking back on my work at the time, the imagery of children–especially that of little girls—began appearing more & more in the final pieces during those years. Not all the time, to be sure, but enough to have taken notice of its relative symbolism.
When I finally started attending college I figured any degree would look good on a resume and hacked away at a Studio Arts major for a few years while being the director at a local gallery. Since paintings don’t sell I shot the odd commissioned work or adult gig while managing the gallery (since it didn’t pay shit either) before having another epiphany that almost any degree–outside law or medicine–wasn’t really worth fuck all. I never cared for frozen dinners or the idea of sharing a two-bedroom apartment with four people so about 2001 or so I quit amidst a shakeup at the gallery, to snatch up a good corporate sales job that had come along. I sold off all my equipment, fell in love with the girl I was seeing, and moved across the state with her to take the job.
I worked in sales making pretty good money while living with my girlfriend in Tampa for about seven or eight years–and all the meantime going mad from the stress and hours of the job; and worse for it because for the first time in my life I had no creative outlet. In the middle of all this, around 2004 or so, I was thrown for a loop–shocked to receive a random envelope out of nowhere in the mail one day from the adoption agency with pictures of my daughter at eight years of age. Grainy, low-quality scanned prints of her gleefully playing with her sister in the driveway of their house, dancing near the guard-rail on the deck of a Disney cruise-ship at night, out at sea, cavorting around the kitchen in mom’s high heels and dresses, marching past the camera as the apathetic & uninterested cheerleader at school, waving those pom-poms with a precocious vitriol and purpose seemingly unintended by her instructor…Jesus fucking Christ, I cherished those pictures like nothing else existed in the world. Every fiber of my being sang as the guilt of what I felt I’d done and the weight of a non-creative life dissolved away by the mere thought that my daughter was out there–and happy. Finally, some proof–something tangible–any denial or fear I’d harbored for the last decade was virtually gone. Apparently my ex had been contacted by the adoption agency we’d used with a package of photographs and a letter from her new family and managed to track me down after years of no communication through a daisy chain of disconnected and forgotten friends (for whatever reason the agency had neglected to keep me updated with anything at all, regardless of how many times I had optimistically updated them with any change of address or phone number I’d had).
For different reasons–even before we’d moved to Tampa–I had become absolutely disgusted with the art world, and our apartment–big as it was–was too nice to function as a working studio, so painting on the scale I was used to was out of the question, and so I abandoned it. For other reasons the relationship wasn’t as healthy as it should have been towards the end, which was largely my fault, and as a result it completely dissolved right around the time I’d had enough of working for that particular company. In desperation I thought a house & a marriage might salvage what was left, but for obvious reasons, didn’t.
I was beyond madly in love with her and when we parted ways half of everything I was left with her. It was the most devastating heartbreak I’d ever suffered. Not creating for almost ten years was the second worst mistake I’d ever made in my life and I had no idea who I was anymore or where I wanted to be–and there I was, stuck in a big empty house with no heart left and no soul to create. I’d grown up on the beach in Sarasota and for the first time in my life had absolutely no sense of any home. I dumped the house & immediately moved back to the water. Getting serious about creating again was probably the one main thing that helped me regain my strength, my sanity & focus enough to be able to function in any self-respectable capacity. So, in 2008 I went to Paris for a few months to shoot.
The divorce was finalized so I came back and settled into another sales job, this time in the beauty industry. Between that and shooting, my new love enabled me to create the images that led me, eventually, to present day. Mind you, my older work was a bit more salacious than what I’m producing today but everything evolves–as it should. I know I’m not currently producing art with a capital “A” exactly, but as an artist, if I weren’t constantly evolving in that manner I’d be doing something wrong. And more to the point, I’d be doing a disservice to myself, and those that follow my work.
My current occupation isn’t the most poetic, noble, or virtuous thing one could say they do for a living, but I couldn’t really care at this point, to be honest. It affords me the ability to do what I love; and more importantly to spend time with the person I love more than anything else in life–my daughter, Katie–and I truly love her more than life itself.
– You told me this series was with your daughter, from who you’ve been separated for a long time. How was it shooting with her?
Pretty emotional. I tried to mask it with concepts and themes and locations that were personal to her, but truth be told it was something I’d always longed to do. Before we’d ever shot we had drawn together on numerous occasions and even aside from the rate at which her skill level accelerated, that shared act alone was immensely rich and permanently bonding; so much so it became a much-welcomed catharsis. Short of a few very specific pieces of photojournalism or combat photography, before receiving her pictures for the first time I’d never been emotionally affected by a photograph like that before. I mean, I’d always respected photography as a fine-art medium (Sally Mann, Jock Sturges, Robert Mapplethorpe, etc.), but that was based more on aesthetic and beauty rather than something that really socked you right in the fucking gut. When I originally received the pictures of her as a child it made me realize exactly how powerful the medium could be for me; even from the perspective of simple, low-quality, family photo-album snapshots. And if that sort of emotive character could be invoked by plain, unassuming, unembellished pieces like that, then that was the medium I had to attempt to master.
The entire time Katie was growing up I had no contact with her, even though I wished to beyond desperation. I had no idea where she was living, who the family was, or what life was like for her. I had some vague knowledge of where her family lived (Orlando, FL) when she was adopted but no concrete certainties. Out of my own insecurities I hoped/feared she’d look exactly like me; I kept an eye out for her everywhere I went. Every time I was in a mall, or at Disneyworld, or at an art show or in the supermarket–anywhere out in public around that area–I was always scanning the crowds for a little girl who looked like me, in hopes of making a connection with her. I even went out of my way to make trips to Orlando when I had some weird feeling I might see her across a restaurant or in a theme park somewhere. I knew it was a bit unhealthy at the time but it was something I simply had to do in order to keep my sanity. It was haunting for along while but in the end a bit of a relief knowing the biggest regret of my life might also have been the wisest choice I’d ever made.
To be honest, I feel I failed at being able to invoke the power and monumental range of emotive quality I had hoped for when I dreamt about what I could create with her–and no fault of hers, to be certain. To be clear, I’m not saying I don’t like them–to the contrary I like them quite a lot–I just feel they could be so much more emotional to me, so much stronger. Maybe restrained by inhibition, maybe held back by social mores, maybe held back by skill or concept or medium or fear–too many factors to even begin to say. But then again, I’m not sure any medium could truly express the manner in which I feel for Katie; I’d need a lifetime with her just to be able to replicate what Sally Mann did with her own children. But failure is good; it means you’re trying new things–pushing yourself, venturing into areas you haven’t been before (including those within yourself). And I’m grateful for that failure–maybe it will teach one of us something more valuable than what we gained while working together. Moreover it’s an absolute driving force to get me to keep pushing the envelope with her until I get something that makes me stop thinking about what else there could be.
– Your photography is often sunny & warm. Tell us more about your inspirations and the atmosphere you like the most to shoot in?
It’s interesting you have that perception. I never analyze my work as I’m creating it at all, but rather only after the fact. Even in the sunniest and brightest of pictures I always viewed my finished work as possessing something struggling to break out of a certain melancholy or darkness. Most of the figures seem to posses something subtle, albeit a kind of quiet desperation or heaviness. Maybe that’s just my projection or misperception.
As far as inspiration goes, because I was more into painting & drawing growing up than I was into photography, I don’t really take much influence from photographers; I took more influence from painters. And I’d like to think a lot of the older photographers probably did too (your Helmut Newtons, your Robert Doisneaus, etc.).
I’m a big cinema buff and was so into movies growing up it was ridiculous. I find the aesthetic of a lot of my stuff tends to look like the old films I loved as a kid; especially the black and white work. Most of the time I didn’t even give a shit about the plot or the dialogue, I was just more enamored with the "look" of the film itself. I’d watch hours of them back to back–old Japanese works, French new-wave films–long before I understood what they were about. I remember seeing stuff on cable TV by Shohei Imamura, Kaneto Shindo, Francois Truffaut, Federico Fellini… and not even realizing who or what I was looking at until I’d rediscovered them as a teenager; I was just taken aback by the beauty in the manner of the way they’d been shot. To be honest, I’ve always derived more inspiration from old directors than I have photographers, even now. I liked the darkness and the stark contrast of their black & whites, the really shallow depth of field on certain close-ups, etc. I get a lot of comments from people saying my stuff appears theatrical or cinematic; it’s quite flattering, and I imagine that that’s the genesis of what you’d call my “inspiration”.
As far as the editorial aspect of it goes, for the modern I’d definitely have to tip my hat to Ellen Von Unwerth, Paolo Roversi, Chadwick Tyler, Steven Klein, and the late Corinne Day—for the classic work I’d have to go with the afore mentioned Helmut Newton, Lillian Bassman, and some of Bob Richardson’s work (his son Terry was phenomenal in the early 2000’s, like the work he did for Sisley, but lately he’s kind of raking over the same old coals). For the more artsy side of photography: Man Ray, Sally Mann, Doisneau, Jock Sturges’ earlier 8×10 work in particular, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Henri Bresson—the usual. For artists growing up: Robert Rauschenberg, Antoni Tapies, Joseph Beuys, and Marcel Duchamp are the first that spring to mind.
The atmosphere I like shooting in per se includes anything on location in natural light; I abhor most studio work at this point. I especially love being able to shoot in the model’s home environment (provided it’s interesting enough). I love being able to incorporate something personal from the model’s own life into the work–I think it gives it more of a personal feel that’s not biased just to the photographer; I think it makes the image more unique to the model as well as looking stronger in the sense that it’s not just some transparent concept plunked down by the photographer.
– What about music? What are you listening to, these days?
Again, I always took more inspiration from cinema than photography when creating, and I although I can’t stand shooting with music, I can’t edit at all without it. And I think because of that I take a lot from classical music while working–a lot of operatic pieces in particular. But I think you’d find me listening to Ravel, Rachmaninoff, Camille Saint-Saëns, Eric Satie, Verdi, Donizetti…and usually the same opus or movement on repeat, over and over–I’m captivated by the depth and by the enormity of the mood and swing that’s there throughout the same piece. Movies and music–the only two things I adore in repetition–anything else is monotonous and a monumental fucking aggravation to me. That being said, I’m all over the map really–I don’t adhere to any one thing in particular. Radiohead, The Love Language, Muddy Waters, EMA, Peaches, Childish Gambino, Odesza, Billie Holiday…no particular order to those. Beck’s new Morning Phase is still holding its grandeur no matter how much I listen to it. I wish Washed out would release a catchier album again; Bjork too. Seems their last couple have been using the same bag of tricks and it’s all starting to sound the same. Even Purity Ring (I’d kill to direct my own really libidinous video version of their song “Lofticries”). There’s a lot of Sinatra in my shuffle too. And Louis Prima, for his mercurial energy.
– A little word for Beware?
I wish I didn’t have to sleep, so the improvement & learning process was continuous and without gaps. I wish I had access to a broader range of people than I have now. I want to be able to shoot editorials on the scale of the grand masters of oil painting one day. I wish I were in love again. I want to cement my reputation as a professional and a gentle man. I want to go forward being able to do well for the things I regrettably cannot reverse. I want to be able to create non-stop and share it with as many people as I can. In the end I want to be able to feel I put some sort of substance back into style and make beauty a noble thing, not just superficial; regardless of what form it comes in. I need to do all of these things. And I think perhaps I will continue to do as I have been, until a better method makes itself known. But most importantly, I know now that no matter how great my love has been for all of these things, I’ve known no greater happiness than the love I have for my daughter. I can only hope the rest comes close to equaling that one day.