ANTHONY TAFURO invited me to his massive Astoria apartment (he has a real dining room table!) for a chat about his work and to meet his dog. A Tierney Fellowship recipient, the Long Island born photographer discusses the development of his new project, his approach to documentary, and the dark moment he faced while finishing one of his more recent projects.
LISA: Tell me about Escape Clause
ANTHONY: I started working on those pictures in the summer [of senior year at Parsons], way before school even started. Here is this idea of the end of the world. I wanted to make pictures that warned of a fictional world that this happens to. All of these different moments- like a guy jumping over a fence, a person going through a light tunnel- to give those signs. Escape Clause is about warnings. Do you want to take a ticket out? Do you want to escape the whole idea of living through that situation?
All of this was actually kind of going on as this conspiracy. Like, aliens are going to come and take us away or something. All of these nerds living with their grandmas in their basements, wanting the world to end, all excited that it was going to. I was talking to people who genuinely thought something apocalyptic was going to happen.
LISA: Did you need to make up your own mind about the world ending to finish the project?
ANTHONY: Yeah, yeah I did. The last month [of the project] was dark for me. But I had to finish it. But now this new project follows up to it. Part of it’s about having a higher volume images, and technical things that are different too. It’s also about Photography. It’s not all nice, medium format images.
LISA: What’s your new project about?
ANTHONY: It picks up where Escape Clause left off. The new project addresses the questions of, “What if that did really happen?” It’s going towards things like religion and science. Different answers to life other than something science-fiction driven. It’s also about Photography. Craigslist images and stuff. There are more pictures, and there are technical things that are different too. It’s more of a range: digital, 35 mm, large format, and its not limited to one kind of genre either. It’s kind of like a challenge for me.
I think the new project has some more commercial moments too.
LISA: What do you mean by commercial?
ANTHONY: The way the images are lit, and the presence behind the image. Its trying to make you feel better about yourself or feel better about what it’s displaying. But the genre I’m shooting is really not a happy genre.
It also deals with trading marking images and images on Craigslist and how they’re used. It’s partly about photographs being photographs. Look at each single image; it’s what I edit for. I’ll show the images how I want them to be seen.
LISA: How did the Barrier Kult project come about?
ANTHONY: I was hanging out with my friend, Jonny, and we were talking about Bone Death.
LISA: What’s Bone Death?
ANTHONY: It’s this event down south where they gather road kill and they do skateboarding and bike tricks over that. I don’t know, it just came up somehow, you just hear about this stuff. I always try to think about, if I can take something like skateboarding and make it more interesting. Barrier Kult came up.
LISA: In some of the images you’re an observer, slightly voyeuristic, and sometimes you’re a participant, literally right behind your subject. How do you navigate your interaction when shooting documentary?
ANTHONY: You want to get really close, but you also want to get the long landscape shots- a lot of it is about the pacing. It also depends on the subject matter, if they allow you- if they give you awesome ideas to work with. It’s also great to work with people who tell you, “Oh no this isn’t what we’re about” and, “That’s not the right representation of what were about.” That helps a lot too. It’s always different. I think it should also be about your style, what you’re into, what are your inspiration. Get into them. We’re in a world where everything is so personal.
LISA: Where do you look for inspiration?
ANTHONY: I’ll be watching a movie and or a scene and I’ll think, “This is a perfect way to appropriate that one kind of idea I had” Or I’ll watch an episode of the Twilight Zone. Or I’ll look at something a little different, like a video game, or something that mimics a horror genre or something weird. I think that’s why I’ve chosen photography as my element of expression. With photographs you can trick people.
And the inspiration I find is not from other photographs. I look at images and I admire them, and you take something away and that’s great. But I think it’s important to find your inspiration in other forms.
LISA: You seem to have an interesting is some of these smaller sub-cultures.
ANTHONY: That’s the kind of lifestyle I was a part of. I was in a band, all of my friends were from all different high schools so we hung out and played shows along Long Island. It was important to have a group, and meet up, and it definitely felt like our own kind of subculture. With my own work, it’s very personable. I don’t know of any other reason to take pictures of other than things that interest me.
LISA: What don’t you like about photography?
ANTHONY: There are a lot of people tied up with becoming a photographer. Or making “the perfect picture.” Or people who talk about pictures they want to make. I think that’s great, but talking is bland. Go make it them. I just want to make pictures. I don’t really care about all of the other little things.
Or mood-boarding, with 1,000s of reference images. If it needs to look like this then there’s no trust in the photographers. I also think good photographers are just really good editors. I think you need to go out there and make pictures. You need to go out there and make it and stop just talking about it.
LISA: As a kid, did you see photography as this thing you could do with your life? Did you always want to be a photographer?
ANTHONY: I went to Catholic school as a kid, and I was always failing. I had too many drawings in my notebooks. I wanted to make comics books or concept art. I wanted people to tell me, “I need a monster that looks like this. Draw it.” I wanted to be that. I also wanted to be an astronaut. I wanted to turn ideas into visuals. I think that’s also why I was drawn to film. So many great films are based off of books, and so many books you read you visualize as a movie. I never visualize myself as the main character or narrator. I visualize it as I’m watching a film rendition of the book. I’ve always wanted creative opportunities to work with that type of storytelling content.
Check out Anthony’s work here.