behind the lens of californian photographer cameron mccool
Cameron McCool captures late night revelry.
Photography Cameron McCool
From rising stars to industry heavyweights, i-D meets the photographers offering unique perspectives on the world around them.
Photographer Cameron McCool has a remarkable ability for catching that intangible air of liberation and spontaneity of partying and communicating it in a still image. Completely self-taught, his imagery has an authenticity that photographers rarely achieve. Taking in everything from quiet nights drinking to the sort of unbridled hedonism that extends way into the next day, Cameron’s pictures are often a window into a world of Californian agony and ecstasy. When so often the energy of a night is completely betrayed -- the image too considered, or the subjects too far-removed -- his lens fits seamlessly into the night.
Growing up in a town close to Los Angeles, Cameron first started shooting pictures at music gigs he’d been making flyers for. Since then, his expansive archive has taken in many of LA’s young and beautiful musicians, off-duty models and actors, shooting editorials for the likes of Vogue, Numero and Interview, and contributing a portfolio of new rising actors in LA to our latest issue, The Superstar Issue. But before you check that out, we caught up with Cameron to talk about his career so far.
How and when did you get into photography?
I was making flyers for shows at the Glass House in Pomona when I was kid. I wasn't making any money but they let me go to whatever shows I wanted. I started carrying around my mum’s point and shoot to document everything. It was an easy way to keep to myself without keeping to myself. Music has remained a central focus. Photographing artists in and out of the studio, on the road, on and off the stage -- it’s continued to be an education. Fashion intersected naturally and the lines continue to blur out in a beautiful way.
Do you remember the first time a photographer’s work had a profound effect upon you?
I saw William Eggleston’s book For Now sitting alone on an end table in a hotel lobby. I got lost in it; his command over composition and colour. When I looked up the lighting outside had changed. I had a compulsion to steal the book but the bellboy clocked me and I think he half expected it.
In an industry saturated with imagery, how do you keep your ideas new and fresh?
Leaving the cave once in a while usually does the trick. My favourite records, my favourite films. Wear vetiver.
How do you keep it original when it feels like so much has been done already?
Take a nap, have a dream. Show up and make a scene. I’m usually in a mood, it’s simple to follow.
How competitive is it with other young photographers?
I don't feel competition with young photographers today. But Danny Lyon pissed me off when I realised The Bikeriders was published when he was 25.
Film or digital? Do you have to spend huge amounts on equipment to make it?
Film. I still use the first SLR I bought. I break my point and shoots all the time but they’re inexpensive. I scan myself which saves me loads. Film and processing is the kicker.
What’s the biggest challenge you face as a photographer?
Bills and customs officers.
What makes a compelling, emotive photo?
Intimacy, the fear and glossy eyeballs. Moments when the mask falls off.
What advice would you offer someone looking to pursue photography full-time?
Make sure it’s something you’d do with or without an audience or pay check. Once you’re cool with that, you can create freely. If taking photos fulfils you then do everything in your power to do it as often as possible. Cut your teeth, stay open and go looking for yourself. And find a local chiropractor.
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?
None. I don't make memes.
Photography Cameron McCool