Friday, June 8, 2012

Interview: Pinhole Photography with Philippe Mastrocola

A little over a week ago, I was cutting through TA grabbing my updates and came across this gent painting on the roof of the factory. Looked like he was painting something interesting so I mentioned that it was nice to see something full going on on that section of the wall considering it had been bombed out for the last while. After a brief introduction he showed me some of the interesting photographic work he had been doing along with his street painting. 

I didn't get it at first, what or even how he had taken these photos we were checking out on his tablet. Beyond any appreciation I had for his painting in general, I was really floored by the types of shots he was getting, and more importantly,how and what he was using to get them. We sat down for an interview later that week to talk about the very unique approach (and gear) he has been using to document his work.
TA Factory June 2012
KM: So you mentioned that you had started doing signature graffiti at first and then you eventually moved into doing more abstract work. Why did you leave lettering and move more into abstract form?
PM: I started off by not even knowing who 'Sake' was. I started tagging before I really learned about the entire graffiti scene. Slowly but surely I began putting more and more time into my graffiti, which only helped me progress on my journey. My favorite part when painting a burner or a piece was painting the inside of the letters. Doing that abstract part was fulfilling for me. When it came time to put my outline, it felt like I was going over something that I didn’t want to go over necessarily. I didn’t like imposing limitations while I was painting.  Painting in order, and following the traditional graffiti painting became boring to me. I felt that my painting wanted to go in a certain direction, but I still had to paint within the lines.  And for me that was bothered me, and it felt like I was wasting my paint every time I was painting a burner and ...I felt like I was more of an artist and less of a graffiti artist. I was getting to that transitional point in my career and ...that’s when I started doing a lot of abstract. Once I painted my first abstract on a wall, I was hooked. And every abstract I did I felt better and better... it felt a lot more rewarding when I would look at the final pieces...I felt graffiti was holding me back a little bit in my artistic expression. 
First abstract 2009
KM:  When did that switch occur, from street painting/writing into that abstract?
PM: I still paint burners and what not every so often... I still have the feeling to do letters, but not as before...A couple of years ago, maybe three years ago....I started taking to the abstracts on walls...well...before that I was painting abstract canvasses... and then I started on the streets.
How long have you been documenting your work for?
PM: Since the start. At first, using my shitty digital camera to shoot ugly ass pictures of my shitty throw ups and tags. Then shitty cell phone pictures and a few years ago I finally got a decent DSLR, which definitely helps document my art. Documenting street art is probably more important than the final product on the wall.  

Pinhole cans documenting pinhole cans 2012
KM: How did you come up with the idea of using a can to create pinhole single exposure shots of your abstract street work?
PM: Last year I took a course at Concordia: Light Based Media. You had to make one pin hole camera as a group of four. I made five myself. One of the five that I made was a can…It took me well over two hours to make it. I wasted so much tape, and I was trying to make it line up and really wasn’t great. The hole I made for this can was too big, therefore I was unable to get sharp pictures.

Spray cam production, courtesy Philippe Mastrocola

Spray cam production, courtesy Philippe Mastrocola
KM: But is each one of these things a one shot deal?
PM: No, I can reload it. Each camera is a little bit different, so each picture is different. A pinhole camera is supposed to be flat black on the inside, yet some of my cans are not 100% painted black on the inside so that affects the exposure time. I have made well over 50 cameras with these cans but when I go paint I probably load about 35 cans. I bring them with me in my bag, so I have my bag of paint cans, and my bag of camera cans.
KM: 35?!?
PM: Yeah, and then like three bucket cams, for big pictures.
KM: And how long does it take to do one of these shots?
PM: It depends… on the lighting... the distance; it depends on what you’re shooting. It’s a guesstimation, I know my past exposures, what I’ve done... so I judge the lighting, there’s no testing when your shooting right there on the spot, you are just exposing and you block the hole and you’re like “ok, now I’m going to hope that I guessed this one right” and then you put it in the bag and you do another one. When I go back to my studio, hours after taking the pictures, I find out whether or not my pictures came out or not.
KM: A lot of trial and error then I can imagine.
PM: A lot of trial and error, A LOT of trial and error.
First successful spray cam picture, 2011
PM: One of the first ‘wow’ pictures that I took was the first picture I took with a can… It was a eureka moment in my life. I’ll never forget it.  The first one that I took out of the fixer, and I rinsed it, then I brought it into the light, and looked at what the can created, and I was just in awe. I had taken a picture of spray cans with a spray can. It just blew my mind away. It’s was so rewarding. And now when I paint a spot the spray can negatives are almost more rewarding than the final product on the wall...I’m In the dark room, I have my head phones on, and I listen to classical music, and each time I put a white piece of paper inside the developer, and get to witness this beauty come up... it’s just... it’s something unique. And makes me want to keep doing it …to keep getting more shots. There are times where I completely mis estimate my exposure times and get a bunch of over or under exposures, and [I’m like] fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, and then I get one good one. All those fucks don't matter anymore. It was all worth it. ‘Cause I got the one good one. In the beginning I was not good with the exposure times and it was very frustrating and really discouraging, very discouraging. I mean, you’re taking the picture…and you’re only developing it three-four-five hours after you shot it. There are times now that I shoot can get good exposures on over 90% of my shots.
Waster12 two letter hollow 2006, Documented in 2012
Self Portrait 2012
KM: Is there any direction you’re looking to take your work? Be it in photography or the abstract part of it?
PM: I don’t takes me where it’s going to take me. I do it because I love it and I just live one day by the next and make the best of it.
You can check out Philippe's work in greater detail at his upcoming show: 'Spray Cam' on June 4th at 4012 rue St-Denis from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM. I think this is a definite must for anybody interested in photography and street art as this gent is brings a very unique approach to documenting his work.

You can also check out a video detailing the process and methodology behind Philippe's spray cam here (and him painting) and his website for any interested in his other work or to contact him here. Don't miss out on checking some very interesting photography and art at his show next week.

More soon, stay posted.

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