An Interview with Lost America's Troy Paiva
Last week we asked Photographica to come up with some questions for Troy Paiva of Lost America. For those that do not know Troy, I recommend you read his wonderfully written back story and learn about his technique as well.
Read on for his answers to your questions...
How much coffee did you drink on these long trips? (Blizzard)None. Too acidy for my tired old esophagus. I sure drink a lot of iced tea, Coke and Mountain Dew though . . .
What's the longest period of time you went without sleeping? (Blizzard)Not that long really. Maybe 20-24 hours. What I am good at is getting by on 2-3 hours of bad sleep for 5 days in a row.
Did you ever have the misfortune of your car breaking down in the middle of nowhere? If so,what was that experience like? What was the tow truck driver like and was he a local? (Blizzard)One trip I got my old Nissan pick-up stuck in some soft sand on a dirt road south of Amboy CA. I was taking a spur road out to some dunes and I sank right up to the frame instantly. The middle of nowhere, more than 10 miles from the nearest paved road. I had to hike out. It was mid-day, damn hot. I had hiked about 7 miles, most of the afternoon when a car finally came along. It was driven by a French tourist who didn't speak a word of English. He smiled and nodded at my gestures and sound effects for getting stuck in the sand and handed me a warm can of Coke. In Amboy I found the Southern Pacific office and one of the foremen drove me out and dragged the truck out with his big company 4x4. Nice guy. I know you might have been expecting some horror story, but the worst part about it was that I lost most of a day on the road . . . and I had to drink a warm Coke.
What's the craziest thing you ever did to get the perfect shot? What's the most dangerous thing you did to get the perfect shot? (Blizzard)I don't really think of what I do as particularly crazy. Dangerous, occasionally, but not really crazy. When I think of some of the places I've snuck into . . . had I been caught, a night in jail would have been expected. I've been run off by shotgun toting land-owners with crazed looks in their eyes. Recently I shot at night in West Oakland, the murder capital of the USA. A rough place packed with people ready to hit you in the head with a brick and steal your gear. I've hid in the shadows for a half hour to avoid roaming gangs of vandals who suddenly appear and start to bust up the very place I'm shooting.
What makes the difference, in your opinion, between a very nice photo in a frame in my home, and a great photo in a gallery worth top dollar? (Dirkbag)The traffic volume.
Seriously, that depends on the work you have hanging in your house, doesn't it? Look, artistic merit is in the eye of the beholder. When I go to the MOMA, I generally hate 75% of the work hanging there. So much of it is bogus and empty conceptual jive with no chops to back it up. I could rant on for hours about Duchamp's Urinal and blank white canvasses wasting space there, but who am I to say? It's just a judgment call. So really, your question, as it's worded, is unanswerable.
What percentage does luck (and/or blessing of the God[s]) play into major success in photography? Or is success due simply to hard, steadfast dedication 100%? (Dirkbag)I'll let you know when I have major success. From where I sit on the foodchain, it's been 90% hard work, dedication, persistent self-marketing and 10% the images themselves. It's a constant struggle to get the work seen.
Troy, I love the Salton Sea Series. I have been captivated and mystified by the area for years now. But, I am afraid to take photos there during the day. How was it shooting there at night? And any run in with the locals there, who can be quite an interesting bunch? (AnyMoose Hero)Thanks. Yeah, the Salton Sea is a fascinating place, ripe for photographers and all artists in general. It's a very stimulating environment. Sadly, many of the locations I've shot there are now gone. There has been a lot of clean-up of the area as it's reputation as a hell hole has been documented for decades. The locals are trying to change the area's image, but it's an uphill battle. It's a lonely place with many isolated areas where you will see no one at all, even during the day. I actually shot out there in the nude once. The middle of the night and it was still over 100. No one around for miles and no fear of being seen, and really, who cares?
Don't FEAR the locals anywhere you shoot. Sure, the locals at the sea are an interesting bunch, but they are just people. When encountering locals at night, chat them up. Be friendly and open. Most of them are more intimidated by you than you are by them. Yeah, I know, I mentioned the crazy guy with the shotgun already, but believe me, that is a very rare occurrence. Most of the time people will be more than helpful.
Do you shoot photos because you like them or with the idea that "oh, that will sell."? (Jellybean)OK, you win for most cynical question. I never shoot with the eye towards selling. I may see something when I get the film back (or download to the computer) that makes me say, "ooooh, yeah, nailed that!" I'm more of a fine art shooter than a commercial shooter. I shoot for me and if other people like it and want to buy it for fine art or commercial applications, well, that's just a bonus.
LOL Frankly, I don't sell enough work to say "That will sell", anyway!
What do you find to be the most difficult part of photography. (Jojames1)The hardest part for me is marketing. Finding an audience . . . that wants to spend $ on it.
What would you consider your weakness? (Jojames1)Kittens . . . oh, not that kind of weakness? What is this, a job interview? LOL
Some see my very style as a weakness in that I don't show a lot of versatility. Which I think is a load of bollocks. From where I sit, your work needs to have a specific look and a very defined style to even get noticed anymore. Exploit your gimmick and don't give in to naysayers or you will lose your credibility.
Just like in a job interview, it's question you should never really answer.
How do you approach people to get permission to shoot on their property at night? What words or phrases work to allay fears you are not some sort of nut and obtain that permission? What do you say to the sherrif when he asks, "Wut'r you doin' here at this hour?" (Porkchop)It comes back to that "don't fear the locals" thing. Act like you are doing nothing wrong and play it confidently. The old adage to "act like you own the place" (even if you have just been caught sneaking onto an active military base), is right on the mark. Act like a professional, like you do this all the time. So much of it is just attitude. Don't give them the chance to think you ARE a nut!
As far as talking owners into access. Carry samples of your work. If you are in print (a book or magazine) have that handy. Anything to give yourself credibility.
Offer prints. Cripes, you can get pretty decent online 11x14s for like 8 bucks now. That can be 8 bucks VERY well spent.
I've been given access by caretakers and night watchmen for a 6 pack of beer too. If you play it right, you might even get to drink a couple with the guy.
How does the lack of sleep on these longer drives effect your creativity? I know from my own experience that it effects me differently in the way I think at different stages of exhaustion. (Lifeonfilm)It can get pretty surreal. I like the way time compresses, how you feel like you've been on the road for a week and it's only been 2 days. When you factor in the long exposures where you are getting a large block of time onto a single frame at the same time, that's when things get complicated.
I consistently try to get this feeling of disorientation and time/space distortion onto film.
What are your favorite light sources for nighttime shots? (Photo Yaloo)Contrary to popular belief, it's the full moon. Most of my work is lit predominantly by moonlight. I love its softness and the way it liquefies moving clouds. But for the lightpainting, I use a Vivitar 285 flash the most. I also use a series of flashlights from a keychain sized single blue LED to a 1,000,000 candle power lamp. I have gels cut and just hand hold them over the light source.
Do you search for subjects in the light and imagine what it would look like at night or do you mainly look for these shots at night? (Photo Yaloo)Yes, scouting locations during the day is extremely helpful. Places look quite a bit different at night though, so when scouting during the day the main thing I look for are streetlights or other man made lights that will change the character of the shot and where the moon will be.
How do you obtain such vivid color in your shots? (Photo Yaloo)I use Roscoe brand gels, which are professional grade theater lighting gels. They are quite dense, yet translucent which gives very rich and vibrant color saturation. I wish I could tell ya that I just juice them in photoshop, but I don't . . . at all.
This is so cool you showed this.I happen to live in Monahans, I know all these places he shot here.This place is rapidly becoming a ghost town around here.The oilfield is winding down, fifty years of pulling oil out of the ground. I really like how he see's what others discard as a photo op. (Cameraeye)Thanks. I realize this was not a question, but it's worth a comment because I hear that last sentence a lot. It's the key to what I do. There's beauty in decay and death. The attraction to our own mortality, to the fact that our entire world and way of life is so fleeting, fragile and ultimately, doomed to extinction is what my work is all about.
What is the main difference in film and digital shooting at nite? What is the advantage of digital over film? (Cameraeye)Exposure lengths are shorter because the digital doesn't have reciprocity failure. I'm finding that the Tungsten setting in the D camera is not as blue as actual T balanced film. The really big thing for me though is simply the image preview on the back of the camera. Old hat for you digital shooters, but you have to understand that night shooting has always been a real crapshoot. It's a real "seat of the pants" thing loaded with 100s of variables that you have little or no control over. You just kinda wing it and hope you get the shot. I've lost SO MUCH work over the years from all kinds of stupid operator error and lighting miscues. Image preview is a huge advance for night shooting.
How do you break a creative rut? (throughtheeyesoflauramars)Walk away for a while. I was in a rut with my night shooting for most of the last year to the point where I did virtually none. I went off and did other creative pursuits like music and writing, which gave me a chance to see from a different perspective and recharge the batteries. I came back to night work when I was ready to come back to it.
Don't press. If you don't feel your muse, forcing it will only make it shy away even more.