As Corey prepares for his first solo exhibit in Los Angeles, it’s only fitting to share a bit about this brilliant young man. Check out his story below and check out his exhibit if you’re in the area.
Say hello to Corey:
Where are you from? Where have you been?
Originally born in New York, I spent most of my life in Tampa, Florida before moving to Orlando to attend college at the University of Central Florida. I relocated to Los Angeles in 2012 to pursue a career in film-making and have been here ever since.
What’s your favorite place in the world?
That’s tough, I feel like every time I see something new, it becomes my favorite for a while. But if I had to pick just one, I would have to say Barcelona. I had a chance to spend a few days there last summer and completely fell in love with everything about it. The culture, the climate, the food, the people…it was such a wonderful city, and so photogenic.
If I had an excuse to live there now, I would. After the first day or so, I no longer viewed the city as a vacation destination, but rather as a place I could certainly see spending quite a few years of my life.
More from Barcelona:
What’s on your “bucket list” of ideas to create?
I’m always going after something new. Some new style or challenge. So if you could look through my portfolio now to see everything that I’ve shot in the past, anything that I haven’t shot yet is probably on my bucket list.
How would you describe your visual style?
I’d have to say real. I try to portray a raw and unadulterated look at the world through my photos, whether I’m shooting street or portraiture. Whatever natural texture the scene presents is exactly the way I want it depicted in a photograph, without me necessarily imposing my own will on it. I look for a way of capturing whatever honest story the subject is telling, intentionally or unintentionally, and presenting that narrative unfiltered, as seen through my lens. Sometimes I fail miserably in that attempt, but other times, I think viewers can see clearly what it is I’m trying to show them about the world and its people.
Do you get photographer’s block? If so, how do you overcome that?
Absolutely, all the time. I do make it a little harder on myself in that I’m always trying to shoot something different, and a lot of the time, I just have no idea what that next thing might be. The only way I’ve really found to overcome it is just to get out and shoot anyway. I’m fortunate right now in that I’m getting ready to exhibit a project I’ve been shooting over the last few months in my first ever solo photography exhibit at a gallery. It is really exciting for me that in this day and age that people are still interested in looking at photos up on the walls instead of on their phones. But what’s amazing is that the idea for what would become this gallery was a concept I discovered completely by accident, just through shooting something else. So it’s the act of getting out there and shooting anyway, even if you aren’t that inspired to do so, that creates the foundation for more inspiration to grow.
What are your reasons for shooting film in a digital age?
When I was a kid getting into photography, the fun thing for me was the act of going out and finding the images. Half the time, I’d never even look at them more than once when I got them back, but by then, I’d already had my fun. That interest never really shifted as I got older and got into more “serious” photography if you could call it that. I wanted to be out shooting, not sitting behind a desk and editing. So the whole Photoshop-driven approach to creating digital images just wasn’t appealing, and unedited digital photos to me either looked stale and uninteresting, or just a little too clean and too perfect. The images weren’t representing the world that I was seeing, and I just wasn’t interested in spending hours editing them until they did. So after just getting bored of it and leaving photography alone for a few years, I got the urge to shoot again and decided to go back to film. I bought my first film SLR and that just completely reignited my passion for photography. I’m not going to argue that one medium is better than the other, it’s purely a creative choice for me. It just so happens that film is the medium that gives me everything I love about photography and capturing images all in one package.
Tell us about your career. How did you get into it?
I moved to Los Angeles to pursue film-making as a screenwriter and director, and photography just grew out of that need for visual storytelling that I have. Trying to make it as a writer, there’s obviously a very long turnaround from script to screen. The average lifespan of an indie film is about 6 years, from finishing the first draft of the script to actually seeing your film released, so I knew I was going to be in it for the long haul. During my hiatus from photography, I was writing every day, developing multiple story ideas, and trying to get anyone I could find interested in reading my scripts. That created this hunger for a visual art form as well, and eventually lead me to picking up some film cameras. Since then, what started as a hobby for my own creative fulfillment is now beginning to take on a life of its own, culminating this year with my first print exhibits going up in a few locations and now my first solo gallery.
What types of photography do you do?
What I shoot always seems to be evolving with time. I started out very interested in street photography and editorial type portraiture, although more recently, I think I’ve started to lean toward more personal and introspective projects, sometimes based on the themes that I explore in my writing. Photography always seems to become some visual manifestation of whatever else happens to be going on in my life at the time. I started with street photography in part because shortly after I picked up my first film camera, I got my first writing assignment to rewrite this script that needed a polish draft before going into production. The film was set in New York, so on my research trip, I brought my camera and just ended up shooting the streets of East Harlem for a few weeks. Then the following year, I was in New York again for research for a script, and just shot some more. The photos from those trips ended being the first series I printed to exhibit, because it was some of my strongest work. Then this year, when I found myself at home searching for new ways to be creative in other fields, I end up accidentally stumbling into the concept I’m working on now for the gallery. So my type of photography is essentially very reflective of wherever I am in life in general. I don’t think I could pick a favorite.
What has been your biggest setback as a photographer?
In the digital world of photography, you’ll often hear of the term “Gear Acquisition Syndrome” used to describe when photographers think the secret to better photography is better gear, and so the cycle of buying new things never stops. It’s what’s behind the infamous question, “What camera are you using?” as if that’s the only reason why a particular photographer’s images are so good. But that’s like asking a writer what brand of computer they’re typing on. Well, I don’t quite suffer from that, but my version of it would probably have to be called something like Location Acquisition Syndrome.
As part of my need to always be shooting something different, I find myself outgrowing my local environments a little too quickly. I’ve lived in Los Angeles a little over three and a half years and I’m already bored of shooting it. I need to visit a new city, a new country, just to get the types of photographs that I want to see. I like to shoot models using natural lighting and practical locations but my apartment just isn’t quite right in look or style for what I want to capture, and often times, neither are theirs, so we’ve got nowhere to go for our shoot besides renting some elaborate space somewhere that neither of us can afford. And so on and so on…
I say it’s a setback because I know this is really nothing more than a mental inhibitor to my creativity. The gallery concept that I stumbled into is something that I’m able to shoot with relative ease without ever having to set foot outside of my apartment. For street photography, the reality is I’ve barely scratched the surface of what Los Angeles has to offer. All these mental blocks go away once I just pick something and start shooting it, but in the meantime, it’s sort of this drain on my motivation when I feel like I can’t quite reach that perfect storm of what I may want a photo-shoot of mine to look like. It causes me to shoot less, when I know the answer is that I really need to be shooting more.
Photography is competitive. How do you stand out?
I think the only way you can really stand out in a field where so many people are doing exactly the same thing is by staying true to yourself, as clichéd as that probably sounds. We all have other photographers whose work we admire, and so it becomes easy to find yourself just shooting imitations of other people’s styles. While that’s a good way to practice, it’s not something that’ll set you apart from the pack. That only comes when you express your own vision, as only you could have seen it. Your own style isn’t something that you start with, but that you develop over time. So for me, I just keep pushing myself to shoot new things from an honest perspective, and hope that I’m able to create something that can stand on its own throughout time.
Although, I’m not sure that standing out and getting ahead of the competition necessarily go hand in hand. You’ll see a lot of the same style of photographs everywhere because a lot of the time, it’s that popular style that’s attracted interest to the work to begin with. Photography, like any other field, has its trends, so sometimes the key to standing out and beating the competition is finding your own version of that trend that’s just different enough to set you apart, but not so different that your work goes unnoticed in a sea of more popular styles. Somewhere in there is a balance that lets you achieve both, but otherwise, you just have to go out and shoot whatever you want in your own way.
What’s the best advice you can think of for someone just starting in photography?
Owning the best camera isn’t the secret to taking the best photographs. The best camera is the one that feels the most comfortable in your hands, whether it’s an iPhone or a Hasselblad. You create your best work on the gear you know how to use the best, so practice with whatever you have. When you’re just starting out, you don’t know enough about photography to be able to say you’ve outgrown your gear.
What is the best thing a model can do to make the most of a photoshoot?
This goes both ways for models and photographers, but communicate. You can be the most brilliant photographer in the world or the most talented model, but if you’ve got no means of conveying your ideas to one another, then your shoot is doomed to fail.
How do you bring out your model’s personality in a shoot?
This is important for me, since it’s that very personality that sets the foundation for what I seek to capture in photographs. Before the shoot, I’ll try to get to know as much about the model as I can. Where she’s from, what she’s passionate about, what her other interests or hobbies are outside of modeling, etc. I like to design the concepts for my portrait shoots around those answers to try to create something more personal for both the model and myself. During the shoot, I just do my best to create a fun, comfortable, and safe environment where models are free to openly express the things they want to express about themselves. I think the best results come when models feel like they can just be themselves in a fun and collaborative way.
Do you have any projects you’d like to show off?
Given that we’re getting closer to the opening of the gallery, I thought it might be fun to actually show off just what this mystery concept is that I keep referencing. I’ve been posting little teasers on social media of body-paintings that I’ve been doing over the last few months, but so far, no one has seen any of the photos that will be going on display. You guys will actually have the first photograph to be published from the series anywhere on the web!
The exhibit will be called Obnoxious Liberals: A Bodypaint Tribute to Jean-Michel Basquiat. The full gallery will consist of 16 bodyscape portraits of 16 different Basquiat paintings that have been reinterpreted into body art on 16 different models of varying skin tones, and washed away into pools of colored water, leaving behind a synthesis of sometimes indistinguishable skin, paint, and water. I will be selecting one photo from each of the 16 shoots to print for the gallery. The series is shot entirely on 35mm Kodak Portra 800 film, and will go on display in the Exchange Room Gallery of the Il Tramezzino Italian Restaurant’s UCLA location on Saturday, October 15th at 7pm, with an Opening Night reception featuring live music.
So without further ado, here is the first image in the Basquiat-Inspired Bodypaint Portrait Series, based on Basquiat’s Obnoxious Liberals, entitled: Not For Sale.
What is your most life-changing event?
That would have to be quitting a stable job to move to Los Angeles to be an artist. I didn’t have any real frame of reference for how to pull that off, and it’s certainly been nothing but an uphill battle ever since, but it is certainly the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. The challenges that I’ve been faced with here have made me a better person and a better artist, and have really set me on the path to achieve my true potential. That’s something I never would have accomplished sitting behind a desk in Central Florida. The journey alone makes that decision worth it.
What’s something no one knows about you that you’d like to share?
Few people probably know this, but most don’t. It’s that the main reason I decided to be a screenwriter as a little kid was because halfway through hand-writing a book, I remembered I didn’t even like to read.
What’s one of your biggest fears?
That would be to never have the opportunity to reach my potential. Every time I take on a new significant project, be it film-making or photography, everything is bigger than the last time. The scope of the project is bigger, the budget is bigger, the stakes are higher, the goal is harder to reach, I have more to gain, and more to lose. I feel like facing those types of challenges always forces me to elevate to that next level. It’s either I have to get better at what I’m doing or I crack under the pressure, so I have no choice but to get better. And somewhere up there is that limit that I can’t go past anymore, where I will have truly hit my creative potential. I don’t know where that limit might be, but I live to find it. My biggest fear is never quite being able to do so.
What will you be doing five years from now?
Hopefully directing my third feature film. I’m working on getting my first into production this year, so if everything goes according to plan, which let’s be honest, it never does, but if so… I think that’s a realistic goal.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
I’d say I’m living that currently. Facing the uncertainty in trying to make it in a creative field in one of the most competitive industries on the planet. But to me, it would have been crazier not to try. The uncertainty has become the norm.
What’s something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t?
I really want to travel the world. I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of the US and a few other countries outside as well, but I really want to spend significant time experiencing the world and its cultures, with nothing but a camera and a few rolls of film per stop at my side. On top of my travel bucket list right now are Cuba, Thailand, and Morocco. I’m just waiting for the excuse (read: income) to book my next trip.
For anyone that wants to get in touch with Corey, here’s some contact information:
Corey, thanks for the sincere interview! We’re excited for your exhibit!
If any artists out there want to collaborate with FStop, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.