Tod Seelie’s Outland Empire


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Tod Seelie has shot decades worth of images of America’s weird and wild coastal inhabitants. Raised in Cleveland, his work has since taken him to over 25 countries, but he has always held focus on the cultural masses of Brooklyn, New York.

His book BRIGHT NIGHTS: Photographs of Another New York was finished in 2013 and chronicles Tod’s fifteen years as a resident New Yorker. Since then, he has fixed his lens on Los Angeles, and on Saturday, he will share a selection of his work in his new exhibition, Outland Empire. Following  the show, metal/punk/rap/whatever the fuck else duo Ho99o9 will raise the roof with a performance – if you’ve seen them live, you’ll know that might literally happen. Roofless in Los Angeles.

We asked Tod a couple of questions about his work, staging photos, and whether he enjoys waking up in the morning.

How do you feel when shooting places like Skid Row? Are you ever afraid in the environments you photograph?
I wouldn’t say I am often afraid, but I am definitely very aware of my surroundings and potential threats. My main style of shooting is the fly-on-the-wall approach, trying to be as invisible and non-intrusive as possible. This can work well in sketchy situations, but not always. In the years I’ve been shooting I’ve been kidnapped at gunpoint, evaded cops and even a K9 unit and spent some time in a holding cell, so the risks are very real to me.

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How do you find Los Angeles as a subject and backdrop in comparison to the countless other cities you’ve traveled to and photographed?
I love LA because it is so specific and unique to me. Some people have told me that they find the size daunting, but to me it’s just even more to dive into and try to absorb. I’m really looking forward to finding ways to spend more time here in the future.

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Do you ever stage anything for a photograph or do you prefer to shoot people and places as you find them?
I never stage anything, or if I do, it’s very obvious. An example of that is a series of portraits I’ve been shooting for years of friends and strangers I meet where I ask them to stand and face the camera, that’s all. So those photos are lightly directed, but it’s obvious as the subject is directly addressing the camera. The vast majority of what I shoot, and what I’m attracted to is the proverbial “decisive moment.” The authenticity of the captured instant in the photograph has always been very important to me.

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Bright Nights: Photographs of Another New York was compiled over 15 years, what was it like narrowing down such a massive body of work into one publication?
Exhausting. A lot of my early work in NYC was shot on film, so that was even more tedious to dig through years and years of images. It was just a constant process of culling, trying to keep a mental library of everything I had looked at and figure out relationships with an overarching narrative to then build into a book. It was very satisfying to see it all come together, but was so taxing to try to keep it on deadline it was about all I could do for months.

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Much of your work highlights life after dark, are you not a morning person?
Not at all.

Tod Seelie‘s photographs are on display at SUPERCHIEF gallery from March 7 to 14th, 2015, with an opening night zine launch and H09909 performance this Saturday from 7 to 10 PM. Check out details on the flyer below:

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