If the whole world looked like Chad Moore’s photography, everything would be beautifully lit in a kaleidoscope of color, all hazy and soft like a gorgeous dream or nighttime memory. We got the chance to sit down with the New York-based, Florida-bred photographer and discuss how he manages to get the world of his work to look so damn good.
Your photos never feel staged. Is there any one thing you can identify that you always look for in a photograph? I assume it's likely a more intuitive, impulsive instinct than anything else.
Nothing is staged. For me, it is really impulsive but there is a calculation. I have things that I’m interested in that I suppose have made up the DNA of my pictures. I really love people’s eyes. Obviously, since photographs have been invented, people have been saying that the eyes make a photograph but I think it’s really true. I’m really interested in people and I think you can see inside someone by taking a picture of them. You can tell in someone’s eyes in a photograph if they trust the person taking it. There’s certain light I love… I love red light. It kind of makes film do weird things. I love people looking up or when someone’s eyes are a bit watery and the light catches it perfectly… it’s something special.
As a photographer, I'm sure you often find yourself in situations where you must take a "staged photo" or a portrait. Does that appeal far less to you than photography that allows you to document the life surrounding you?
That’s a good question. Often, I’ll be commissioned to do a portrait and obviously the client wants the photo to be of this particular person but look like one of my pictures. Sometimes it’s really difficult because you’re going into a room with someone you’ve never met and often you only have a small window of time. You have to engage them enough for them to look into your camera as if they’ve known you for 10 years. I usually try to research someone as much as I can before meeting them; I watch YouTube videos of them talking, et cetera. That way you at least have a bit of an idea of what to expect from their personality. It makes it a bit easier. Sometimes people that you think will be difficult turn out to be wonderful to photograph, and vice versa.
Who do you photograph? I feel like you’ve gotten some flack for the subjects of your work in the past.
I photograph my friends. That’s it really. Maybe you’re referring to the CNN article? A lot of the comments were negative in regards to the subjects of my pictures; that I only hang out with beautiful girls or something. I have a few friends that are models but they aren’t my friends because they are models. They’re my friends because of who they are. I’m uninterested in photographing someone who doesn’t have anything to say. That often makes it difficult shooting fashion as — a lot of the time — a stylist or someone will want to use a certain girl because someone else shot her, et cetera, et cetera. But I have a hard time enjoying photographing someone who I don’t connect with. As I mentioned, there has to be a connection that trust. At the same time, I’m photographing derelict boys with black eyes running around Chinatown billboards at night with these girls.
How did you begin your work as a photographer? Has that always been your professional intention?
I started getting interested in photos through riding BMX bikes. My friend and I would go ride. And it’s a thing in BMX to make videos of each other riding so there were always video cameras around. Eventually, as I progressed in riding, I got sponsored and started shooting with different photographers for adverts. One of my good friends, Ryan Bailey, and I would always go shoot photos. I was never really interested in the technical aspect of the BMX photos (all the slave flashes and whatnot) but just the documentation element. So, I started taking my own pictures while riding around or on these BMX road trips.
I guess I was never sitting in high school thinking I would be doing this as a living. I was riding BMX professionally and always making art. I suppose it took a while. I was going to college in Tampa for a bit and just could not stand it but I was constantly taking pictures… of everything. I didn’t even realize you could make a living doing the type of work I was doing but eventually I decided to give it a go. I moved in with some friends in Brooklyn who let me stay on the couch for six months while I figured it out.
Has your work changed a lot over the years?
I suppose my work has just become more focused. When I was young, I was just taking pictures of everything: my food, my feet, the sky… Just figuring out the camera and what I wanted to do with it. I know what I want from an image now.
Do you ever think about transitioning to video work or film? You seem to have a real gift for lighting that would probably translate well in video work.
I definitely think about it. I enjoy the idea of making films and, yeah, lighting is a love of mine. My only problem is that I want everything I do to have some substance or a purpose. I feel like a lot of short “films” these days are just a girl blinking in slow motion. I basically just don’t want to make a moving version of a photograph for the sake of saying I made a film. But the answer is yes… I have so many ideas for film work.
Is youth a big influence or inspiration for you? How do you think that will change with time and growth?
It is. I think a lot of it has to do with when I started taking photos. I was a teenager and so that’s what I was around to take pictures of. Obviously art is always evolving but I think that youth is my focus and will be for a long time. I feel like I’m just a big kid myself.
I really love the use of color in your work. The lighting in your photos is always incredible. Are all these beautiful colored lights seeking you out or are you seeking them? For real, ha.
Well, I work with color in the photos in lots of ways. Like I talked about earlier, I love red light so I use it in a lot of my pictures. Or, for example, just a Tungsten overhead light--from a bathroom, even. I also use a technique that I came up with — semi-on-accident — by pre-exposing the film I use so that there is a layer or a wave of color. It’s not a precise method so it’s always a surprise.
I wanted to ask about the sexuality in your photographs. A lot of them are quite intimate…
Well, I think — living in New York — you’re always around people. Most likely, if you’re young, you probably have an atypical living situation — a weird Chinatown apartment with four roommates or something like that. And not much privacy, so people are really comfortable around each other. I take pictures of my friends and whatever it is we are doing together so I don’t think there’s a reason not to photograph all aspects of their lives — including sex — obviously as long as they are okay with it. It’s about documenting everything, full circle.
What do you shoot with? Are you a die-hard film guy or do you utilize digital when necessary?
All of my personal work is film. I just enjoy it better and, like I said, there are some little tricks I do with the film that just can’t be replicated with digital… Or at least not without a bunch of Photoshop work and I’m just not that into using computers in that way. I definitely don’t hate digital; I’ll use it for commissioned jobs often just because of the turnaround time. I think there’s a plus side to both and—eventually—film won’t exist so there’s no use fighting it. But, until then, I like film for my personal work.
Are there any photographers or artists out there that you really admire or that you feel have really influenced your work?
There are so many people. I’m always into Richard Avedon although our work is obviously so different. He had a way of connecting with people that was so brilliant. Corrine Day was so great too. Right now, and always really, Marc Hundley. He’s one of my favorite artists. He makes beautiful text-based pieces. Also, one of my good friends, Jack Walls; he’s a poet and painter that’s really amazing. Another person I’ve been into recently is Alice Lancaster. She makes really beautiful paintings.