Visual Art / Books
An Interview with Tod Seelie About Bright Nights, Biking the World, and Where You Can Make a Living as a Photographer
by Mike Force
on Wed, Jul 23, 2014 at 10:03 AM
Tod Seelie is best known for his photos of the floating river rafts made by the artist Swoon, and images of the wild night life of New York and other cities around the world. He's been attacked, arrested, kidnapped and his work has been published by the New York Times, Time Magazine, Rolling Stone, Juxtapoz, Vice and ARTnews. He is on a DIY book tour for his first collection Bright Nights: Photographs of Another New York. He'll be at Vermillion giving a presentation of his photography on Wednesday (tonight) at 6pm. (I'll also be giving a presentation of my new comic book.)
How has the tour gone so far? What's been the best part?
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Pretty good. Decent turnouts, having fun in the in-between time. I had a lot of fun exploring in Detroit with some friends, I also landed in Minneapolis in time for the annual Black Label bicycle camping trip, so that was fun too.
Are you biking the whole route?
Ha, not the book tour. That comes afterward. I'm driving now, living out of my minivan. Biking would be purely for a masochist, one box of books weighs over 25 lbs.
A lot of photography has come out of Detroit lately. Seems like it's all disaster shots with hints of optimism.
A lot of the famous ruin-porn sites are gone or being renovated. It seems like the heyday for that has finally started to pass.
The Black Label camp out sounds pretty fun. How many people were there?
Oh I'm not in Black Label, I was just a lucky guest.
Is Black Label everywhere? Or just certain cities?
Just certain cities, but a fair number of them. They have a chapter in Stockholm too.
What's the farthest bike trip you've taken?
Probably from Brooklyn to Minneapolis, unless you combine my Indonesia and Japan trips (that I did back to back).
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That seems like a great way to see those countries. Was it all tall-biking?
I wasn't on a tall bike, but most of my companions were.
Which was a better trip—Japan or Indonesia?
They were totally different, so both had strong pros and cons. If I had to choose which one, it would definitely be Indonesia. I love Japan, it's one of my top places I've ever visited. But as far as being a bicycle vagabond, Indonesia was a better fit for my tastes. It was also one of the friendliest places I've ever been.
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Do you think you'll stay based in Brooklyn? I know you travel a lot so it's probably not the same as someone who is there 365 days a year.
My system is to leave every six months. You really have to reset yourself, or the city will just push you down and turn you into someone you don't want to be. That's what I've found works for me to live there and not let it crush you. It's brimming with worlds within worlds, it's hard to imagine any other place with as much to offer.
I agree that if you stay too long it will crush your soul. Unless you have money. It does seem like the best place for a professional photographer—a lot more opportunities per square inch.
And a lot of highly motivated people making things happen.
I'm interested in how cities allow certain jobs and others don't, the survival aspect.
Yeah, it would be extremely hard for me to survive doing what I do on the level I'm at in any other city in the U.S. except L.A.
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Well, I'm glad you can do both. I think it's important for Seattle artists to think about living in New York City for a little while at least, and then coming back. It allows for the potential to live off of your work.
Yeah, it can't hurt to experience how things work in other cities.