This post is made possible by Lexus Hybrid as a new part of the Fresh Perspectives series that focuses on featuring disrupting and innovative transmedia artists around the world. Every Monday and Saturday, the program focuses on one of the six amazing artists involved in the Fresh Perspectives project.
Tod Seelie has photographed in over twenty countries on five different continents. Originally from Cleveland, he relocated to Brooklyn in 1997. His work has appeared in publications such as The NY Times, New York Magazine, Rolling Stone, Spin, Marie Claire, Men’s Journal, Thrasher, Vice, Art Forum, Art In America, Flash Art and Adbusters among others.
Fresh Perspectives Interview
by Geoff Carter
“There’s one significant major divide that most photographers fall into, on one side or another,” Tod Seelie says. “And that’s people who pre-plan and orchestrate their shots, and the people who are responding to what they see. I definitely fall on the latter side.”
Seelie is indeed a responsive photographer — perhaps one of the most responsive you’ve seen. The 32-year-old New Yorker isn’t just another point-and-shooter; every one of his shots has life, movement and depth, even the shots without people in them. And every one seems to tell a story.
“My favorite photographers are the ones best at creating narratives,” he says. “It could just be a personal bias, but I think that one of the strongest points of photography is the implied or obvious narrative.”
The narratives in Seelie’s work are strong, if a bit mysterious. One shot depicts a small crew of do-it-yourself fanatics floating on a raft they made of junk. Another depicts an airborne man in the split second before he lands on an enormous snow sculpture. And a particularly funny shot depicts the lobby of a federal building with a pair of guards charging into the frame, shouting.
“That one got me in trouble,” Seelie says, chuckling. “I kinda just stuck my arm out, got the shot and skedaddled.”
That’s a recurring event in Seelie’s photos: The action always appears to be charging at the lens, whether it’s a screaming freight train or a punk band in a tiny club. “You can kind of anticipate things,” he says. “Other times, it’s just being the one to stick your neck out to where you might get hurt to get that shot.”
While still fairly new to photography — he took up the camera full time in 2002, shortly before he graduated from Pratt Institute, where he studied sculpture — Seelie has a fully evolved compositional style that evokes the great photographers who came before him (he admires William Eggleston, among others), while strictly adhering to an individual vision.
For Fresh Perspectives, he created two photo projects based on the themes of challenge and escape — and in both cases, he left his comfort zone, if not his hometown.
To articulate escape, he journeyed to the Far Rockaway neighborhood in Queens to shoot some landscapes. “I tend to travel to make a lot of my work, so I kind of approached it as, ‘How would I escape within New York City?’ Far Rockaway is the end of the earth in New York City terms.”
He had several different ideas on how to approach challenge, ultimately deciding on doing a portrait, which isn’t as easy as it seems.
“It’s much more complex than seeking out a landscape because there are so many extra elements added to the mix,” Seelie says. “There’s the relationship between the photographer and the model; there’s how someone’s feeling that day; there’s the weather, and how that’s affecting someone. There’s a lot more pressure there because you don’t have all day to wander around aimlessly.”
More than anything else, it’s that wandering spirit that seems to guide Tod Seelie’s viewfinder. Whether he’s photographing a drummer hammering away on flaming cymbals, or urban knights jousting on bicycles, he’s always looking for a story he can tell — but not in its entirety. In Seelie’s mind, viewers should be free to create and apply their own story to one of his photographs.
“I’m a big fan of photojournalism, because oftentimes the story is not only implied but also spelled out in the captions,” he says. “I feel there are strengths to that, but there’s also strength in the work of photographers whose shots are more like fine art and don’t give you the whole story.”