By Albert Smith
Originally published on Advocate.com January 29 2010 5:40 PM ET
Tiger Munson is a photographic artist who lives in Los Angeles. He has a B.A. in Theatre Arts from UCLA, is a graduate of Harvard University, holds an MFA in Studio Arts from Cal State Los Angeles and teaches photography in the Los Angeles Unified School District. In addition to his interest in portrait photography, some of his projects have included photo series on gay bar restrooms, action figure headshots, the Burning Man cultural festival and bad landscaping.
The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s Advocate and Gochis Galleries present Open/Closed, a solo exhibition of photographs by cutting-edge photographer Tiger Munson. It runs February 4 through Friday, March 26.
Why are you a photographer?
Well, It’s one way I find meaning. There is so much richness in the world: stuff that I see and experience, and so many moments that won’t be there again by definition, so it is the closest way for me to capture the thing, the temporality of it all. We all have our own amazing walk to walk. No one else has had this infinitesimal slice of time or view and I want to share it, that I think what I see is of interest. Turning that fraction of experience into something that will last is fun. Its like a beautiful testament, because then its gone. Psychologically, I think it’s a way to both be a participant but also an observer: To maintain interest in the world, one foot in, one foot out so to speak.
What catches your eye?
Interesting similarities and juxtapositions, colors, things I see that suggest or represent a specific world or idea to me. Or a kernel of some other world. I like surprises a lot. And I do tend to like to photograph people: in their unique, beautiful, weirdness, realness, fabulousness and performative glory!
How do you choose your subjects?
Some come from observations, or not even that. Just thoughts rumbling around and I work through an idea through photos. The action figure headshots came out of seeing these psychotic looking wrestlers and soldiers at Toys R Us and trying to imagine what the relationship would be like between a child, (in this case specifically, a boy) and the toy itself. This is territory that has been mined quite a bit before in art and popular culture but I was mostly interested in the psychology of it, and maybe because of my background as an actor I thought the faces were what needed to be emphasized: what do we teach our boys to be in this culture? But at the same time they are pretty bad ass, so there is that tension between being nauseated with this socialization and being drawn in as well. As for the restrooms, I thought the series would be interesting to work on as a sort of aesthetic, sensorial and historical record of this public/private space that is already disappearing. These series just unfolded and accumulated, unlike the Transfoto portraits/oral histories which I thought quite a lot about before I started shooting.
How do you describe your work?
I see most of them as portraits: A little journalistic, conceptual, color enamored, high impact, character loving and spontaneous: integrated with my life. I take photos of people I know and meet, places I go and interactions I have. I think of the photos as about segments of society, communities. Maybe not documentary really, but somehow immediate impressions or expressions of documentation. I think they are pretty sensual too. And I am very influenced by the art and principles of the Burning Man festival.
What makes a good photograph to you?
Something that can mesmerize. Or makes me curious, takes me to another place, that tells a story, or emanates an energy or recreates a sense of an experience or shares an incomplete secret. There are a lot of amazing photographers out there whose work in very controlled and meticulously planned out, involved, conceptually grand scenarios who create incredible imagery, but I come down on the side of some lo-fi spontaneity. Highly theatrical, staged scenes which are technically very savvy and visually very rich can suggest the slickness of a movie or advertising a bit too closely.
Who are your favorite artists? And why?
I really love the great black and white photographers from the 50’s, 60’, 70’s: Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand. I love Martin Parr for his surreal color findings of British vacationers at dilapidated resorts. Wolfgang Tilmans for his sensuality, intimacy and zeitgeist shots of rave culture, and all his stuff really. The immersive art collective assume astro vivid focus is great, and I love collage artists Ginny Bishton and Mark Bradford probably more than any photographer! Tim Hawkinson is brilliant, and Alejandro Jodorowsky lives the creative life. Oh and Alex Dorfsman does some very beautiful and moving photographs about our unlucky animal and plant coinhabitants on this sad planet….I could go on…well…you asked!