Bizarre Animals

LOS ANGELES, CA

Sometime early last spring Tucker Leary and I decided Spark and Fizz Records would release his long-fussed over side project, Bizarre Animals. This collection of portraits and strange sitings brought him back to photography as his art form while he sold his talents to the fashion industry. The pictures span several years, covering both his time in Boston and points north, as well as his more recent experiences in LA.

We sat on his balcony late one night and talked about the zine.

BIZARRE ANIMALS: Click here to pre-order

Spark & Fizz: Let’s start with the cover.Tucker Leary: The cover image is a photograph of my own hand.  It was an experiment, but it worked surprisingly well. I wanted to capture the moment of ignition for a flame, the process. You know you can watch slo-mo videos of mechanical processes, like guns shooting and shit. Really I just wanted to see if I could catch it. I got the picture, but there was never actually any flame. I just sparked this lighter––so this is a picture of a flame going out instead of catching.

Did you shoot everything on film?Yes, it’s a mix between medium format and 35 mm.

How’d you get the title?“Bizarre animals” comes from this photo from the Harvard Natural History Museum, this sort of found poem. It’s just such an abrupt and matter of fact way to describe a giant ground sloth.

If my Uncle Rick was here––he does heating and ventilation––he might ask: Why is this art?

I love that question actually. These two portraits are both from the same time period, both portraits of people who are good friends of mine. The picture of Chris is a formally structured portrait. There’s like an art school language to it where you have a subject looking off who is very rigidly posed. I had him stand and photographed him like a magazine cover. It is an assembled photograph, where I’m trying to put him at art status just by his posture. It’s about giving attention to him, giving him more power in the photograph.

John’s is very in the moment, sitting on the porch. It’s much more casual, but I think this angle still elevates the subject. You can see the frame is a little low on both of them. That’s an old magazine thing.

The Citizen Kane thing.Yeah, politicians, CEOs, have their portraits taken this way. This photo of John is basically a quiet moment during a street hockey game. There’s people hanging out in street hockey gear around him outside the frame. But I really wanted it to be about John, just sitting in a moment on a porch in an usually warm spring day.

Is John happy in that picture?It’s hard to know. He probably is. But John’s a person I always like photographing because he’s a hard person to read, there’s a lot going on in his expression. He doesn’t pose for photographs the way Chris does, who’s always ready, knows how he looks.

Looks in the mirror more maybe.Definitely. I don’t wanna say he’s vain––well he kind of is. It’s just he knows more about his appearance, about how he’s photographed, whereas John is a little more of an open book.

Why did you decide to pair these two pictures?

Here [on the left] Zoë was lit by taillights of my car. We were going to The Last Bookstore downtown and she was standing behind the car. I stepped on the brake for a second, saw her in the mirror, then had my friend hold the brake down so I could take this picture. There is a play of artificial lights going on—the experience of the world here is artificial, downtown Los Angeles.

This picture of her [on the right] is maybe the next day. It’s the total opposite. Everything is natural, we’re out by the ocean.

Here hair isn’t styled…It’s a less constructed moment.

Is this collection of pictures autobiographical for you?Yeah all my pictures are autobiographical. The conclusion of my dropout art school career was…

You dropped out?Right before my last semester, I ran out of money.

I thought you snuck by, I guess.Bounced. I’d like to go back, I’d like to finish.

Anyway, for my big project during my last semester, I’d photograph things from memory. My absolute greatest fear is Alzheimer’s… memory loss. My grandfather had Alzheimer’s, but my grandmother was so sharp for so long. She would repeat the same stories to me but every now and then she would just throw out a brand new one from 1935. That’s what i want, to be sharp. I’m just so afraid of forgetting things.

I’m really forgetful anyway. I forget everything.

So the danger of doing autobiographical stuff where you have layers and layers of associations…And how does that translate to somebody who doesn’t know the people? The idea of Bizarre Animals as a collection of photographs is they can all fit under the category of bizarre animals by being, at least hopefully, strong photographs of people.

So you put this together while working as a fashion photographer. How did that affect your choices?Well it pushed me to make it. With very little exception I really dislike a lot of––at least contemporary–fashion photography. It’s the whole corporate photo thing. I like work that can’t exist as fashion.

But the job’s given me time and money for film, and Los Angeles is a good place to take pictures… although I have no subjects since none of my friends live here. Every photo I’ve taken since I’ve moved here are landscapes, except when people visit.

Bizarre Animals will be released in Somerville, MA as part of our Sparks at the Armory series.