I recently had the pleasure of talking with multi-talented artist Jack Greer about his new website/project Digital Ashtray, photography, LA, New York, and sandwiches… You know an interview is going good when Bay Cities comes up as a topic of conversation. Look after the jump for an interesting Q & A with an interesting man.
Tell us about yourself
I’m Jack Greer, 23 years old, from Los Angeles – came out to New York 5 years ago to go to Pratt Institute of bullshit, happily settled in the East Village now. I grew up skateboarding in LA with a huge group of friends, they provided me with hoards of subject matter to pick from…This is what got me initially involved with photography. I was able to see a lot of Los Angeles because my friends and I were taking the bus all over town to skateboard at different places. From Venice Beach to Eaglerock, Hollywood to Culver City, we literally went everywhere. Although my pictures have changed because I’m no longer 16 taking the bus after school, my philosophy hasn’t really wavered – I believe in taking pictures of people I know, I think there is potential for a much stronger picture if the photographer and the subject have a very comfortable relationship outside of being in a photographer to subject situation. When trust exists between the two parties, there is a lot more room for a great picture. Whether it means acting more natural or heightening a mood to ‘perform’ for the camera, either way I find it more successful. The other reason I find it a lot more important to photograph ones friends is for the sake of having these documents throughout time. I don’t really give a shit about having a desk full of people I don’t know. Even though it’s only been 9 or 10 years (which in the larger scale of time is practically nothing) – I have documentation of some of my friends going through some of their biggest changes. The period of 14-24 is more than nostalgic, it’s particularly important to reflect upon… Whether it is comforting or depressing, the vast changes that occur in a person during adolescence/teenhood/young adult are enormous.
Tell us about Digital Ashtray
Digital ashtray came about for a couple reasons – I wanted to create a website that could be a sort of ‘dump’ for all my photographs that weren’t necessarily going to see the world outside of my desk. I also happened to have a domain name because my father asked me what I would like my website to be called (if I ever decided to make one) back when I was in 9th grade (first year of high school). I told him “digital ashtray” because it seemed fitting for a place to create an online portfolio of sorts. I have issues with people having full access to viewing work through the internet – I think it allows for lazy viewing – pictures of sculptures/paintings/photographs all become part of a quick browse. For that reason, I wanted to acknowledge the simplicity of the interaction between online portfolio and viewer. Rather than attempt professionalize my website by categorizing pictures in a manner that doesn’t suit the viewer, I figured it would be a digital ashtray. The index’s would serve as cigarette butts – asterisks – inside would contain any number of photos or sometimes just 1. The coherence of placing one photo next to another would be maintained by grouping the “events”… Sometimes I have many photos of 1 day, and sometimes I have only 1 photo to describe a particular moment.
In your opinion, what makes a ‘good picture’ – what’s the difference between a successful photo and one that just kinda sucks?
A good photo vs a bad photo. Well, first off, there’s two approaches to photography – he who takes a photo and he who makes a photo. I take pictures – I find moments in natural life that are aesthetically pleasing to me and I document them. Although the scene describes the photo and I wouldn’t take the picture if the scene didn’t engage me, ultimately, I am not creating the scene. One who makes pictures is someone who choreographs the scene in order to ‘paint a picture’. The subjects in the photos are not ‘jack and natalie’ – they are ‘boy and girl’. Some of my favorite pictures are by picture makers, such as Jeff Wall. However, I personally do not work this way – when I want to create alternate realities I use different mediums such as drawing, painting, sculpture. So, what makes a good photo and what makes a bad photo. Well, it’s easier to take bad pictures when you shoot digitally. This is because using film provides a certain level of restraint, mainly because there are only so many shots to a roll. I like the process of waiting for a roll of film to be developed. The same reason children don’t have to ‘wait’ for things because of youtube, photographers don’t have to wait because they can shoot digitally. These technological innovations allow for a lot more bullshit because they provide open access. If you want to upload a video – you can. If you want to shoot 100 photos of the same stupid pigeon, you can. Seeding through the bullshit has become more necessary because there’s more bullshit. At the same time, I’ve managed to work with people and see work that I otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to – merely because there wasn’t the quick back and forth communication as readily available before gmail, file upload websites, etc…
What kind of camera do you use?
I had two t4′s but one just got stolen. The first one was thought to be missing but it just popped up in New Jersey. I can’t wait to get it back.
Tell us about Still House
Still House is a group of artists I work with. Currently, we work together in a large studio space in Tribeca. The majority of us grew up in Los Angeles with a few others from elsewhere. We all are New York transplants – this is where the group really formed and began working together to make shows. Strength in numbers is the easiest way to describe a situation like Still House. Through the contacts that we share and different abilities that we have, as a group we’ve put together a few shows over the past two years. The group was founded by Isaac Brest and Alex Perweiler, initially as a photography-centric renegade gallery. It came to house different media artists and now represents 10 people working in sculpture, painting, video, photography, drawing, collage, pretty much anything you can think of. I love working with the group, it provides an immediate critique that many people don’t have access to after school. The conversations that exist before, during, and after the completion of a piece are invaluable.
Best sandwich spot in NY?
New York aint got shit on Bay Cities in Los Angeles, but, if I had to name a great sandwhich spot in NYC I’d say the burgers at the bodega on 2nd ave just below 5th street. They cook em proper and have all the salad fixings that I like to use as toppings. My favorite is a cheeseburger (cheddar) with red peppers, black olives, lettuce, balsamic vinaigrette. Weird but great.