Brooklyn resident and photographer Walter Wlodarczyk (wol-dar-zick) has been crafting clicks since he was a New Jersey kid armed with a 110-film camera. He later graduated to a Vivitar 35mm point-and-shoot. The shots kept ringing, but his focus on the craft didn’t get sharp until the last five or six years. If he’s not juggling photography assignments, documenting New York City’s independent rock scene, playing guitar in his own band, Space Meow, or running Darker Studies with his significant other, Dorothy Darker, he’s documenting and touring with the two-man enigmatic outfit KEN South ROCK. Walter’s work has been often published, notably in The Wall Street Journal, The Taipei Times and most recently #24Mag (Issue 6).
He’s described his images as a love letter to his inspirations, including New York City, a carnivorous urban sprawl devouring hopeful artists and spitting out their skeletons. Sometimes the city bites so hard that it crushes bones into diamonds, producing the next generation of “unlikelies” that change the world. Walter is documenting potential tooth crackers, begging to break the mold. His gift is capturing the beauty of both graceful subtlety and colorful chaos.
In this TMG interview Walter talks about documenting music, Art Basel 2013, KEN South ROCK and how we met in the most random of places.
I love going to shows and seeing live music and performance, and I love to make photographs, so shooting live music and performance is just completely natural to me. I think just like someone who loves to dance can’t go to a show without wanting to dance, I can’t go to a show without wanting to make fantastic photos of it. I love trying to capture the energy and spirit of a show or performance in photographs. It’s a great challenge, and my inspiration. I also really enjoy being part of a creative community through my photography, and meeting lots of fantastic people and being able to travel and explore. Photography is how I explore life, and music and art are a huge part of that. I’m inspired to photograph the things I see and experience, and try to depict their spirit and what makes them special.
Best show ever
Going on tour is always very special – especially overseas – and those shows stand out in my mind.
I’m involved with the band Jugger-nut here in New York (sometimes I play guitar, sometimes I shoot) and every Jugger-nut show is completely insane and memorable. We don’t even try – it just happens. It’s the nature of Jugger-nut. I’ve had my camera punched into my face at a Jugger-nut show (accidentally), and have been hit with a stun gun (not accidentally). Someone described Jugger-nut as “what people think happens in New York” and I think that’s very appropriate.
Last summer I had some work in a group show in Bushwick at a pop-up gallery called Rare Form, and that was a really special night. KEN South ROCK, Unstoppable Death Machines, Imaginary Friends, Terror
Pigeon Dance Revolt, Cutters, and Sun Color played in a super packed, super sweaty, super moldy basement space. Everyone referred to it as a sweat lodge –“sweat versus mold” as one of our friends put it. The space was jammed solid and the ceilings were dripping all night. Japanther set up on the sidewalk outside and played to an enormous crowd on the sidewalk, right on Broadway. It was loud and intense and fast and totally beautiful. Every part of that night was incredible. Those summertime shows when it feels like you couldn’t fit a single person more into the space, and you just can’t sweat any more, are the best.
New York music and art scene
I think it’s fantastic. There’s no end to things to see, and so many people creating inspiring and unique work, especially in Bushwick. The creative community in Bushwick is huge and diverse – from music to performance to every other art form. The one consistent negative thing about New York is that the cost of living is extremely high and it’s difficult to make a living as an artist, but I think New York has always been a challenging place to exist in, in one way or another, and that drives the nature of the music and art that is created here. That challenge is a lot of what gives the art and music created here its spirit.
How do you think your photography has changed over the years?
I have slowly gotten more comfortable photographing people, for one thing. I only photographed city scenes or landscapes and would rarely take photographs of people for quite some time. I got a lot better about that shooting at the Mars Bar where I used to hang out quite a bit, thanks to friends who enjoyed being photographed and have been very supportive of my photography. I still have a long way to go, but I’m definitely more comfortable photographing people than I once was. The things I photograph have changed over time organically. There’s a lot of serendipity involved, following ideas and people and bands I enjoy to shoot, and seeing how one thing leads to another.
Art Basel 2013
I went to Art Basel for the first time in 2012 with the ZZZ’s and Unstoppable Death Machines. I was assisting the ZZZ’s with their tour and doing photography and video for them. While we were there, we met The Audio Junkies who do a ton in the realm of music and art and put on a series of shows called the Art Basel Music Distraction in their loft space during Basel. We had such a great time in 2012 and I met some many awesome people in Miami, I decided I had to go back every year. The Junkies are the absolute best and they bring so many great bands and artists together. It’s a really special event. This year the Junkies had four full nights of music, so I went down to see those shows, and Space Meow –a band I play guitar in – got to play one night, which was a great experience. It’s funny – the Junkies’ spot gets totally destroyed each night, but they put it back together the next day and when you return it smells great and it’s all clean again. Then it gets destroyed all over again. Unstoppable Death Machines played one of the wildest sets I’ve ever seen them play during this year’s Distraction. I wasn’t sure the place would survive. Besides all of that I got to feed seagulls, had empanadas for breakfast, and slept about four hours per night.
How Walter met TMG’s Tracy Jones
I was on tour with KEN South ROCK when we met [at an art show for John Felix Arnold III and Koutaro Ooyama]. I’ve been to Japan twice with KSR, which has been a great privilege, and all-around amazing. I met John [Felix Arnold III] on my first Japan tour with KSR, when John was live-painting during their sets. John’s work – and work ethic – is really inspiring. And the show he did at SPES-LaB with Koutaro [Ooyama] was very special. It was really an immersive experience. I think people wanted to move in. It was super comfortable! I still have a button from SPES-LaB on my desk, which I keep out as a reminder to work hard at my art.
Music is very different in Japan, in that bands show up very early in the day to sound check, stay for the entire show, and then eat and drink together after the show with the owner of the club and all of the staff. There’s a real sense of family. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a feeling of family here, but there’s definitely a lot of active attention toward it in Japan, and customs. I’ve met so many great people all over Japan with Ken and Adam. When KEN South ROCK plays, it’s always a big event, and the parties are super fun, especially in Fukuyama and Kagoshima. Fukuyama has a great live house (venue) called the Music Factory, which is the hub for all music in Fukuyama. It’s part live house, part studio, and part music school. You have to be in top party form when you go to Fukuyama. The last time I was with KSR in Fukuyama, they invited the audience up to play Hold On with them, and Adam had five kids drumming with him – everyone crashing cymbals and playing additional drums. Everyone there understands and feels the spirit of music very deeply. I see that all over Japan.
How did you met KEN South ROCK?
I originally met Adam through Jugger-nut. Adam is one of Jugger-nut’s drummers. (Jugger-nut has anywhere from 14 to 20 members, depending on the day.) I had just met Adam when he and Ken formed KEN South ROCK and went on tour in Japan for the first time. I heard their initial recordings, and was really interested in what they were doing. It was totally unique. So I went to see them the first time they played back in the US, and was totally blown away by their energy and style and what they were creating. People talk about their energy, being speechless, “love at first sight,” things like that. That particular night they played at Lone Wolf and then we all walked over to our friend Samantha’s house in the snow, and KSR closed out a house party that had been going on there. It was wild. Since then I’ve photographed KSR every chance I have.
How has interacting with photographs or images changed?
The number of images we have access to is mind boggling. And the Internet itself, as a medium, promotes shorter attention spans and makes us more apt to scan things. So I think we may be interacting with images online less deeply than we do images offline, such as in books. That’s one of the reasons I’m interested in making books. They feel more permanent, slower, more thoughtful. It’s also a reason I like having a blog – I feel like the experience of viewing photos in a blog or online portfolio is much closer to that of a book, compared to something like Facebook.
Has it affected the way you take photos?
Assignments generally need to be turned around very quickly, which limits the time for editing. So there’s the challenge of editing quickly without sacrificing quality and thoughtfulness in the editing process. And social networks and the Internet in general are so overloaded with images, it’s a challenge to get your work seen. It’s not at all unlike being in a band and getting somewhere by practicing relentlessly and playing tons of shows and never stopping. I’m a big proponent of never stopping.
Darker Studio is a small studio here in Brooklyn that I operate with my wife, Dorothy Darker. She’s a painter, and we share the studio for painting and photography. It’s also available for small events. This is a relatively new project that we’re very excited about. It’s exciting to have studio space, and we love collaborating on projects together. Dorothy is amazing with styling, hair and makeup (among many other things) so this is a space in which we can collaborate on projects that bring together those things that she loves to do, with my photography.
Space Meow is the brainchild of my friend Doll Chao, who is from Taipei and has been in New York City for a few years now for film school. I met Doll through KEN South ROCK when I was on tour with them in Japan in 2012. Doll had helped book some tour dates for KSR in Taiwan, and we got to hanging out when Doll moved to Brooklyn. Space Meow is a mixture of electronica and live instruments. Doll composes electronic loops, which we then build guitar, bass and drum parts atop. Doll plays drums and sings, I play guitar, and when we get back at it this month, our friend Adeline will be joining us on bass. Our sound is hard to describe – electronic, dark, and maybe a little metal (if I get my guitar sound right).