selected works by Kevin Klipfel
Asymmetric Magazine: Tell us about your recent photography work.
Kevin Klipfel: I typically work on 35mm or medium format film, but a couple months ago I bought a refurbished Polaroid Sun 600 camera from The Impossible Project and have been shooting lots of instant film, which is the work you see here. I wanted to try shooting work similar to what I normally shoot, except on this little non-professional camera that I remember people using when I was really young and growing up in the 1980’s. I was able to find one that looked almost identical to the one my parents had–or at least the one I picture them having in my memory–and use it to shoot contemporary urban landscapes and things of that nature here in LA. I kind of view them as records of little fleeting, dream-like moments of things I really like here, akin to when I go back home to my Mom’s house where I grew up in Buffalo, NY and look through these boxes of photographs she has of my family from when I was growing up. I feel like when you picture your childhood memories in your head they’re never super clear or aggressively sharp. For me, they’re always a little dream-like, like fragments from an old Super 8 film camera or a Polaroid picture, and I thought it would be cool to have something concrete like that depicting my life in Hollywood right now. It’s been a lot of fun, so even though it’s crazy expensive to buy the film, I plan to keep on doing it!
AM: What is your biggest inspiration?
KK: I think my biggest source of inspiration, in terms of what actually motivates me to want to do the work, is just life and the streets and the city itself. When I was a teenager, my first impulse to take pictures didn’t come from other photographers; I was just looking at the things around me and felt an internal impulse to take pictures of them. I wanted to capture it for myself and also for people to know that 'everyday' stuff was interesting. Sure, flowers and sunsets are beautiful, but so many other things are, too. I remember things like the side of my old school building or this huge Adult Bookstore sign that had a big painting of a defense lawyer's phone number on it, and sometimes, I feel like we take the beauty and interestingness of those things for granted. I didn’t know anyone who did photography, and I couldn’t really have named many photographers, but there was something about the typography of the city that I just wanted to capture. That has never changed.
AM: What role does Los Angeles play in your work?
KK: It plays a huge role. I have so much love for this city and feel so at home here–more so than anywhere I’ve lived or even where I grew up. I’m always excited to go out and take pictures. LA is so visually rich, with this strange mixture of grittiness and glamour, which is really right up my alley.
There’s also specific things about Los Angeles that end up playing a role. For example, my work can often be abstract and very much about color, and LA is such a colorful, vibrant city. And since my work is also very much about 'pop' elements of culture, it’s hard to think of a better place for me to live and work. Also, the city played a role in why I chose to shoot this work on Polaroid. Sometimes, when I pull out of the garage of my building and onto my street in Los Feliz, I’m astonished by the colorful, hazy sky and how it makes everything look almost a little lazy and faded–like LA just smoked a whole bunch of kush and put on a Neil Young record and just decided to spend the day chilling by the pool drinking margaritas. That ‘look', whatever it is exactly, is something I love and was part of what I was [chasing] after in using the Polaroid camera for these pictures.
AM: We love the signage and typography you capture in your Polaroids. Do you have a favorite sign in the city?
KK: Ah, such a tough one! There are so many cool signs here, but if I had to pick one, I’d go with the main Chateau Marmont sign that you can see while driving east or west on Sunset. I especially like the way it looks lit up at night when you’re either leaving or heading toward the Sunset Strip.
I’m astonished by the colorful, hazy sky and how it makes everything look almost a little lazy and faded–like LA just smoked a whole bunch of kush and put on a Neil Young record and just decided to spend the day chilling by the pool drinking margaritas.
AM: When you're shooting—how much of it is instinctual vs. planned?
KK: It’s almost all instinctual and never planned. I’ll just see something I find meaningful or visually interesting and know immediately I want to photograph it without much thought. It’s a totally intuitive feeling and not rational at all in terms of the specific choice of material. I’ve even found that when I’ve tried to plan, it’s a lot less fun for me. So on a typical day, I’ll walk all over the place, sometimes lots of miles, especially around Hollywood and Los Feliz. One great thing about LA is that the scenes change all the time. For example, I like to walk a lot on Sunset, pretty much all the way from where Los Feliz turns into Silverlake and then on into Echo Park, and if you come back like two weeks later the billboards and ads will be totally different. So it’s really a constant sense of discovery. Sometimes I’ll even kind of mentally trick myself and say, 'Oh, you don’t have to take any pictures, just go for a walk and see what happens.' Something that’s interesting to me that I want to take a picture of almost always happens.
AM: What themes do you typically pursue in your work?
KK: I never consciously pursue themes, but obviously they’re there, and lately I’ve really clearly seen what they are through others’ work. I go to the New Beverly Cinema on Beverly Blvd. all the time because they show movies there in 35mm, and they’re so beautiful to watch. A lot of times I’ll re-watch movies there that I’ve seen many times but will come away with something new. For example, I recently saw a midnight showing of True Romance, and I really identified with a lot that was in Tarantino’s script. Like, there was just this absolute, unabashedly sincere love for certain elements of American culture, like Elvis, or even just the excitement of going to get a hamburger at a hamburger place or eating a piece of pie in a diner. I really love that and identify with that enthusiasm and saw how much I think that’s a part of myself and my work. Something very similar happened when I saw a double feature of Godard’s Breathless and Band of Outsiders there. Godard’s work from the 60’s has this totally authentic, almost street photography kind of feel: it’s shot, say, in real cafe’s with scenes where characters are talking over a pinball machine or with Anna Karina smoking in front of a bunch of movie posters on the street. Aside from the compositions and photography done by Raoul Coutard being amazing, I really identify with the aesthetic of those films. I recently read this comment on Amazon’s Band of Outsiders page where someone said it’s hard to figure out whether Godard’s work is arty trash or trashy art (because of his use of B-movie genre conventions done so artistically), and I also identified with that as a description of my work: it’s photography done very seriously and with an understanding of the history of the medium, composition, etc., but the subject matter often involves 'lowbrow' forms of pop culture: I’m not out taking pictures of Ansel Adams landscapes, but just the regular stuff of everyday life. So, it was kind of a case of 'looking-glass self,' where I was able to see some of the defining characteristics of my own work by identifying with some of the defining characteristics I noticed in works of art that I loved.
AM: What music is currently inspiring you?
KK: For the last year or so, I’ve been playing like four or five records from the ‘70’s almost constantly. They recently reissued Neil Young’s On the Beach and Tonight’s the Night, which I’d been trying to find on vinyl forever, so I’ve listened to those so many times over the last year or so. The subject matter can be super dark, but they’re mostly crazy, rocking albums, and I just love them. I’ve been loving Harry Nilsson Schmillson record–the one where he’s on the cover of the album in his bathrobe holding a hash pipe–and playing that one all the time, too. I just love the 70’s vibe and kind of free-wheeling spirit of that record. Another one I love is Gram Parsons GP record. The cover of that one is really cool, too, with a photo of Gram in the Chateau lobby. I found out recently that this album was recorded in what’s now a little coffee shop on Cahuenga; I was just out taking pictures and stopped to get in a coffee and saw a plaque that it used to be the Wally Heider recording studio and all this famous albums were made there. The most recent thing I’ve listened to a lot is the Father John Misty's Fear Fun album, which is also a great LA soundtrack that has quite a few mentions of the city. All of those records were either made in or influenced by LA, which is something I’ve found a lot of inspiration from. And Morrissey is always in there somewhere: I just bought a copy of Years of Refusal at Amoeba in Hollywood and have been playing that one a ton. The poppish punk sound on that album reminds me of a lot of the music I listened to growing up, and I think Years of Refusal has to be one of the greatest album titles ever.
AM: What can we expect to see from you next?
KK: The Los Angeles County Store on Sunset Blvd. in Silverlake does a fine art series, and I have a little solo show of some of the 35mm film work I’ve been shooting over the past year opening there this summer (it opens on June 24th, 2017–please come out, it’ll be fun!), so I’m still working on finishing that up. I've been experimenting with blowing up some of the Polaroids into larger prints and have been really pleased with the results, so maybe it'll include some of those, as well. In general, I’d just like to keep doing work that excites me, have fun here in LA, and see what possibilities might open up in the future.
Kevin Klipfel is an LA-based ifne art photographer. You can view more of his work at kevinmichaelklipfelphotography.com.