Victor Cobo Interview.
Ceremony, San Francisco, 2006
Where are you from? And where are you currently residing?
I was born in the same hospital as singer Jim Morrison, Old Melbourne Hospital in Florida. In the mid sixties, my father met my mother in Madrid, Spain, working for the American Space program, NASA. Then we lived in Guam and Florida, they split up and I moved with my mother and stepfather to the San Francisco Bay Area. I was raised in Northern California in a suburban town called Santa Rosa. Currently I am residing in the East Village in Manhattan, NYC. I had a pretty free upbringing as a teenager, free meaning lots of car trips to the Russian River and Goat Rock Beach, where my friends and I socially experimented with substances and listened to a lot of dark rock music. Music like Sid Barrett, The Doors, Ziggy Stardust, The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, etc. At one point I even experimented as a musician(singer) with 70’s Glam Rock and early 80’s Punk Rock and even dressed androgynous when our band would perform. I even tried acting a couple of times in small experimental college plays. I started taking pictures when I was 17. Both my father and my stepfather introduced photography to me.
Where did you study?-
I studied Fine Art at the number one party school in America. Atleast it was back then. California State University, Chico. Even with the amout of drinking we were doing inbetween studies and getting in fights with backwards baseball hat frat boy types, I met some really great people. I guess I should say I met some really great characters. Some of the characters were friends from High School and Junior High, but we bonded even further. I was further introduced to some great music and films by a couple of friends of mine that were Communications majors. I think I took one photography class in college and then several later on at the San Francisco, Academy of Art University. I’m basically a self-taught photographer since I don’t have a degree in it from a prestigious art school. Personally I don’t think it f**king matters. I mean, photography is a serious skill and one must have a talented eye for it. Like most people think you can just go out and buy an expensive camera and BANG!-you can make amazing pictures too. If you want to push photography as a language and create your own language, Noboby can teach you this in a classroom, let alone the life long struggle of trying to get people to understand the photographic language you’ve created.
The Ghost Of Love, San Francisco, 2009
How would you describe your work to someone?
I’m not really a huge fan of long and pretentious artist statements, but here goes. Theatre meets photography, because I do seek out characters much like a film director and then I spend time with them. But it goes deeper than this. Depression runs on both sides of my family. I’ve been surrounded my lonely souls forever. I still am in some ways and I mourn with the characters that I find. I won’t go into detail about this, but I think this in conjunction with my parents fighting and then getting a divorce when I was very young, effects my work in some way. Let’s just say I don’t see or speak to my father much and this guilt that I keep inside also comes out in my work. I think when someone first looks at some of the images they feel the intensity and the loneliness, but there is also a playful spirit. The images I make are certainly an escape in some way. One could say it’s an escape from suburban middle class domesticity because of some of the harsh subject matter that I photograph, but even so the images are surreal. It’s not your average gritty documentary photography. I also try to throw an element of beauty into the darkness if that makes sense?
How do you approach new work?-
It depends. I don’t really do drugs anymore, so the ideas for example might come from a Tom Waits or Nick Cave song lyric. Or it could come from watching films. More than looking at photography, I watch a lot of films, mostly foreign, although some of my favourite American movies are The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Memento, American Psycho, No Country for Old Men and of course anything and everything by David Lynch. Psychological Thrillers are my favourite. I also like B-movies that are campy and dramatic. Directors like John Waters and Russ Meyer have done great work.
Do you continue to work in other mediums or are you strictly photography based?-
Right now I am strictly photography based because the idea of “the honesty” of the snapshot still fascinates me, but I experiment with different cameras. 35mm film and digital (never SLR’s), Polaroid’s and the Holga. If it’s 35mm film I shoot drugstore film and get the drugstore to develope the rolls. If the negatives come back scratched I am so happy! I also love experimenting with the Rolleiflex 3.5f on a tripod. The richness of the portraits are just amazing and I feel like this is a new medium for me instead of using small cameras with that have a built in flash. To be honest I don’t really care what cameras I use in the future. I hope to keep creating photographic series that reflect different chapters in my life.
From you work can you choose one image that you feel a strong emotional connection too? and why?-
I photographed a street prostitute in San Francisco by the name of Jill. She was probably in her 60’s. She was so sweet and kind. She had the body of a small child and always had a smile, and if she was busy flaring her crack pipe or sliding a needle into her arm she’d kindly tell me to wait a minute. Giving Jill a hug was like putting your arms around a small kid. She tended to wear bright pink and had no teeth and her hair was dirty and she was often-bare foot. She always spoke of hope and getting off the streets, but one day due to a drug deal gone wrong, she was burned alive. Every time I look at this picture, it makes me sad, but she was so happy I took the photo. I think it made her feel a bit like a street celebrity and she loved this. While taking the photo of her she kept talking about how tired she was, so I named the photograph “Insomnia.”
Insomnia, San Francisco, 2006
What is your earliest memory?-
I don’t know. My parents fighting. Running around barefoot with Guamanean kids. My first dog running away from our house. Leaving Guam and crying on the airplane while taking off. My first kiss in the bushes when I was five. My Mom’s father taking me to see a World Cup game in Madrid, Spain in 1982. He was an ex-professional soccer player. He used to take me around Madrid in his broken down taxi-cab while he explained the history of all the statues and museums. We had so much fun sightseeing and looking at art. My grandfather teaching me how to draw and play soccer. Watching old Vincent Price Dracula movies with my Mom. Getting into my first fist fight in Malaga Spain when I was 9. I got my ass kicked. Watching the Johnny Cash Show with my Dad’s father while he smoked unfiltered Lucky Strikes. He was always coughing because he was a Cold Miner from Kentucky.
From what were or who do you source inspiration from?-
I source inspiration from of course my Spanish Grandfather and several old friends of mine. My friend Brett Murray turned me onto wonderful movies. We both worked at this Art House Film Theatre in Santa Rosa, CA., called the Lakeside 5 Cinemas. I was an usher and he was a projectionist. While working there we saw some amazing movies together that I’ll never forget. My friends David Anderson, Chris Richnack and Greg Sugajski turned me onto some great books, music and art. David used to take these great photos and do his own darkroom work while listening to bands like Big Audio Dynamite, The Jam, The Clash, etc. Neither of my parents are truly into the arts, so I’d have to say that most of my inspiration comes from old friends.
Control, New Jersey, 2010
What are you really excited about at the moment?-
How my work is finally being recognized, unfortunately, not here in the U.S. though. I love JH Engstrom’s work a lot. Ander’s Petersen, Daido Moriyama, Ari Marcopolous and of course Antoine D’Agata. Even D’Agata’s landscapes are brilliant. Painters like Goya and Francis Bacon are amazing to me. I’m really excited about the future. Not so much about exhibitions and books, but the characters that I hope to work with photographically and get to know. I don’t like to dwell in the past all that much. It’s made me who I am, but I’d like to think that there are exciting things in store for all of us. Life is too short to be an asshole.
What are your tools of the trade?–
An Olympus C7070, a Minolta Instant Pro, a Holga 120fn, a Rolleiflex 3.5f and the Yashika T4 Super D. The end result is always a digital c-print.
What was the last album you listened to?-
Diamond Dogs by Ziggy Stardust, California by Mr. Bungle and Gravest Hits by the Cramps
If you could have a drink with anyone dead or alive, who would it be and why?-
My mother’s father. I never got to drink with him. He died when I was sixteen or seventeen. He was the kind of guy that could go into a bar and within 5 minutes have the whole place in stitches with laughter from a dirty joke he would tell. He was considered one of the best soccer defenders in all of Spain. I would have loved to have taken him out for a drink when Spain won the World Cup last year. I also think having a drink with the Mexican actor Cantinflas could be cool. I bet he had some good stories as well. Johnny Cash of course…
Storm, New York, NY 2011
What do you love most about where you live?-
One of the best dive bars in town is right across the street. Manny the bartender there has been there for like 100 years. I think he’ll probably be buried there. I love the honesty and zero pretentiousness of your average New Yorker. Can I tell you what I don’t like. Stupid rules, arrogant people in the art world, people who are way too insecure and feel the need to make everyone else deal with their insecurity and 20 something’s that say the world “like” too much. Oh yeah, and I hate reality T.V.
What could you not live without?-
I guess Art. Then sex, wine, seafood and art again. Seeing new shit by travelling out of the U.S.
Peep Show, San Francisco, 2006
If you were not doing what you do now what would you like to do?-
I don’t see myself doing anything but what I am doing right now. Besides I’ve had tons of day jobs. I feel like I’ve done it all. Staff Photographer at a Newspaper, Librarian, Security Guard, Concierge, you name it. As long as I can continue making pictures I’m happy. I don’t give a fuck about who’s who at that table and brown nosing the world to get somewhere in life.
What would be your Ideal commission? Possibly something that could bridge the gap between personal and commercial work?-
I’d love to be commissioned to spend a month photographing a community in Europe. The end result of the commission being a book published with some of the photographs from that assignment. Anders Petersen did something like this in Sete, France.
What projects or exhibitions do you have in the pipeline?-
A Solo show in Paris next year.
OneGiantArm would like to thank Victor for this insightful response and looking forward to seeing more of his work in the future.
If you want to see more of Victor Cobo’s photography take a look at his website.