Welcome to the new site and blog! To commemorate the occasion I’ve compiled a bit of a bio, with selections from previous interviews, that delve into my background and style. Of course this won’t answer every question, as some things are best left unsaid. This will provide a small glimpse of my work, as if viewed through a smudged lens.
What got you interested in photography?
My interest and aptitude in visual art began at a young, pre-teen age, with a modest proficiency in drawing. By my early teens I had reached an unsatisfactory limit to my penciling abilities and I began to take an interest in photography. I found a forgotten and discarded 35mm Point-and-Shoot camera in my garage and claimed it as my own. The mysterious concept of having to run a strip of exposed film through a chemical bath before it would yield an image was very alluring. Due to the cost (for a child) of shooting and processing film, I had to be very judicious with what I shot and it made me want to understand the complexities of photography in its totality.
After early graduation from High School, my artistic and career ambitions attempted to merge when I started a comic book publishing company along with 3 other artists. I was one of 2 staff writers working on dark, underground comics, that had no aspirations to be mainstream superhero fare. Early on we learned that the writers were much faster in producing finished work versus the pencillers, so I tried to lessen their workload by attempting to combine photography with an artistic comic book approach. Essentially creating a narrative picture book. This necessitated a massive upgrade in equipment and the purchase of my first 35mm SLR camera. I initially underestimated the learning curve of transitioning the literal nature of photography into a more stylized, impressionistic form. My introductory attempts were only partial successes, as was our company, which was brought down in the aftermath of the comic book speculator crash of the mid-90’s, as we were preparing to go to press with our first 3 titles.
Embittered by these circumstances, I tried to salvage what I could out of the situation and attended Film School with aspirations to be a Writer/Director and attempting to distance myself from photography. Early on in my course studies I realized what a daunting task it would be to make an initially successful living writing screenplays. The months after my graduation bore this fear out and I was forced to lean heavily on my photographic training and seek employ on productions as a Gaffer (Chief Lighting Technician). After my first day on set Gaffing a Z-grade feature film (starring horror Scream Queen, Linnea Quigley), my actual education began. Attrition was my best teacher, as the first 18 months after graduating I slaved on B-movies, independent feature films, independent short films, commercials, thesis films, et al; and what those productions lacked in pay they made up for in knowledge and experience.
My early background in photography led directly to a freelance career in lighting and cinematography in the motion picture industry. In 2005 I took the next logical step and incorporated my own production company, Cage XXI Enterprises. Its original intent was to provide high-end 16mm and 35mm concept-driven commercial production to the Florida market. This was born of my heavy preference for film as a shooting medium and of using traditional structured film production techniques, hierarchy, and equipment. Using this business model we produced many stylized commercial spots, mostly for the housing industry during the “boom”. After a few years of producing a plethora of work for some unscrupulous clients and much professional and personal introspection, I restructured my company to solely produce creative projects and abandon any and all corporate commercial productions. Cage XXI now exists solely to fashion creative projects of intelligence and substance. I now focus my efforts toward narrative films, music videos, and conceptual fine-art photography.
Having the resources of my own production company has allowed me to explore a different realm of photography. The entirety of my photographic work is born of the mentality that every shoot is unique and both deserves and requires stylization based upon that uniqueness. My use of a camera and film is rooted in a creationist mindset; they are mechanisms that I utilize to forge an image, not merely document one. I have hybridized my approach(es) to still photography and cinematography, my still work is just as structured and manufactured as when I light, frame, direct, and shoot a scene for a narrative film. I am a conceptual photographer that plans, casts, builds, lights, arranges, and shoots stills as if they were a simply a movie or scene without motion. This extends even to landscape/exterior photography, as I prefer to dictate how an environment should appear versus what reality shows.
Why do you prefer film?
When I began shooting, film was the only option. Even to shoot on an amateur-level back then required a more intimate understanding of photographic processes than is necessary for an entry-level shooter in the digital era. I found that the more I learned about cameras, film stocks, optics, chemistry, and lighting, the more I could affect the final image. This was most true of the choice of film stock, as each one has unique imaging characteristics. I’ve spent my career shooting and studying film and I’ve found that it offers the most variety of in-camera shooting options and styles. Where I’ve found that modern digital imaging is lacking is that the camera and imaging medium are a single unit. When you shoot a Nikon camera, your photo is going to be indicative of every other Nikon camera of that model. With film I can grab my 4x5 view camera or one of my old Mamiya’s or Zeiss’s, and load it with whatever film I want, or even make my own, as film technology is a dual-format system.
This allows me to customize a lens, camera, and film shooting package for each individual production. It’s not an argument that film is better than digital, it’s that film is better for me and style of shooting. I often do intrusive camera modifications that would destroy a digital camera and I also employ alternative chemical processes to achieve my desired styles. As a conceptual photographer I base my choice of a camera and film stock on a preconceived style and intent. I achieve my unique imagery by utilizing standard and obscure film stocks, chemical/physical alteration of film, mechanical alteration of cameras/optics, in conjunction with experimental techniques that I’ve hybridized with classical cinematography. I employ the literal art of photography as a plastic medium to make impressionistic and abstracted images; not to document but to forge an image. My work is a stark contrast to modern digital imaging and my methodology can be construed as a visceral and consciously antithetical commentary on contemporary photographic styles.
What is your favorite camera, film, or piece of gear?
I’ve never had one and I likely never will. Every piece of equipment has limitations, to become emotionally attached to a single camera, lens, or whatever, limits your options creatively. Given the nature and style of my work I am more often distressed by what the gear cannot accomplish rather than what it is doing for me. This is why I rely heavily upon modified cameras, filters, optics, etc. Often these mods are a one time use deal, either because I don’t want to repeat myself creatively or sometimes it simply does’t survive the rigors of shooting.
The same goes for film. I’ve been shooting some stocks for over 20 years, but I (almost) always process, filter, expose, and manipulate them differently. The closest emulsion I’ve ever had to a favorite would have to be the discontinued Kodak EIR Color Infrared film. It’s a very costly and temperamental stock that always has an air of mystery surrounding its results.
Where do your ideas come from?
The one question that every artist hates! There’s no single answer for this, as some concepts come from personal events, societal observations, and sometimes I just want to tell a good dark story with an interesting picture. It’s as much a fictional outlet as a cathartic one. Each photo or series of photo’s have their own unique background. There have been many occasions where I’ve altered original screenplays or segments of screenplays into a still photo series. This is often a more budget friendly option than shooting an entire narrative film.
Whose work influenced you the most?
As a photographer I’ve oddly never found myself influenced or inspired by other photographers. Which is not to say that I do not like photographers, it’s just that I derive little direct inspiration from their work. In my youth I attempted to find other photographers that inspired me, because I dumbly assumed that I was supposed to. My styles, methodologies, and intent are so divergent from most photographers that I feel as if I have little in common creatively. Films, literature, and music fill the void left by contemporary photography. My artistic influences owe a huge debt to Russian and Japanese filmmakers and films, 50’s Film Noir, numerous American and Canadian horror authors, classic literature, comic books, Travis Smith, Dave McKean, and the American and European Black Metal scene. Music may be my biggest emotional influence on my work, as it is an omnipresent force in pre-production, production, post-production, and exhibition.
Now It's Dark,
Tony "Chainsaw" Myles