how to capture the unbridled possibility of nighttime with chad moore
The New York photographer discusses refining his hazy, neon-lit aesthetic.
From rising stars to industry heavyweights, i-D meets the photographers offering unique perspectives on the world around them.
Chad Moore first appeared in i-D back in 2016, as part of a portfolio of new gen photographers rising up in the industry. Each of the 12 photographers featured were asked to submit an image that encapsulated the word “luxury” to them -- the theme of the issue being ‘new luxury’. "Photography is my way of showing the world the people that I admire. You can't put a price on that,” Chad wrote, alongside a hazy image of a friend stretched out over a bed, in what looks to be the early hours of the morning.
You can learn a lot about Chad’s approach to photography from this single image and its accompanying words. His work -- largely concerned with the hours between sunset and sunrise -- is often bathed in a soft neon light or just the simple shadows of nighttime. Beyond the sparseness of his images, relationships are always at the fore. The words “Live, Laugh, Love” may forever be bastardised by twee home decorations, but there’s probably no better description of the optimism his work can inspire.
Picking up some big jobs over the last three years, most recently Chad has shot The Florida Project star Bria Vinaite for The Sounding Off Issue and rising popstar Hayley Kiyoko for The Superstar Issue of i-D, and has contributed work to titles like Vogue, 10 and Self Service. He’s also exhibited his work across the world. Here, he discusses his career so far.
Can you tell us a bit about your shoot for the new issue of i-D?
I photographed Hayley Kiyoko, she’s such a legend. You never really know how someone on that level is going to be in real life. I always research a bit, listen to someone’s music or watch their films, read some interviews -- but sometimes people show up with 20 publicists and it kind of kills the mood, at least for the type of pictures I make. Hayley was like an instant friend just hanging out at my studio, dancing on the tables.
Tell me a bit about yourself and where you grew up.
I grew up in between Tampa, Florida and Caledonia, Mississippi
How and when did you get into photography?
I used to ride freestyle BMX bikes when I was a teenager. Part of that is that you go on road trips with a photographer. One of them gave me a T4. It was just over after that -- I basically would just take pictures of everything. I think everyone is kind of the same way when they get their hands on their first camera, you photograph everything, just to see what it will look like… in a picture.
Do you remember the first time a photographer’s work had a profound effect upon you?
Always Richard Avedon. That may not seem like the most profound answer, maybe even cliché. But, if you think about it, there’s not many real household names in photography, so you kind of find Avedon first and go from there. I fell in love with the American West pictures, they reminded me of the people I grew up around, spending my summers in Mississippi. While my pictures were the furthest from Avedon images aesthetically, especially then, I think he was the first person I found that showed empathy by way of the camera, which is something I responded to. There’s a really amazing book, it’s actually almost more fascinating than In The American West… it's called Avedon at Work in the American West. It was made by Laura Wilson -- who funnily enough is Luke and Owen Wilson’s mom. She was Avedon’s assistant on his road trips and it’s basically this behind the scenes book.
Did you study photography at university? What did you learn? Did you think it is worth it?
I didn’t, although I took some dark room classes which definitely informed my work. I don’t think I would be interested in going to university full-time for photography, but I have friends that have and loved it. I feel the structure of college would interfere with the way I like to work.
In an industry saturated with imagery, how do you keep your ideas new and fresh?
I don’t really know. I think I’ve just done the same thing for a long time and that’s just what I do. I don’t think I’ve ever really thought “wow I need to change things up”, well, at least in terms of staying relevant or something. I think new ideas come with time and process, you evolve organically if you’re interested in something.
How do you keep it original when it feels like so much has been done already?
Well, I suppose I have never really set out to be the newest thing. Photography doesn’t interest me in that way. I think one of my favourite things about making work is being able to affect a random kid in Ohio or Estonia and maybe inspire them to look at the world in a different way, whether that be by making photographs, or art in general. So, I guess that’s what drives me a bit and makes look to what’s coming next. An interesting thing about photography is that it’s essentially the newest art form, but has almost completely been disregarded as so in such a short amount of time.
Film or digital? Do you have to spend huge amounts on equipment to make it?
Mostly all of my work is on film, which doesn’t make so much sense in 2018 considering the alternative. But, I like film in the way that it’s like Christmas when you get 75 rolls back. You can never be 100 percent what worked and what didn’t, which I find exciting. That being said, I don’t have anything against digital. Some people are such advocates for film, but you have to admit, it doesn’t make much sense. I’ve just never really been interested in any of the digital cameras or just the process of shooting with one. Digital certainly is a lot cheaper and better for the environment and you can have everything in house.
Do you think photography is an elitist industry?
Anything can be elitist, especially when it comes to the arts, but I do believe that people that are lucky enough to do what we do for a living and do it well, respect the gift they’ve been given.
How do you balance creativity and commerciality?
It all depends. I used to struggle with this a lot, especially because for me it always starts with personal work; books, shows, etc., and from that I’m commissioned to do editorial and some advertising. It’s always hard when you have to listen to someone tell you what to do when you know it’s somehow ‘off’, or it doesn’t mean anything to you. The only way I’ve figured out how to solve this is working with magazines, stylists, and brands that I respect and trust and who share the same, or similar vision, as me. Or more so, that are after the same feeling. I don’t think you have to share the same vision exactly, but want to affect people in a certain way and work together to make the image a whole.
What makes a compelling, emotive photo?
Eyes. You can tell if someone trusts the person making the photo by their eyes.
What advice would you offer someone looking to pursue photography full-time?
Take lots of pictures. As with most things, the only way to really get good at it is to constantly do it, and with photography, it’s the only way to find your own voice.
How much do you take social media, particularly Instagram, into account when making an image and thinking about the impact and distribution of the images?
It’s an interesting time for all of that, just thinking where it will all go, or end up. I never really think about social media, or Instagram or anything while making a picture, but Instagram is fascinating thing. You can reach so many people instantly, and that’s never happened before, at least with photography. More people look at it than websites for sure.
Going back to what I said about affecting someone in a random place and inspiring them to take photos, or even getting them slightly interested in the medium, I think Instagram is an important tool for that. Also, it’s cool because you can have direct access to someone, if you want to ask a question or something. I’ve met some amazing, and also very random, interesting people people on Instagram.
Has the complete immersion of imagery online changed the way you think about, and research, photography?
It just gives you so much more to look at…good or bad. I kind of love Instagram in that you can find the most random things, weird inspiration. Like, people unknowingly posting a ridiculous photo or meme and then I’m like “that would be a cool idea for a picture”. The only problem with Instagram, and phones in general to me, is that we spend too much time looking at them instead of looking at each other.
Do you think iPhone photography has devalued or enhanced the photography industry?
It goes both ways, but in general, it something that has to be expected. iPhones aren’t going away, and the cameras on them are only getting better. Again, I like the surprise of shooting things on film, and the process of printing, but I think that iPhones provide an important tool.
Why is print still so important?
Simply because it’s so lasting. Obviously the internet is kind of this endless time capsule, but it’s so fun to pick up a book, or a magazine, and discover something that you forgot about or missed the first time you looked at it. Also, just going to see an exhibition. A beautiful print will always be more moving than looking at it on a screen.
Photography Chad Moore