In case you wondered where those ephemeral glimpses into Lil B’s world came from, besides pages 54 to 60, and 96, in Vol. 2, Issue 4 of RESPECT. Mag, the one with the Watch the Throne cover, we bring you an exclusive interview with photographer Trevor Traynor, who shot Beezy for our latest issue. And for all you aspiring peep artists out there, take heed… Trevor Traynor still shoots on film. In fact, he shoots both methods. He shoots digital to look like film, executing a knowledge of film polished in New York City’s underground, and he captures exquisite digital portraits of the game’s most sought after rap artists.
Trevor spends the majority of his time today working out of his studio in San Francisco, though he’s continually on the move, encapsulating memories by the window of his lens, and sharing it with the rest of us lucky heads via the pages of RESPECT. Mag. Trevor has shot the likes of Mos Def, T.I., Pete Rock, E40, Sean Paul, Big Boi, David Banner, among countless others, and his most recent project is ‘a documentation of Lowrider lifestyle’. You can check out Trevor’s upcoming show live at the Peek Gallery in San Francisco on November 3rd.
Interview after the jump.
What about the Lil B shoot, Trevor?
I linked up with him in his hometown… well, not his stomping ground, but B’s been in San Francisco for a bit.
You’re in San Francisco too, right?
Yeah, I’m from New York. Right now I’m in San Francisco, downtown. I hit up New York and L.A. probably on a monthly basis. I’m always going home and shooting.
How’d you hook up with Beezy?
Actually I’d never met Lil B. Kids With Candy hit me up and I was in New York when they called, and said, “Hey, can you shoot Lil B the next day?” I was like, “Yeah.” I ended up flying to San Francisco that night and I linked up with him. He pulled up a little bit late, with just like mesh shorts, basketball shorts, no shirt.
[laughs] With the old Vans?
He had on some other shoes. He didn’t want me to show his feet, because he’s not sponsored by them. In my head, I had imagined he would be wearing different chains. He has some pretty cool chains, like the Rolling Stone tongue. I imagined a couple different ideas, but when he showed up he was just like, “No, I want to shoot it like this.” He had on like a rope neckless, very thin. It was a little chain neckless, just the shorts, no fronts, nothing, just natural, him in his natural state. So we shot it kind of organic, and shot for about a half hour.
Besides B, I checked out your blog, I Shoot Everything, and you’re constantly posting new material. You must be keeping busy…
Yeah, I Shoot Everything is kind of relative, because I’ve been doing a bit of everything. I feel like in this day and age, unless you’re at a certain level, and you caught that certain level of respect, or success in your career, where you can really focus in on one thing, like a food photographer, or an architect photographer, editorial photographer, then you kind of got to mix it up. So I’ve been shooting a bit of everything. I just shot the Rock The Bells portraits you guys posted. I was excited about that, Okayplayer posted them too.
I like the GZA portrait from Rock The Bells. His face speaks a thousand words in that shot.
Oh, thanks, brother. GZA was actually going over his lyrics in his phone when I caught him backstage alone, and I could tell he was somewhere else, thinking about his lyrics. I met him a couple times before that, in 2004 in New York, where I originally started shooting Hip Hop.
Who’d you enjoy shooting most at Rock The Bells?
Yeah, this is my fourth year doing those portraits, and trying to do something new with them. Freddy Gibbs and Big K.R.I.T., I interviewed them, and was at a BBQ with them, and at SXSW, so it was nice to see those guys again. I was fortunate enough that most cats recognized me from shooting them so much, like Mos Def. I’ve shot Cypress Hill a few times. Yeah, but Big K.R.I.T.’s a great dude. Mos Def, I’m definitely a big fan of Mos Def. I shoot him all the time, when I can.
You got a style you stick to these days?
I prefer to shoot available light, natural light. I like the magic hour. I like night photos, long exposures. I definitely started out as more of a ‘fine art photographer’. But then the Hip Hop thing came along – Hip Hop’s always been in my life – and I started to incorporate people into my fine art landscape shots, because I didn’t know how else to do it. Yeah, and then changing to different equipment, different lenses, different techniques. I do studio but not as much as I do on-location. I just try to bring something different to each shoot. I like clean, minimal shots. Like the Rock The Bells portraits, each of those was probably taken in 10 seconds or something. Being mobile is important, and shooting so you can’t tell I wasn’t in a studio. I think that’s the art of my Hip Hop photography, because even the biggest shoots, from N.E.R.D. to E40 to Lloyd Banks to T.I., you got to be quick on your feet. They’re going to show up two hours late, and then they’re going to give you a half hour, but twenty minutes is going to be on the phone. Really it only boils down to five minutes, and when you’re ready to shoot, they’re like, “Are you done yet?” E40 I think I had literally like 60 seconds, and I shot off 30 frames.
You think that’s what makes Hip Hop photography unique from other forms?
I’m sure with a lot of musicians it’s like that, but maybe it’s set up with bigger budgets, you know? Like when Jay-Z walks in, I’m sure he’s got four different lighting setups with four different shots tested, so he just goes ‘boom boom boom boom’, four poses done in ten minutes. But there’s a difference between that and being on some Hip Hop time. I mean, they’re all busy, but… [laughs] But then there are people like David Banner who show up on-time, and they’re like, “Okay, we got twenty minutes. Let’s take some great photos. What do you want me to do?” And he’s down. He’s got the energy, and he gives you everything, invites you to the show. I was shooting him live after that, and he jumped into the crowd while I was shooting, and he saw me in the crowd and he literally stopped while he was rapping and said, “What up, Trev?” That’s cool, unnecessary, but fantastic. He addresses everybody, you know? There’s a handful of cats like that, and there’s other cats who just show up and… I wonder sometimes.
What equipment do you use?
I started out using the Hasselbad 501. I shot a good amount of my portfolio using that, even live, you know, medium format. I’ve rented some digital, medium format cameras. I still shoot film. I definitely shoot Canon, the 5D, 5D mark II, Canon AE-1, Nikon FM, Canon G10, Scovill Waterbury 4×5, Yashica Zoom, Canon Sure Shot, Lomo’s.
You think it’s unusual you still shoot film?
Not really. There’s definitely a lot of Hip Hop photographers shooting film. It really depends. If the budget allows for it, it’s great to shoot film. It’s hard though. You got film processing and scanning, and your actual waste of the materials, for film and Polaroid, and then the additional expenses, the turnout. It’s definitely an art, I mean, if you’re shooting digital, shoot it like you’re shooting film, and deal with the post-production as if you’re scanning a negative. There’s a fine line between making your shot look like film, and then just going post-production crazy and having it look like a digital shot.
Does film slow you down?
Yeah, you can use the light meters, or on digital cameras there’s a light reference you can use as a preview. No, I don’t think it slows you down. But as more artists use digital, who don’t try to infuse film when they can, they’ll be rusty, so in that case it could slow you down. I definitely use it a lot more for my personal work. I use it for commercial if the budget calls for it, and if I want to get something unique. People in this day and age want that quick turnaround, so if the technology allows for digital to look like film, that still makes me happy. As long as I can get that aesthetic, where I can turn pixels into grainy-looking photos, I’m happy.
Must have helped to learn on film, then adapt to digital…
Yeah, I was grateful to be right on the cusp of the computer-digital-photoshop-age. At first I was like, “I don’t know about this. I’m going to do film.” But to be a photographer I had to change, I needed to adapt. That’s what happened with the older photographers, who weren’t as flexible, they didn’t stay progressive, you know? You got to adapt. Kids these days though, they’re so good at the technology, it’s hard to keep up sometimes.
If you had to pick one photo that defines your photography, what would it be?
Oh wow, it’s like different times, and different eras of my life. It changes, because my style’s continuing to grow. Some photos people will recognize, and be like, “That’s Trevor Traynor.” But I’m still hungry and just getting started. I definitely like some of my art projects. If I had to pick one, it would probably be my subway series, chromocore.
I saw your Panama project.
Oh, sweet water, the prostitute series, that’s a little heavy. It’s a sensitive topic. Aesthetically I think they’re beautiful, and I’m happy to show people them, but I don’t think it’s something I’d go back to and work on more. It was an experience. But I started out shooting subways, traveling, and that branched out into doing vacant playgrounds in Russia. I did a home portrait series. I also did an I Shoot People series, which was a five city tour, and 180 Hip Hop photographs. It was exciting. And the newest project is called low life, coming next to San Francisco on November 3rd. It’s a lowrider series. It opened in San Jose, and after Frisco, it’ll show in L.A., Santa Fe, and New York. It’s over a hundred photographs. A bunch of different car clubs. As an East Coaster, it’s kind of like my ode to lowrider life. They’re out in the East, yet I’m not familiar with seeing these cruises, car hops, these drives. It’s something that fascinates me, definitely. And I’m pumped to shoot more for RESPECT., of course. [laughs]
Big K.R.I.T. by Trevor Traynor
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