Celebrated international fashion photographer Terry Richardson employs a signature snapshot aesthetic in his work for Gucci, Levis, Jimmy Choo, and Tom Ford, editorial for Vogue, Harpers Bizarre and GQ as well as the candid portraits taken in his New York City studio. The implementation of low-tech mediums like point and shoot cameras proves that it doesn’t matter what vehicle an artists uses, rather how that artist transcends the limitations of their medium and makes it their own.
The simplicity seems to enable Richardson to connect to his subjects and humanize them. The prolific artist behind the handle bar moustache, tattoos and oversized plastic frames embraces the cult of the celebrity by shattering the illusion of stardom and stripping the subjects down to their prime humanity. Framing pop stars, actors, and models in mundane scenarios particularly in his studio, Richardson grants them the freedom to leave their inhibitions and egos at the door and pose with varying expressions running the gamut from the playful to the absurd. Often baring nearly all, wearing little clothing and exposing their coveted private personas, the subjects affirm their trust in Terry Richardson by posing arm and arm with the photographer while boasting plastic grins, flashing a thumbs up and then wearing his signature retro frames.
While he was born in Los Angeles TERRYWOOD marked the artist’s first solo show in his hometown. The exhibition of over 25 C-Print photographs at OHWOW ran earlier this year and presented a pictorial version of Hollywood devoid of celebrities but filled with stars and signage. Installation Magazine spoke with Al Moran Co-Owner of OHWOW who watched TERRYWOOD evolve from a concept into a full-fledged reality that vividly captures the City of Angels.
Many of the photographs in TERRYWOOD explore the artifice of Los Angeles with neon signage; rouge-stained lips and handmade glittered stars. There is a play with the myth and reality at work and Terry Richardson focuses on the impact those myths have on our environment. What are your perceptions of the cultural landscape, particularly what are your thoughts about the treatment of celebrity?
Los Angeles is in the middle of a cultural explosion. It just feels like the center of the art world right now. Public and private institutions are producing world–class programming and patrons of the arts are stepping up to support these efforts. There’s also a very real sense of permanence; people are laying down roots. Things aren’t just happening for the “now.” The foundation is solid and the cultural impact of the city is now undeniable. Regarding the celebrity culture at play in LA, I don’t think it differs that much from anywhere else. Celebrities have become intertwined with the art world globally.
Have you had the opportunity to work with Terry Richardson before TERRYWOOD?
No, this was Terry’s first exhibition since 2004 and his first time working with OHWOW. I’ve been surrounded by his work for years but never had the privilege of working with him until now. Working with Terry on this show was a wonderful experience. He had a distinct vision for TERRYWOOD, and it was exciting to see this materialize over the course of a year. As witness to this process, I knew that this exhibition was going to be special. And the overwhelmingly positive response to the exhibition was validation that all of his hard work paid off.
Do you have a personal favorite photograph?
I was asked this question by hundreds of people throughout the run of the exhibition, and I probably mentioned two-dozen photographs as my favorite, (there were about 30 photos in the exhibition.) I would seemingly gravitate towards a new image each day. If I had to name one right now, it would probably be In-N-Out, a photograph of a tray of In-N-Out burgers, but that will probably change by the time we’re finished with this interview.
Since its establishment in 2008 OHWOW has supported the works of emerging and established artists working across all mediums. As a gallery owner navigating across the East and West Coasts what have you come to “trust” in to maintain your vision?
I came into the art world without any formal training or any real world experience in it. It all happened very naturally out of intimate friendships with artists- completely unrelated to the business of art. It’s those relationships with artists that I trust the most to this day. Whenever we’re deciding on representing a new artist or establishing a presence in a new city, there’s always a dialogue with our artists to get feedback. There is a real sense of community within OHWOW, and I believe this stems from a genuine collaboration between gallery and artist.
Terry’s photo diary reveals his close relationship with celebrities who visit his studio like Jared Leto, Zombie Boy and Josh Brolin. James Franco also posed for Richardson and he has played many roles including actor, novelist, Ph.D. candidate and now, artist. What are your thoughts on artists like James Franco who use their celebrity status as a vehicle to explore a career in the art world?
James is in a category by himself. I can’t name another person working today – or ever – that has touched so many different disciplines in such a short span of time. When you attempted to define him in your question, you listed “artist” last. I think that James is an artist first. James makes art. His art takes many forms. Acting, writing, performing, painting, sculpting, etc.… All fall under the banner of broad category of “art.” James uses his celebrity as a tool, just like a traditional painter uses a brush. It’s just a thing for him to play with when making work. He’s working out ideas in front of the public. Normally, young artists work out their ideas in private until they’re confident enough to present them to the world. James doesn’t necessarily have this option due to his celebrity. It’s a gift and a curse.
Terry has attained a celebrity status as a photographer and now embraces that culture as the subject of his work. Do you think the title of the exhibition was intended as a play on this idea?
I don’t think so. The title really plays on this exhibition being Terry’s take on Hollywood. It’s interesting to note that the exhibition didn’t have one celebrity portrait in it. Actually, it didn’t even have one portrait in it, period. The closest thing to a portrait was the Charlotte Free photo, and this was done by design. Terry wanted to keep the focus on the personality of Hollywood rather than the familiar faces. The notion of celebrity was woven into the exhibition in subtle ways.
It’s curious that Terry doesn’t participate in many interviews, don’t you think?
I think it works well for Terry. The images do not need his interpretation for the viewer. It is very apparent that the celebrities and models that appear in Richardson’s photographs trust him. His distinctive style of point and shoot filming is raw and very honest. It’s as though the photographs are meant to strip celebrities of their myths and portray them as ordinary people. Terry is such a great person– incredibly sweet and caring. If you know him personally, it quickly becomes obvious as to why so many people love and trust him. His entire studio has a genuine family feel, and it comes through in his photography. All are humanized in front of his lens.
Why do you think celebrities are so intrigued by Terry Richardson? And conversely, why do you think Terry Richardson is so intrigued by celebrities?
At the end of the day, Terry makes jaw-dropping images. Whether he’s shooting celebrities or a neon sign, Terry has a knack for capturing unique images. He has developed a signature style that’s instantly recognizable. That’s no small feat in photography, especially now that photographic images are so ubiquitous. It’s a real gift.
What do you think the photographs in TERRYWOOD “trust” in?
I think the photographs trust in the vision of Terry Richardson. He set out to present his version of Hollywood- a multi-faceted city that is many things to many people. In doing so, he created a visual narrative that resonates universally. He created a version of Hollywood that everyone could associate with, yet was strikingly personal for Terry. His vision was clear from day one, and he never deviated from it.
All images © of Terry Richardson and OHWOW