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“Vanilla is really my fantasy world.”
Photographer Gogy Esparza’s latest book, Vanilla, was released earlier this year feted with a launch party at the menswear shop-cum-art space SOTO in Berlin Mitte. The black and white photos document the physical and mental environments in which Esparza exists, and he explains that this publication, his third, is very unfiltered and raw. Images range from blurry portraits of friends to abstract close-ups of vegetables to cityscapes and blinged-out Last Supper sculptures. The collection might at first seem somewhat disparate, but continuity isn’t the point here. Esparza incorporated a great deal of imagery and references to the late nineties and early aughts' world of rap and hip hop. Each book includes a custom hologram embedded with a uniquely New York slang term from '90s hip hop. (You’ll have to get the new book to find out which one.) Appropriated screenshots from films and music videos such as Mobb Deep’s "Quiet Storm" and Cam’ron’s "Killa Season" are scattered throughout. The party, at the recently expanded SOTO, featured DJ sets and an after-party at Le Chat Gris. We had a chance to catch up with Gogy this week and hear more about Vanilla.

Eugenie:

How did you get started on this project?

Gogy:

I was just shooting what was going on, how I was feeling, I knew the photos felt a specific way, but I didn't have a name for them yet. [Vanilla] is everything I grew up on, the person I want to be, an exposition of things I was too scared to confront before: Beauty, hate, a futuristic world with a big nod to classic New York.

Eugenie:

Where did you get the title Vanilla from?

Gogy:

I read this interview with Sasha Grey in Richardson Magazine. They asked her if her husband was jealous of the fact she was a porno star. She said something like, "No, he only gets mad when the other guys get to try the rougher, BDSM kind of sex, and I only save the vanilla stuff for him." I loved the way the word sounded and I knew I wanted to call the book that. I also liked that it was a bit ironic, because the work is quite raw.

Eugenie:

You mentioned that Vanilla is, in part, a nod to mid '90s and early 2000s culture, specifically hip-hop and rap. Why?

Gogy:

I always wished I was a teenager in the mid '90s. At that time I was too young to be in the club, to drive, to afford what I wanted to wear. I thought that era was the flyest, the girls dressed the best, the guys, too. The slang, the attitude, jewelry, the music videos. It's a bit of an obsession.

Eugenie:

What is it about print that you find important to your work?

Gogy:

I think it's kind of always a narrative with me. Like the whole idea needs a rhythm, layers, ins and outs. Books are the best.