Black Mesa is a 22 year old Photographer from the East Bay Area in California. He’s currently attending the University of Iowa as a cinema major and looking forward to going to graduate school in the near future. We’re very pleased to welcome him on creativinn.
Photographer Black Mesa Interview
Hello Black Mesa! When did photography become a part of your life and how have you been influenced?
I was quite a handful in my teens. I got into quite a bit of trouble growing up with my mother, at school and in the real world. Mainly because I hadn’t found anything that I loved yet. I knew that I always wanted to create something; I just hadn’t found my medium. When I was younger it used to bother me that I couldn’t draw. I saw so many talented young kids sketch the most beautiful doodles in class and I wanted to be a part of that. To this day I still try drawing and I haven’t done anything noteworthy, being a painter was always my dream career. I don’t think it’s in my hands to be able to do so. The irony of it all is, I had taken a photography class in high school that I hated because I’d try so hard and constantly receive C’s or D’s on my assignments. I always liked doing the photo work but because it was such a negative atmosphere, it made me think I wasn’t cut out for this.
When I was about 16, my auntie bought a DSLR. She had no idea how to use it so she asked me for help. After playing with it a bit, I was instantly hooked. My mom saw me as a troubled kid as she always referred to me as “the problem child” and she finally saw that I was attempting to do something positive with my life. Therefore my mother bought me my own camera and I haven’t really been in trouble since! Of course it still scares her that I’m trying to do art as my career, I feel like she’s come to accept it. As far as my influences go, growing up so close to San Francisco made big cities very accessible to me. It was easy for me to go get lost and clear my head; I was always up for adventure.
Photography always was a cultivation of the big city for me because I’m just a product of what time and circumstance has made me. My favorite artist list runs quite deep, I’m a huge fan of the photographer 13th Witness, the filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn, and primarily people that are simply down to get gritty with their work. Also, my friends are some of my favorite artists. I’m extremely thankful to have talented people around me at all times focused on perfecting their craft and that goes an awful long way for my mindset.
Where do you derive your influence? Do you have a favorite place or technique that helps you find inspiration?
From the sadness in the city, it’s interesting to me. Being in a city means you’re never quite alone but you’re also the loneliest person in the world. I’ve spent numerous days by myself in San Francisco taking photographs amongst many strangers walking the streets, some with the same photographic goals as I witness them snap away alongside of me but yet we never say a word to each other. The city is weird like that, people are very engrossed in their solitude and it’s sad. Poverty has always been inspirational to me too, I love shooting in the ghetto. At the end of the day I’m trying to document a story and everybody wants to document the glamorous story. I like the story of the poor working class man better because it’s more real. My technique of finding inspiration has always been pretty simple, get lost until I find somewhere that I want to call home for the day.
When you are photographing, how much of it is instinctual versus planned?
It depends; walking down the street from place to place is all about using my instincts. If I find something interesting, I’m going to shoot it. However, when I take road trips with my friends we have to plan extensively to figure out what exactly we’re going to do when to ensure that we hit all locations that we had wanted to see on a timely schedule. If a location is known for sunset, we will be there at that given time.
What are you currently working on?
Oh gosh, I don’t even know where to begin. Far too many things on my plate are currently unfinished and in the process of getting wrapped up. For one, I’m working on a short film that requires more work than I’d like to admit but we’re putting it together slowly but surely. I’m pretty excited to be done with that as I’ve spent far too many late nights working on it. It’d be a stress lifted off my shoulders. Then I’m working on designing a photography book about some of my adventures and the stories behind the pictures, that project has been equally as hellish as I need to thematically choose the correct photographs and cut some out. Lastly, I’m working with a gallery here in Iowa City to get an exhibit scheduled which means well calculated prep work and dealing with people in a professional manner. I’m terrible at being professional really, I just want to be the belligerent kid I am forever.
Please, help us understand the meaning behind your art and comment a selection of your favorite photographs.
“Chinatown” : This photo is probably one of my favorites because it’s where a scene in the Pursuit of Happiness was filmed. My buddies Stephen, Malcolm and I were desperately trying to go to this spot for quite a bit now. Stephen had been there already, Malcolm and I hadn’t but due to Stephen we knew exactly how to get there. We had to call the people that owned the place of business and ask for approval to get onto their rooftop basketball court. They were hesitant at first but I was annoyingly persistent until they said yes. Then the big men in charge made us sign legal forms never to disclose to anybody where this location is and we complied. We only had a total of 10 minutes up on the court but man it was surreal.
“San Francisco Sunrise”: San Francisco is one of those weird cities where it’s sunny, then it’s cloudy, then it’s foggy, then it’s dark. Literally, you never know what you’re getting. I remember standing on a balcony around sunrise looking out at it was this ugly gray haze at first. I was super bummed as I wanted the sky to break through and ten minutes later it did, this was the result.
“Secret Window”: This shot was just eerie to me. My buddy Calvin and I were hiking on the coast one day when we stumbled upon this abandoned structure on the edge of a cliff. I kept thinking, who the hell would build a structure in an area extremely susceptible to earthquakes on the edge of a cliff facing the ocean? There was also broken glass everywhere in the structure and as much as I like catching a good buzz while adventuring, I don’t think I’d want to do it there. One bad move in this tiny enclosure of a structure and you’re falling off a cliff.
“Blue Line”: Since I go to school in Iowa, Chicago is quite nearby. I went one weekend and simply rode on the rails. This is a shot I got during evening time on the blue line that I have no idea why I like so much. Probably because the memories on that road trip were one of a kind.
“Layers”: My friends and I decided to get lost in Northern California. As far as weather went, it was a terrible day since it was consistently raining and the skies always had this menacing demeanor to them. I took this and it reminded me of some sort of strange impending doom. We all felt a little uneasy through that weather but we had a limited amount of time on our road a trip and a day of not shooting would have been a bummer.
“I Might Fall”: I don’t think I’d ever been to a structure this high up that allowed me to kick a leg over. I can swim, yes. Can I swim well? No. Falling was a real concern!
“Carl The Fog”: In the Bay Area we have named our consistent evening fog, Carl. You can see him starting to make an appearance in the distance.
“Grizzly Peak”: This location is where high school kids go to drink, smoke and make out with their significant others. You could say I’ve had some pretty solid times here. Nowadays if I’m in the area during sunset, I’ll take the exit to capture a photograph. I’ve seen countless of sunsets here but this one was special. Sunsets are always pretty but some are more gorgeous than others.
What is your dream project?
I have two! I want to make a really gritty dark crime film. I have a few scripts that I don’t have the resources to film but I’d love to do so eventually if the opportunity ever arises. Secondly, I want to get sponsored to travel to obscure places such as abandoned buildings. Achieving either one of these in my lifetime would be a dream come true.
Is artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
Extremely. You get trapped in your own head a lot. Sometimes it’s nice to take a break and spend time away from the lens. However, often times I think about traveling photographers and imagine how lonely they must get. I suppose the sacrifice is necessary and being lonely isn’t the worst problem in the world.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
“Life’s barely long enough to get good at one thing so be careful what you get good at”