fashion photographer todd cole is ditching people for pure light and colour

Whether shooting Lena Dunham’s wink for the cover of i-D’s The Wise Up Issue or filming Sidney Williams riding a unicorn for Rodarte’s latest fashion film This Must Be Your Only Fantasy, LA-based photographer Todd Cole is a supernova. Yet his newest...

by Emily Manning and Adam Fletcher
23 September 2014, 5:45pm

Photography Todd Cole

Can you tell us about the photographs in Lost in Space?
As my work has progressed, I've been less interested in pictures that are subject oriented, photographs that tell you where to look and how to look at what you're seeing. The pictures I've been more into or interested in making are photos that break those rules of composition. I tried to figure out ways to photograph things that are emotional but don't have that traditional sign post, don't function in the traditional way of having a subject demonstrating the emotion, like a beautiful sunset or a trash dump. I was more interested in making photographs that don't rely on the subject to demonstrate an emotion. 

So then I got into colour and light. I was trying to make titles for a short film I was working on that kind of replicated a Nicolas Roeg film, Don't Look Now. In one of the sequences, blood is dripping down the frame. I'd been trying to figure out how to achieve a similar effect and ended up coming up with this chemical process. Once I learned how to do that, I thought about it for a while and then started exploring and going deeper with it. That's how it all started, coming out of this chemical process that led me to these photographs.

On the subject of space, does Los Angeles influence the direction of your work?
I think about what it would be like if I didn't live here because it seems like everything I do is influenced by LA. When I've read interviews with John Baldessari or Terry O'Shea, these great West Coast artists, we're all looking at the same things and influenced by the same things, it's really consistent. It's almost a cliche, but I'm influenced by a lot of the colours in the light, the sky and the time of day and how that changes things. I've found it's super important for me to be able to see the horizon, to be able to see things a long way away, whether it's the ocean or the desert, even just across the city from the hills.

I'm also totally influenced by the art history of the city, I'm very informed by what these guys have been doing or did, how they evolved here. I was getting so bored just taking photos of landscapes or faces or whatever it was, and I read this amazing book about Robert Irwin called Seeing is Forgetting the Name of The Thing that One Sees by Lawrence Weschler. It was this really interesting evolution of his thinking and his whole pursuit of what he was trying to say that did away with all the traditional elements of painting or of a studio. I was really inspired by that, but I found it difficult to translate into photography, maybe that informed why or how I was doing this stuff.

Do you find it challenging to transition between photography and film?
In a lot of ways, film is so much more of a challenge for me. It's just that element of time that's introduced in a film that has to be handled and navigated that makes it so difficult. With photography, you can shoot 1000 frames for set up if you need to and just one of them has to be beautiful, but with film, you're shooting 24 frames per second. But at the same time, there's something about being an artist and learning how to navigate making something that applies to every medium. Film helps you understand when something's not working, it requires being nimble and comfortable and all those things that have allowed me to be a better photographer. There's a strange carryover just in terms of the general, esoteric nature of making art that holds true in every medium. And I was surprised to find that. There were times where I didn't really know what I was doing, but I saw the same intuitive, creative impulses I had translating regardless of the medium.  

This isn't your first voyage into space so to speak, your films for Rodarte have a futurism to them. How did you, Kate, and Laura come to work together?
We met eight or nine years ago just right after they'd started, they were still relatively new designers. I shot something for Purple with them and I met them on that shoot. We started talking and we realised we had a lot in common. We became friends and we've always had same references and starting points. We love the same art, we love the city, and we love so many of the same things (especially Star Wars!) So we just started making things together and collaborating and it hasn't stopped! There's been a really fun evolution to the whole thing, it's been a blast. 

If you had to be lost in space with anyone, who would it be and why?
There's this Science Friday roundtable on NPR, and one episode is a discussion with a physicist, Werner Herzog, and Cormac McCarthy. There's this one moment when Herzog goes off on his total Herzog thing and is like, "Everyone thinks space travel is amazing but if you think about it, it's nothing more than horror! Tens of thousands of years of not knowing where you're going, there's murder and incest!" It's unreal. So I would want to be in space with Werner Herzog going straight into the heart of the sun.


Text Emily Manning
Photography Todd Cole

Emily Manning
kate mulleavy
laura mulleavy