Strangers on the Street: an interview with Justin Close

Posted by Mia Nielsen, July 08, 2013
lab magazine - metric

MIA: While in Toronto, you'll be working on a portrait project, tell me about it.

Where: The Drake Hotel
When: July 26th and 27th
Time: 3:00 pm - 7:00 pm (both days)
For: Sketch + fun!

JUSTIN:Basically, I'm going to be at The Drake Hotel for 4 hours each day, welcoming anyone and everyone from the city of Toronto (or visitors to the city) to come sit in front of me, for a simple portrait session. Each session will last anywhere from 2-10 minutes. The project isn't officially titled yet, but for now I’m calling it "Strangers on the Street" which is inspired by a screenplay I'm currently writing.

This will be my first session like this, but I hope to make it a bi-annual event. It's an idea that is designed to explore the distinctiveness and individual beauty of the face. A straight-up, natural portrait of a stranger I've never met before (of course, friends are allowed too). No props, no stylists, no make-up; just me, a camera and the subject (you!).

Lab Magazine - Stamp

My inspiration for this project comes from a story I heard years ago about how back in the day professional photographers would travel into small villages and hold what they called "A Sitting" and allow local families, workers, and schools to come and sit in to get their photo taken. I love this feeling of spontaneity through photography, and how it creates a memorable day for the community…I guess you can say this is my attempt of recreating that tradition. At the end of the day, it's really just about enjoying the process: having fun, meeting new people, hanging out at the beautiful Drake Hotel, and taking some beautiful portraits… That's it!

lab magazine - bryan cranston

M: Portraiture is a big theme in your work. What are you trying to capture in these shots? What do you think makes a great portrait?

J:I've always been intrigued by a subject’s face, more then anything else, their eyes. And often when I shoot I’m so engaged in the conversation that I end up getting a lot of close ups… because how can you have a good conversation if you’re 20 feet back, you know?

Most of the time it's purely accidental because I get so lost in the conversation that I forget to step back but sometimes I purposely stay focused on the face and search to get something intimate and personal that hasn't been seen of that person before. Especially with the celebrity clients because often they get so dolled up in crazy gowns, make up, hair, that you almost forget there's a "real" human under there. I do however, LOVE fashion and clothing so mixing a nice wide shot of an outfit, with a beautiful close up of the face is a pairing I will always love.

I think a great portrait is one that doesn't feel "forced". It's a photograph that almost makes the photographer invisible, as if the subject is alone, reflecting, lost or dreaming. And on the opposite side of that, getting eye contact that is strong and personable is equally as important because you’re able to connect. It's like capturing a glimpse of a thought that usually only lasts a second "a moment stuck inside another moment" if that makes sense? This type of spontaneous shooting is something I search for constantly.

lab magazine - marling

M: So, you exclusively shoot with film. That's pretty wild today, almost like rejecting email for handwritten letters. Why is film important to you?

J:I actually have a new pen pal. It's awesome. But yeah, I shoot on film 90% of the time. Some jobs don't allow it because it just doesn't make sense, but whenever I shoot for The Lab, myself, or other publications I usually work all on film. I can't stand how fast digital technology advances; it kind of confuses me. Not to sound like a big dummy, but I’m confident enough and say, it's just not for me. That's not why I fell in love with photography and I will never depend on whatever is new and hot to help me capture a moment. I work mostly on 35mm and Polaroid’s and that's perfectly fine for me. I even love disposables and use them often.

Film has become of extreme importance to my body of work because it gives me the freedom to just "hang out" with my subject, and create a conversation that is filled with something honest. When it comes down to it, I never want to stop the shoot or slow it down (other then to reload the film or change the music), or stop the conversation to look at the million photos I just fired off on my new super fancy digital t1000 mega plus hybrid adapter cyborg fancy little shit from space that fits in my back pocket. You know? Hahaha! But every photographer is different. Film helps me get lost in what I'm doing and I like that.

I also love the excitement of finishing a shoot and having a bag full of film to go develop and scan. I like that having time in between because it allows me to reflect more on the shoot and the conversations we had. To be honest, digital takes away a bit of the magic for me… I like the "happy accidents" that film creates, and I ain't scared of the unknowns. I really enjoy the ups and downs.

To sum up my very long answer, film is important to me because I'm addicted to the mystery of it. Plain and simple!

lab magazine - kemp

M: I understand you're involved with The Impossible Project. Can you tell me about it? Why do you love instant film?

J:Yes! Instant film is just sexy. That's why I love it...

I'm also in love with The Impossible Project and what they're doing over in New York City and beyond. I support them and they support me. It's a great relationship. They’re very smart, innovative, and creative--doing things no one else is doing with Polaroid’s. I also just love to collect things; I must have over a thousand Polaroid’s. One day I’ll make a book, which is something I'm really excited to do because I’ll get to go through the entire collection and revisit those memories.

I actually just shot Marina Abramovic for the cover of The Lab Magazine Issue #7 (which was a dream come true) on an SX 70 and Impossible Project 680 color stock film. It was amazing because Marina was shocked that someone out there was still bringing these cameras to set. Actually, I never planned to run a Polaroid as the cover but in the editing room we all decided to roll with it because Marina looked stunning, wearing her one piece that she has performed a lot of work in and the treatment of the film made for a really special cover, a-little retro in all the good ways.

My love for Polaroid is a forever kind-of-thing!

lab magazine - marina b/w

M: Talking about all these objects, what about the magazine? How does all this relate to Lab? I keep reading online that print is dead, why start a magazine?

J:I don't think print will ever die. I will always find a way to buy books, CD's, vinyls and magazines and support boutique shops that share the love of print. I know we live in a digital world, and at The Lab we're totally embracing it and loving it but at the same time, nothing can replace the feeling of buying something tangible that you can bring home.

On a positive note, I'm seeing many new publications coming out right now that really inspire me. I don't see them as competitors, because in my mind were all working towards the same goal. I think it's cool to "rebel" and to create a voice as an artist and entrepreneur. It’s crazy competitive but the ones that take risks are usually the ones that stand out. With that being said, that’s where the inspiration for The Lab stems from. Pure fear!

My business partner Jeremy and I wanted to create a calling card, a platform for ourselves that not only could stand on it’s own as a publication but also as a tool that complements and supports everything else we do, from our feature films to photography to campaigns and branded content. We’ve also been blessed with the opportunity to work with the most amazing and talented people from all spheres of the industry. This to me is a dream, because collaborating is a huge part of our everyday lives.

I feel very lucky to have discovered The Lab.

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