VIKTOR MATTHEWS: LA

The idea for this project came together very fast. I was watching some of Cindy's porn, and as I stared at her butt a lightbulb went off in my head saying, "you know, maybe you could shoot this girl". And then I had this whole vision of driving to LA and staying in Hollywood, renting a house or studio to shoot in, taking a bunch of colourful street photos and putting it all together into a book. I found the idea really funny, so I had to pursue it.

I'm getting older, I'll be 40 soon, so I'm turning the dial a bit to focus on the present instead of the future. Being more deliberate about how I spend my time, looking for projects that are either personally interesting to me or have the potential to be transformative for me.

This project was transformative because I was completely unprepared for the magnitude of it: shooting girls that are effectively celebrities in my world, trying to shoot video that was more than just shaky shots of girls undressing, trying to take erotic photos of girls while also capturing parts of their true personalities, trying to make the shoots fun so I could capture the girls smiling, shooting street photos in a city that I didn't know very well. This was all evolution for me. I knew that even if I failed, I'd learn a bunch of things, so it would still be worth the time, money, and effort, plus a good story.

I talk to a lot of photographers who don't seem inspired by what they are shooting. I hear it from the models too, they are bored of shooting the same things again and again. So a part of this was pursuing a project that was personally exciting to me, even if it provided no tangible benefit. Maybe driving to LA and shooting porn stars isn't original, not particularly artistic, will make a bunch of models not want to work with me, won't make me any money, won't build my following - maybe it's lots of bad things. I don't care, it's cool to me, I'm doing it anyway.

 

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Cindy and Yhivi are both gorgeous and have great butts, so I'll get that out of the way first. It's funny - when talking to me about the book a lot of guys say things like "I've followed Cindy's work for years", which really just means you've masturbated to her work for years, but whatever, here we are.

Regardless of whether I'm shooting something super sexy or not, the most important quality of a model is her face. Specifically her expressiveness. Both Cindy and Yhivi have an energy behind their eyes that is really captivating. There are a lot of beautiful girls in porn, but a lot of them seem like they'd rather be doing something else. Their faces have no energy or spirit, so they look like girls who are being paid to have sex and are unhappy about it. Cindy and Yhivi are unique in that they have an excitement and joy and curiosity in their eyes. That's always a good sign, not just in models but in people in general. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, but I had a feeling that they would bring an interesting energy into this project, and I was right.

It took me awhile to calibrate to them in person - Cindy was a lot tinier than I expected, and Yhivi was a lot nerdier than I expected, but being surprised by things like that is part of the fun.

 

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It's extremely important [to capture something real], but I think we all have different definitions of what "real" means. If I was just shooting girls as they are, with zero pretense, it'd just be photos of them eating cheetos on the couch in their sweatpants. I've never met a girl whose default state is sexy - in my experience, it's always an act. But, sometimes, in acting, we feel more free to express edges of ourselves that we wouldn't normally display.

Stretch marks are an interesting example because everyone is so inconsistent in what they say about them. Girls say they like them, but complain when I don't edit them out. Guys say they like them, but they only say that because they think girls will like it if they say it. Nobody is being honest, so nobody is really saying anything. I like stretch marks in the same way that I like all imperfections: they make people more interesting. Girls aren't magical unicorns to me, so I don't want to present them in that way. Sometimes I meet people who are perfect looking, or who have perfect personalities devoid of any problems. I never enjoy talking to those people.

Authenticity for me is capturing things that I understand. I try to stay away from overly dramatic poses, like the "back of the hand on forehead, head tilted back, eyes closed" type of thing that I see a lot. I don't understand what that is expressing, and I'm not convinced that the model does either. I don't shoot photos of girls drinking coffee in their underwear, because I don't drink coffee so I don't understand the vibe. It's a challenge because I have to give the girls room to operate, and they have emotions and experiences that I can't relate to, so I have to be open to that. My work is very minimalist because I feel that a minimal environment is the best way to capture something with an authentic feeling, even if both the model and I are working hard to create that feeling. There's a quote misattributed to Picasso that I think about often: "Tell the lie that tells the truth."

My goal for this project was to capture a fantasized version of being a tourist in Los Angeles. But a fantasy can still have elements of authenticity, chaos, imperfections - that's what I was going for. I wanted it to feel disorganized, colourful, sexy, and fun, because that's exactly what it felt like for me to shoot it. Hopefully I was able to get those feelings across. If I wasn't, oh well, I had a lot of fun trying.

 

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I had no idea if Mark [Spiegler] would even respond to my email, so it was especially surreal for me to be sitting in his living room two months later.

It felt like there was a ten-step process for getting into his house. He'd give me instructions one step at a time and then have me call him after each step. It was "drive to the gate and then call me", and then it was "enter this code and call me once you're inside the gate". It felt so excessively secretive that I did have a small fear that I was going to be killed. I imagine that this is what models feel like when they come to my house. But like everything else in this project, I just shrugged and kept moving forward. If I die, at least I died for my art.

Once my primal fear faded, Mark was very cool. Our conversation felt like two worlds colliding. He asked me to tell him about the project I was working on, and I could tell from his reaction that it was different from what he usually deals with. I don't think people usually go into his house talking about shooting photos for a book. They're talking about gangbangs, blowbangs, and related types of bangs. He also asked me about how I got into photography, what my goals were, things like that.

He talked to me about his background and why he operates the way he does, so in a way it felt like an introductory business meeting. But overall the purpose of the meeting was for him to make sure that I was a safe and professional photographer, and not just some random guy trying to get into a room alone with Yhivi. I was only there for about fifteen minutes, so I'm not sure exactly what his criteria was, but I passed the test, and I was grateful for his blessing.

 

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I definitely get burned out from time to time, but I don't try to avoid it, I embrace it. When I'm feeling frustrated, I remind myself that I can quit anytime. I don't make a living from photography, so I can just unplug all of these hard drives, stop updating my Instagram and that's it - this weird project called "Viktor Matthews" would be dead, and I could find some other hobbies.

But I don't want to quit, because there's so much about photography that I love. And that's how I get back into a positive frame, by focusing on the things that I enjoy, while also looking for ways to make the parts that I dislike more enjoyable.

For example, I don't particularly like posting on Instagram, but it's useful in many ways, so I find a middle ground by posting the photos that I like, instead of farming for likes with lowest common denominator photos and captions. I get way less engagement this way, especially when I post photos of things other than girls bending over, but it's more satisfying. Imagine a world where everyone posted things that they personally liked, instead of what they thought other people would like. It's not a fantasy, we could make it happen.

I think burnout is inevitable whenever you spend a lot of time doing the same thing, so it can be a signal to try something different. A few years back, I was getting a little bored with taking photos, then a model asked me to shoot some video with her. As I was learning how to edit video, I realized it would be simpler if I made the music for the videos also, so I crawled down that rabbit hole. Then I found myself researching the emotional effect of video frame rates and transition styles, as well as why different musical chord progressions create different moods. When I returned to taking photos, I had a different perspective. Or when I was burned out from finishing my last book, I got the idea for this new book and I was excited about shooting again. Things are always cyclical for me like that. Burnout is a blessing - invite it into your life.

 

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When describing how to succeed in a creative field, people frequently say things like "you have to want it more than anything else you've ever wanted", and that type of language always makes me cringe. But in my experience, there's some truth to it - in order to finish a book you really must have a burning sensation in your heart that drives you to work on it, otherwise it will just become another half finished thing on your hard drive.

There was an unspoken pact I made with myself way back when I had my first religious vision of LOS ANGELES, and it was: I am going to finish this fucking thing. If I'm going to allow myself the pleasure of driving to LA, walking around on the beach, renting houses and photo studios, taking photos of porn stars squatting over my face, then I'm also going to require in myself the discipline to sit in front of the computer every fucking day and work on the project until it is done.

I thought about it obsessively. Any time an idea came to me, I wrote it down, no matter how stupid it was. The footage of the crowd at the start and end of the Cindy "Racquetball" video, or the photos of the girls in the gold frames - these were just things that I thought of randomly while sitting at my day job or running errands. But being able to try those ideas kept the project fun. You need to find ways to keep it fun, because editing photos is a grind, and revising all of the writing is gruesome, time-consuming work.

In the end I'm able to push through to the end because I believe in myself and I'm excited about seeing the result. When I was thinking about doing this book, the fearful side of my brain said: what if you totally fail at this? But the other, confident, prideful side of my brain said: what if you're able to pull it off and it's a total success? I imagined flipping through the book on my iPad, knowing that I took this ridiculous project from just a random idea to an actual, fully realized thing. So the desire for that feeling kept me going - plus the mixture of curiosity and ego that made me wonder how the book would turn out. And once I finished, I didn't have to imagine the feeling anymore. I felt like I was standing on top of a mountain. You push through it to prove to yourself that you can.

 

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I went on an eight thousand mile road trip across the USA this past summer and shot nine girls along the way, so photos and video from that will be coming out gradually as I finish them. I've also shot tonnes of stuff over the past few years that I've never had time to edit, so I'm trying to churn through the best of that and get it out there. So I don't foresee any big projects for awhile, just a steady stream of work. And I'll still be shooting a few beauties here and there so I don't forget how to work my camera.

 























Viktor Matthews // viktormatthews // viktormatthews.com // junnnktank.com/viktormatthews-talent

"Los Angeles" book available // viktormatthews.com/la

 

JUNNNKTANK is an online zine which has existed in one form or another since 2006.
For over a decade, the focus has been on highlighting the efforts of inspiring individuals and artists from around the world.

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