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The Photography of Austin Young


Austin Young is a photographer and filmmaker whose work evokes a thrilling world of candy colored glam rockers, punk goddesses, and sinister club kids.

Austin Young is a photographer and filmmaker whose work evokes a thrilling world of candy colored glam rockers, punk goddesses, and sinister club kids. A native of Reno, Neveda, Austin studied at the Parson's School of Design in Paris before landing -- appropriately -- in Los Angeles where he has shot everything from celebrity portraits to drag queen album covers. Austin draws on the best, and the loudest, of late 70s and early 80s pop culture aesthetics while achieveing a look that balances the natural and synthetic. Here's how our Q & A went down...

What are your weapons of choice for equipment?

Austin Young: Right now I use a canon 5d, a mac, and photoshop and my old XL1 video camera. I also use natural light and tungsten light.

How big of a role, if any, does Photoshop play in getting that flawless look your photos have?

AY:  I've used Photoshop since 1991 in my work. But before that time, I really worked hard with light and bleaching to make people look good. I developed my own film and printed in my darkroom- then I'd cut out my photos, collage them together, and color them with dyes. I studied painting in school and was inspired by album artwork and painters. I loved 80's artists like Patrick Nagel. Symbolists. Surrealists. DaDaists. I am not into photographic realism . I like the silkscreened portraits of Andy Warhol. I use Photoshop liberally.  Sometimes i like my 'photos' to appear more realistic, but usually they are not. It's an illusion. The kids on MySpace call it  "editing." What a strange term. It sounds so clinical. I call it 'airbrushing.' If Photoshop didn't exist, i would be painting with oils or airbrushing or using silkscreen and flat washes of color. I'm not a technical person. I'm interested in the power of an image. That's all that matters in the end.  Style is fashion and so however Photoshop is used will change every 6 months or so.

Is it true you shoot most of your subjects while they're lying down? Because that reminded me of a "Golden Girls" episode where the ladies were using a mirror to illustrate if a woman should be on top or bottom during sex, of course their faces were sagging and the light was awful, so they agreed you should always be the one lying down for your skin to look taut.

AY: Hah! where did you hear this? that's funny. I have a suspicion that Michelle Muldrow told you that. Some people look really good lying down. I also like to talk people into taking there clothes off.

Many of your subjects are gorgeous and flawless, while also being a little scary; kind of like people who get too much plastic surgery or wear too much make-up are striving to look good, and end up looking frightening. Are you trying to go for that feeling uneasiness, or something completely different?

AY: Hmmm. I think tension is good. I don't think my work is frightening. I shoot alot of different kinds of people  and some of them like to wear alot of makeup. I'm obsessed with drag queens and tranimals like Squeaky Blonde, Jer Ber Jones, Leigh Bowery,  and Fade-Dra.
But, I equally love shooting someone like Rose Byrne or Judy Greer. My intention with a portrait is to capture the essence of that person. I see beauty in people and that is my personal style. That's why people love having their portrait done by me. I'm very Pollyanna....I see your glass as half full... no....I see it as totally full. I'm not finding your flaws and pointing at them. I know people who do this and I would never want them to take my photo.

How did the concept come about for your models that look as though their synthetic Barbie hair has been yanked out?

AY: Hah! Well. I love dolls and wanted to do a series as woman as dolls. I wanted to do dolls that had been fucked up with years of play. Drawn on, hair cut off, etc. I've worked with hair stylist Andrew Marlin for years. My concepts was to do bald caps with 'hair plugs' and Andrew really took it there. I love him. Also Mathu Anderson did incredible make-up which he mostly airbrushed on the models and stylist Jennifer Eve--- it took a team of talented people to pull that off.

You've done a number of music videos for Jackie Beat, The Heathers, as well as the twisted and hilarious series "The Worm" with Nadya Ginsburg. Have you always done videos hand-in-hand with photography, or is it still relatively new terrain you are exploring?

AY: I had always wanted to do this, and I made my first video in 1994 with Richie Rich, called "love you a million" you can find it on youtube. ( i was using my old name back then, "Tom Pitts") and then Barry Pett and I made a short called "The Stroke"  and a feature documentary called, "Hadda Brooks, Queen Of The Boogie" which I LOVE and has only shown one time. But, will be showing more soon.  Nadya and I are doing "The Worm" as a feature. It's really fucked up and weird. I'm a big fan of Jackie Beat and so working with her is so amazing too me. I love making videos and I love making comedy.

Do you find yourself being compared to David LaChapelle a lot, or is it just that you both happen to be fashion photographers with similar interests?

AY: Yeah. I do get compared. Yet our work is totally different. I don't usually have a concept at all; they don't interest me in my personal work. Yes, I've been known to come up with them but for the
most part, my work is very simple if you really take a moment to look at it.... yet it has an energy about it. A feeling. My images carry emotional vibrations. I like my subject to come over with nothing. People will always say, "we'll what's your concept? How do you want to shoot me?" and I say,
"Have you seen my work? I'm not interested in concepts." I love  David LaChapelle's work. He comes up with elaborate concepts that he perfectly executes with a huge budget and fanfare. I think our work is at opposite ends of a bright spectrum.

You have been able to balance creating photos with a look of natural softness, and the hyper-realistic loudness of 80s aesthetics, is one harder to achieve than the other?

AY: I have two different sides of my personality and my work, and you have just described them. They both come natural to me. and I will continue to do both.

Have you ever walked in to a shoot with an actress - say, Tori Spelling -- and just wanted to put her hair up in a mohawk and slap on some fuchsia eye shadow? I think she'd look great that way, but that's just me.

AY: Yeah. I think so too. I tried.

Can you tell us a little more about the Fallen Fruit project?

AY: David Burns, Matias Viegener and I started mapping the fruit in our LA neighborhood that overhangs public space. We put these maps on the web. We also invite the public to make jam with us in a gallery setting. We give the jam away. We also take people on tours of public fruit trees in urban areas.

Any upcoming projects, shows, or fun stuff we should know about?

AY: Yes. I'm working on a series of nudes for a solo show. I'll post a bunch more video on youtube: Jackie Beat, The Worm, Jer Ber Jones, a short horror film with Margaret Cho, etc. and continue to make portraits and work on finding a publisher for my book.




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