It is the unapologetically intimate relationships that Justin Tyler Close elicits with his subjects – often women – that seem to dominate his work and captivate his viewers. Similar to Nan Goldin’s snap-shot style from the 80s & 90s, Tyler Close documents real, often intimate moments with friends. Likewise, his landscapes, often paired with text or the human form, result in a naturally curated image. Photographer, filmmaker and founder of The Lab, an arts and culture magazine established in 2007, Tyler-Close is originally from the small city of Oakville, 45 minutes outside of Toronto. He has now lived in LA for 7 years, a city which he loves yet appreciates can become a season-less simulation of reality if one does not leave often enough.
In this interview Tyler Close explains why he doesn’t agree that his works should be associated with Francesca Woodman’s images from the 1970s given their autobiographical nature, but why he can relate to her vulnerability. He also openly discusses why he feels that he may never want his personal work to necessarily make money as well as why he is inspired by Luca Guadagnino’s recent film,’Call me by your Name’, based on André Aciman’s 2007 book.
Thank you Justin for agreeing to the interview and for being the first artist to participate in my series of self published interviews; these will showcase the works of artists who personally inspire me and whose practices I wish to promote.
Can you tell me a bit about your background and when you decided that you wanted to work in the arts/creative industries?
I started off playing basketball – that’s all I did growing up, both competitively and for fun. I got drafted to a school in America when I was 17 years old and after a while, basketball wasn’t fun anymore; it became more of a job. So I quit and went to arts school in Vancouver, BC, which is where I first fell in love with film and photography.
For my entire life I hated following any rules or having a boss, so right after school I failed at many things, tallied up a credit card debt and was for the first time in my life a struggling artist. After being tired of banks calling me, I started The Lab Magazine, which luckily became really successful. It was through my publishing contacts that I managed to produce almost everything in my twenty’s; from feature films to other installation type projects. The magazine took me around the world and that’s when I landed in LA and decided to buy a bed!
Can you explain to me your creative process in as much or little detail as you like?
I feel like my creative process is always changing, sometimes it feels methodical and prepared and other times it feels spontaneous and more whimsical – it all depends on the project. I would say that I’m a bit of a chameleon as well and affected by my surroundings. My senses are super heightened with space and the people I’m collaborating with, so in many ways I can shape-shift to whatever is necessary.
When it comes to my personal work, my process is very free, letting the weather dictate what comes out and putting absolutely no pressure on it. I feel like now more then ever, I’m craving control over my work. I’m actually quite excited to see what happens in this next chapter, because this past year I closed a lot of doors that have been left half opened and now it’s time to create new space for new creations.
I see some similarities in your work to the female photographer Francesca Woodman. Do you agree with this association at all?
I’m not sure I can agree. I feel a lot of photographers that use film are compared to Francesca, more so for aesthetic and technical reasons than the actual narrative of the work. Everything feels so intimate to her; the pain and suffering of her life is so visual and clear. I can relate to her vulnerability, but I would never compare myself to her or say I make similar work. It’s also hard to look at someones work and feel similar to them in anyway (especially Francesca) because everything just feels too personal. The process can feel similar but the outcome and story can’t.
I really love Francesca’s work and just find her life so tragic and sad but beautifully documented.
Are there any particular artists/filmmakers/photographers that inspire you?
Right now I’m really inspired by Guy Bourdin’s newly published book “Untouched”. I also loved the film “Call Me By Your Name” – I really needed a film like this. I also love designer Yohji Yamamoto and how he discovered his creative path. Also, the artists that inspire me the most are the friends in my life, who are constantly pushing themselves to make work. These are the people I look up to most.
Do you have a personal connection with all of your subjects/do you often know them before you shoot them?
Most of the time I’m photographing people I know. I don’t usually seek out subjects as much as I used to because for me there has to be a connection. However, I’m still hugely inspired by a strangers style or vibe and will often have an urge to document them. It all depends, but in the past few years my work is basically all a documentation of my life and the people in it.
Is there a reason why you are drawn towards film and photography more so than say, the canvas?
I actually enjoy painting a lot and do it often. I just don’t share a lot of that work because it’s not ready to be seen, I guess? Its more for therapy right now. Also film and photography to me are so different. Photography is more of an everyday practice and film takes a lot more patience, people and planning. I’m actually most drawn towards music, dance and painting because they are immediate art forms that can come straight from the body and mind, rather than having to dilute an idea with too much planning.
I feel you are a visual person (more figurative than abstract) and enjoy capturing what you see; something that is tangible and real, which is then frozen in time and kept as a memory forever – do you agree with this at all?
Yes. I agree very much! Although I often see and feel colours, shapes, sounds and even though it might not be clear in the work – that abstraction is very present in the mind.
You incorporate collage into some of your photographic work – was this for a specific series?
Yeah. I started a series called “Anonymous”. I went to flea markets and found old photographs of strangers and would basically eliminate any identity by collaging or by painting. It was an obsession for about a year, but started to feel a little dark (cutting off peoples faces) – so I stopped. I still frame and sell them to people though, cause they look really nice on a wall.
Would you agree that your films can be seen as stylistically diverse – from music videos to campaigns – how do you choose what you want to work on and who you want to work with?
Well in all honesty, some projects I do for money and some I do for pleasure. I haven’t truly figured out how to make the pleasure work make money yet, and not sure I ever want it to.
The commercial work usually has a lot of people and opinions involved, which naturally will change the outcome of the project. When I’m doing things for pleasure I enjoy going in the opposite direction, being a bit selfish and abstract. I feel fortunate enough that I’ve managed to learn a lot even from the commercial work and have subsequently enjoyed these projects.
Either way, sometimes the work chooses me and sometimes I choose it – it’s that simple!
Are you working on any particular photographic or film projects at the moment/do you have anything in the pipeline for 2018?
Right now I’m focusing a lot of my energy into a brand I started called Institute of weather . Other than that, I’m making a film with my brother and shooting a few music video projects. I also dream about putting out my first solo book project and having a show with the work. Other than that, right now it’s all about the Weather!!