Monday, 23 April 2012

Interview with Steve Pyke

So I interviewed Steve Pyke on Saturday 21st April 2012 at 1:30pm at his studio in New York. He allowed me to record the interview, so my video was created more for audio purposes than visual but unfortunately I have spent a very long time trying to upload the video but blogspot is being a pain so you'll just have to read the transcript for now!!

Steve Pyke

Interview with Steve Pyke – Transcript 

Sarah: Why did you choose photography?
Steve: I was in bands, used to be in bands and before that I used to race motorcycles so I had these different early careers and then when I was about 23 years old somebody gave me a camera and I was already in bands so I was photographing around bands, no sorry I was playing in bands and then they gave me a camera and I started to photograph around bands, so I just picked it up and was sort of self educated and I didn’t go to any like training in photography or anything.
Sarah: So you sort of tutored yourself…
Steve: Yeah, so it came kind of instinctively to me, I just, you know, I just started to photograph and got caught up in the magic of it.
Sarah: I’ve looked at your website and you do a lot of portrait photography, is there a reason for that?
Steve: That’s where I gravitated toward early on, so when I first started photographing I started to photograph the people around me, I mean I’ve always been interested in people so I’m a people person, so it seemed kind of natural placed, natural placed for me to photograph people and I find it interesting and I still find it interesting, the interaction, so the thing is I don’t just shoot portraits of people, I do photos of still life and landscape as well.
Sarah: Yes, I haven’t seen many of your landscape ones actually…
Steve: They're in I Can Read The Sky, have you ever seen the book I Can Read The Sky?
Sarah: No, I haven’t but I have heard of it though.
Steve: Yeah it’s kind of rare, it’s out of print now, I’ll show you a copy. But that has landscape in it, but I’ve not shot landscape for a few years now. I live urban you see and I don’t live rural situations.
Sarah: And you do a lot of black and white, I mean is there a balance between your black and white photography and your colour or do you prefer one to the other?
Steve: No, I don’t prefer on to the other, I photograph both but a lot of the time the people see black and white for some reason. Maybe I do, maybe I like black and white as well and also a lot of the early work, like some of the iconic pictures I see as black and white images not colour, I don’t really understand why after all this time really. I mean there are things, like the philosophers are all black and white.
Sarah: And do you have a favourite photograph from your selection?

CLR James, 1989

Steve: No, it’s difficult, I mean there’s not a favourite portrait because they all have different places, I mean that portrait over there of CLR James (1989), I really like that one but I can’t say it is a favourite portrait because there are all the pictures that I have done of my kids over the years which are the series; Jack and Duncan and now Lola Ray which is not on the website. So it’s difficult to say that you have one favourite photograph, in fact impossible, there’s thousands of sessions, thousands and thousands of sessions that I photograph.
Sarah: So have there been any photographers or even artists like painters that have really influenced your work, I mean in the early days?
Steve: I love the surrealists…
Sarah: So Dali and…
Steve: Man Ray and a lot of different photographers, this collection of work in here is mostly not mine, its other peoples so all these pictures…
Sarah: Oh yes I recognise those up there (pointing to Bill Brandt’s images).
Steve: So yeah Brandt of course, I really like Brandt because he crosses all these different areas, he’s not just a portraitist, he’s does still life, he does landscape and he does all these different things.
Sarah: Yeah I think I’d like to do something like that, a range, I mean at college they tend to try to steer you towards one specific…
Steve: Yes well you should photograph what you want to photograph, I like Walker Evans for that reason as well.
Sarah: So nowadays are you influenced by anyone or are you just focused on your own thing?
Steve: Well, you’re always influenced by what you see, you see so many things now with everybody photographing so you see interesting images all the time, there’s always different things to see and new work to see. I really like that Cindy Sherman show that you saw today but I was like, I knew all the pictures but it was very interesting to see like a retrospective, it gives you a broader view of it. I like Nan Goldin…
Sarah: I love Nan Goldin, she’s one of my favourites along with Robert Mapplethorpe…So where do you see the future of photography heading?
Steve: I don’t know…
Sarah: Yeah, very unpredictable…
Steve: I don’t know it’s too wide a question because of your place within it, its going to continue, of course it’s going to continue, it’s going to get broader and broader and wider and wider, everybody photographs now so everyone’s a photographer, but how coming out of college and going through college, how you’re going to work out a way that you can make a living out of it, I mean even not make a living but enjoy it and work with it.
Sarah: And you probably get asked this a lot, but what advice would you give a student photographer?
Steve: Well what you just said about the college narrows you down because they are trying to train you for industry, but the industry is changing so fast, it’s changing all the time. So a lot of the time people…I think it’s very difficult to understand right now exactly where it’s going, but it’s being recreated all the time. So I think the most important thing you can do is photograph and continue to photograph all the different things that influence you around you. Photograph your family, that’s really important, if you photograph your family you photograph it like a document, it’s very very interesting. And don’t be limited to what other people or courses are pushing you towards, just focus on photographing everything.
Sarah: Okay and do you shoot mostly on film or do you explore digital at all?
Steve: I shoot film, I’ve got a phone….
Sarah: (laughs) Well newer phones nowadays are often better than digital cameras, megapixel wise. Do you think film is going to die out? Because I personally love it whereas Jen here loves digital so we are two sides of the coin.
Steve: I think you can work with both, whether it’s going to die out or not, no I think there will be people who are specialists, I mean I photograph completely with film, even when I shoot for editorial, I mean I don’t shoot that much editorial anymore, but when I do I still shoot film. I mean people used to wait before so I don’t understand why they can’t wait now.
Sarah: Yeah, well it’s very instant now.
Steve: Yeah its important to digest photographs of a shoot, not just see it straight away, the idea is to digest it because if you photograph something you need to be able to think about it and process it in different ways. In order to be able to edit something, I couldn’t edit something straight after whilst the person is still there.
Sarah: And what camera do you shoot on?
Steve: Well I shoot with a Rolliflex.
Sarah: And have you shot on any other camera?
Steve: A Hasselblad a bit but I just like the Rolliflex, it is the first camera I bought and I still have that same camera.
Sarah: Wow have you had to repair it much then?
Steve: Yeah it gets repaired, turned inside out. It’s all mechanical you see so you can’t vacate, all they’ve got to do is put a new part together for it, they never really wear out.
Sarah: (looking at board behind) Are these your mood boards?
Steve: Yeah and this white space is for the projector we watch movies there but yeah the whole wall is kind of like a working wall.
Steve: (looking at I Can Read The Sky book) this sort of starts at the early works, I first became a photographer in Dublin.
Sarah: So what made you move to New York then; was it just job opportunities?
Steve: No I have always loved New York, so I always knew I would come and live here, I came here in 76, I came up a long time ago.
Sarah: Was it a lot different?
Steve: Yeah well it’s the same city but it’s radically different.
Sarah: Yeah always changing, it’s my first time here as well and I didn’t think I’d love it so much but we were saying…you don’t want to leave and I feel so comfortable here I mean compared to London.
Steve: Do you live in London?
Sarah: No, no I just have been there a lot, I mean I go there quite frequently but no I grew up in Devon, down in the country.
Steve: Where abouts?
Sarah: Well it’s in this little village called Bere Alston near Tavistock and Plymouth area, so I’m used to that but I do love the cities.
Steve: Yes it’s really engaging, I think people on the whole are very friendly, much friendlier than they are in London.
Sarah: So is this your work and another’s? (looking through book)
Steve: These are photographs I shot over a long period of time.
Sarah: There’s such character in them.
Circus, London, 1981

Steve: So a lot of these pictures are from the early years, in fact that picture you have your finger underneath was from the first roll of film I ever shot, along with this section here. So this section here is the first photographs I shot, this is shot in Dublin in late 79 and this one, this is the Wall of Death. This one was early too and this one (flicks through book) and this one is very important, it’s all about surrealism and it is a completely surreal image. (Circus, London, 1981)
Sarah: Yes it is, and back then you didn’t need a model release form or anything like that.
Steve: Well I didn’t sign model release forms, I mean you couldn’t shoot something like that and go up to them.
Sarah: Yes it can make it quite impersonal.
Steve: Yeah I mean it’s kind of like people put importance on model release forms and it’s not, it’s just litigation.
Sarah: Yeah we have to do quite a lot of model release forms at the moment.
Steve: So like people on the street?
Sarah: Yeah.
Steve: Well that’s ridiculous, it’s absolutely ludicrous.
Sarah: Yeah and even if you just do a portrait of someone, if afterwards you then ask them to sign a form its like they are signing away, people put their front up.
Steve: I think if you’ve entered into an exchange with someone, then you say to them you want them to sign a piece of paper its like saying you are going to make a profit or expose it in some way, it’s all really horrible, it’s not set up by anyone who is creative it is set up by lawyers, so I don’t like them. I’ve never asked for a model release form in my life.
Sarah: And you’ve never had any problems?
Steve: No.
Sarah: Well that’s good to hear.
Steve: Yes well most of the time people understand that it’s an exchange but you know it’s crazy. I mean when Garry Winogrand took photos he would never have asked for one. How can you ask? Like if you were doing a street scene it’s ludicrous, you can’t ask for forms from all the people you can see. What, do you think Gursky does model releases?! I don’t know, its all lawyers, because it immediately infers an imbalance between you and the person you photograph.
Sarah: So do you know roughly on average how many photos you have taken in your life?
Steve: No…
Sarah: I imagine its thousands…
Steve: Millions
Sarah: And these early ones…are these early? (looking through book)
Steve: Yeah this is maybe about 10 years in, about 1990.
Sarah: And are these just people you meet on the street?
Steve: Well I knew her because she is a poet in Ireland so a lot of these are people that I meet, they’re not shot cold.
Sarah: Do you ever shoot cold?
Steve: Yeah I’ve done that. It’s a shame you weren’t here…when was that lecture Nik? Was that Thursday? I had a lecture on Thursday which you would have found interesting; it’s at SVA, the School of Visual Arts here in the city. I gave a talk; it was a lot about what you’ve been asking actually.
Sarah: (Looking at picture in book of men bowling in the street)
Steve: That was bowling.
Sarah: Really captured the moment there. So do you have any exhibitions coming up then?
Steve: Yeah I’ve got one right now in London so right now, this minute it’s actually going on in London, which is a celebration of Eve Arnold because she was born 100 years ago today so they put together in a new gallery called Margaret Street Gallery, they put together…well it was the first show…so they put together a series of her photographs by all other different photographers that had some kind of connection with her so that’s on and there is a show that opens on May Day, you know May 1st.
Sarah: Is that in London as well?
Steve: No that’s here called Los Muertos, its pictures of the dead that I photographed.
Sarah: Is that recent work?
Steve: Yeah about 7 years ago.
Sarah: So what sort of images are they, I mean…
Steve: Well that’s one up here…mummified.
Sarah: Oh right so is that sort of going to a museum and…
Steve: No they were shot in a camp called Guanajuato in Mexico and they're photographs of people who were cholera victims who died around 1815 but their bodies were preserved so I photographed a whole series of them. Someone made this magazine and that has a lot of the photographs in it. So the prints so far are all about this size (shows with hands) but I had a show with them and now I have another show which is like a different edit but it’s just 12 images.
Sarah: They are so well preserved aren’t they, look at all their clothing; you can still see their shoes and were these over head shots?
Steve: No they’re standing up.
Sarah: Oh, that’s a little creepy actually. Is that his tongue?
Steve: Yeah and that’s an eyeball, the eyeballs would normally rot.
Sarah: Well that’s everything really I intended on asking you; I mean it’s been great to see your work.


Thank you to Steve Pyke (interviewee) and Jennifer Crowther (fellow student and friend)

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