Calvin Lee is a conceptual-based photographer from Boston, MA. He received an MFA in photography & media from California Institute of the Arts in 2009; and a BFA in Visual & Critical Studies from School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA in 2007. His work combines conceptual strategies to explore the connectivity of images, the repression within representation, and the visual semiotics of an image through metonymy and metaphor. Through his analytical, personal, and experimental practice, his work deals with multiple theory based discourses in conversation that question technology, culture, representation, and language. He currently lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.
When does an object stop being a photograph?
I think once you take a photograph of an object it loses its dimensionality and becomes just that, a representation of that object. Photographs are usually flat representations or depictions of reality.
Feelings on Los Angeles?
I gotta say, Los Angeles is kind of a strange place. It has been the perfect playground for me to make work in and about, especially because I am an outsider from the east coast. L.A. always seems to keep my interest and curiosities alive.
At what point is making attractive pictures of LA and celebrities just feeding into mass media? And is that different from making art?
I believe my work has more of a critical eye as an observer to the interest I have in L.A. culture. Mass media is often very shallow and exploitive, whereas I am only here to engage with these real life experiences that allow for the production of my art. I choose not to directly participate in mass media. I find it fascinating to just experience and observe this phenomenon for my own self-interest, in making work. If I wanted to, I could easily become a paparazzi and only feed into the economy of Hollywood's image industry, but I choose not to play into the banality of that role. There is something really fascinating about being entertained by the actual experience of L.A. culture rather than viewing a mediated version of it from mass media.
Favorite current photographers or artists?
Jeff Wall, Alex Katz, Cy Twombly, and David Hockney have been on my mind lately.
Earlier on you were making sculptures, right? But sculpture seems to have receded in your work the last couple of years. Why so?
Earlier, on I was making sculptural work to be photographically documented. I was interested in performative gestures and sites of ephemerality. I also had more of a studio practice a few years ago but eventually starting looking outwards into the world for new challenges. Moving closer to the city also provided me with new inquiries and obsessions to redefine my current art practice.
Do you feel you could make work, or do you have any interest in making work, not connected to LA?
For the past few years living in Los Angeles, I have been so absorbed in L.A. culture and the fantasy world that exists there. I have developed a process that allows me to gain access to these creative and sometime private spaces. I would find it hard to mentally detach from the disorders that I have forced myself to develop to make the work that I do.
As someone whose own art has involved installations and collecting images from the media, is there a separation between your art practice and your curating?
I believe it is all tied together. My projects always seem to be a reflection of the ideas that I am negotiating with at the moment. These ideas somehow conceptually either filter in or influence my art practice and/or curating. Curating has also been another way to connect with other artists with common interests and to enjoy the creativity that they bring to the collaboration. I really enjoy collaborating and going out to look at art.
How does making books, especially working with an independent publisher, work into your process?
Book making has been a new interest of mine this past year. For me it is just another form to share my work and ideas. The book form has actually been a better way for me to distribute and create an intimate experience in viewing my work, which I feel is currently necessary.
First time you remember making a photograph?
When I was a little kid, my mother gave me my first camera. I was always fascinated about the process of taking pictures and later getting the film developed to see what I’d shot. I was later sidetracked in college, focusing on being a painter, but eventually photography became my medium of choice.
Do you feel that LA as an art scene, has caught up to NYC? And does the East Coast have a general ignorance of art on the West Coast?
I think L.A's art scene is currently becoming acknowledged as its own entity in the greater art world. Both cities have their own art histories and landscapes that facilitate the artists and the production of the art being made locally. Through the similarities and differences, I think the art influences regionally are somewhat universal for each city. There are a lot of interesting and talented artists occupying both coasts.
Why take pictures of magazine spreads and collages? Why not just have them as collages? How important is the white in the picture around the collage/spread?
I was interested in having more studio time and needed tactility and intimacy with materials and process. Making collages was one solution. Digitally rephotographing the collages and manipulating them in photoshop is an important part of the conversation in the work. The work mainly speaks about the process of materiality and the desire and loss in the medium.
How different is it to get your work out into the world as a physical object, say a book or a print, versus getting it out there on the internet?
I think getting your work out in the public sphere is difficult any way you do it. Each way has its own challenges and produces a different response or experience. Currently book making for me has been an easier way to share my work with friends and other artists in the greater community.
Favorite rap album and why?
Magna Carta Holy Grail / Long.Live.A$AP
The work in the book is from 2012, right? What have you been up to artwise this year and when is that gonna drop?
Yes, the work from my book 'A Romance in Pictures' was made during 2012 and launched at Printed Matter's LA Art Book Fair in January 2013. It was both published and presented by Arts & Sciences Projects, NY at the L.A. book fair. I hope to show this work in physical exhibition form in the near future. I have currently been working on a new photo collage series and will be presenting a new book in September of 2013. Details will be provided soon!