Monday, March 10, 2014

Q & A with Isaac Skinatas

Isaac Skinatas

Isaac Skinatas is CEO of Skinacam Corp and the founder and former moderator of the Isaac Skinatas Photographic Destruction Group "the greatest group that has ever been created in the history of mankind."  Since he was recently kidnapped and rendered unable to report to duty, control of the group has been transferred to an able team of Skinabots.

BA: I like your humor. I think we should have a chat about the photo world. Interested?

IS: yes why not
what are the conditions?
the format...
the diffusion
Why do you want to do this?

Because I am curious about you. You are tough to read. I'd like to know more.

More truth or more fun?

What's the difference?

Well if you're in to find out WHO the real Skinatas is, you will be disappointed. I am in it for the fun as usual.

So tell me how you first became interested in photography. Assuming you are interested.

Blake, I wish I could tell you my grandfather brought me to a glorious exhibition which changed my life or that I experienced an orgasm when I saw a picture appear in the developer but the truth is that I do not even remember how and when I became interested in photography. 

I am excited by a lot of subjects and foremost classical music which is my real passion.  Through the years I have accumulated quite a large collection of photographic books and developed a sincere affection for some photographers and their work. Currently, I'd say I am more interested in the dynamics of the photographic society than the massive amount of products being created everyday and everywhere.

Are you a classical musician?

I am no longer a classical musician. I still write about classical music though.

What is your instrument? Do you still play sometimes for fun, either by yourself or with others?

Violin. I still play for pleasure but not with others. I was recently asked to play in a rock band but I quickly got bored by the repetitive patterns. My technique has decreased drastically. It is an instrument you need to practice on everyday or else you lose the purity of the sound and start sounding off. It is as in Nétotchka Nezvanova by Dostoyevsky. Your violin starts sounding as desperate as you do. This is not tolerated. Classical music performing is a strict discipline and one in which the performer has to have the deep humility to devote himself to a piece. You give yourself to someone else (the composer) I think this structure makes it different from modern photography in which most people honestly think of themselves as Stravinskis and Bartoks while they should just be learning to copy the masters for 15-20 years before deciding if they actually have something substantial to say. 

Do you think a photograph can evoke the depth of emotional response that music can? For you personally?

The emotional response I get from music is much more precise, complex, and intense than anything I have experienced through photography. Music is, for me, a physical experience while photography is only indirectly physical. Photography is a game of juxtaposed and elaborate filters. A lot of the raw matter gets lost in the process. I enjoy feeling the matter out of things and I feel that photography is taking more and more distance from the substance it is made out of. It is not only about the digital image but about the print disappearing. Photography is turning more and more into a very limited language far removed from the original photographed substance (light). It is photography's link with reality which is burdening it. Distinctively, music is always real because it doesn't need to constantly be compared to reality. It just is.

What are some of your favorite photo books? 

"Memories" by Seiichi Furuya is the only book that changed my life. Aside from this, "The Solitude of Ravens" by Fukase is an authentic example of photographic exorcism.  There are many books...

How can you be so blasé about something that changed your life? What made you want that book? What changed your life? Please expound.

I first saw one of Seiichi Furuya’s pictures at the Metropolitan in New York about 15 years ago. A woman in front of a lake with an old Leica M around her neck smiling. I moved on as I thought the picture was boring. I passed again as I was leaving and I then noticed the scars on the woman’s neck and arms. A small almost imperceptible detail that changed the picture’s meaning. I bought the book and became fascinated by this tale of a photographer following his wife until her death by suicide. It was like a photographic execution or sacrifice. I never had seen such precise violence coming from a photographer towards his model. After all, these were pictures of casual life. 

People will want to compare it with Araki’s work on his wife but this is very different. Furuya’s project is about a photographer who has chosen photography over another human being. This is most probably not conscious but indicated by fascinating parapraxes along the sequence. After Furuya, I started seeing photography as a very risky adventure. I suppose that it modified my life in this manner. Photography started becoming a potentially violent tool with the fascinating power games surrounding it. 

What you interpret as me being blasé is an actual preoccupation with the direction photography is taking. The system by which you are making workers pay to be exploited or running after illusionary awards is more cynical than I will ever be. Photographers should be creating photography products and selling them but their egos have become the largest consumers in this market. A large majority of photographers have agreed to lower their product price by going as far as paying for their work to be shown or reviewed.  There is a loss of link in between works' prices and their actual value.  It reminds me of this quote by Oscar Wilde “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” 

You say there is a disconnect between value and price in photography and I agree. But it's not entirely photography's fault. It's due to photography getting wrapped up in the art world in which prices often seem completely arbitrary, spurred on by speculation and investors which tend to skew prices in their own way. Is a pork belly really worth $5? Then maybe a photo can be worth $5,000.

Regarding what you have said about price vs value, I do not have much to add as I agree with your observations. Photography’s absurd prices are related to its participation in the art world. I was more specifically speaking about the many photographers who never actually make it into the art world. They are ready to decrease their work’s value to such an extent that they will be begging with their entire fortune to enter the big room. They are contributing to this confusion by not not knowing how much they are worth and by asking other people to set their prices for them. 

The photographers are the ones to blame for the current situation. Photography's democratization has made it almost impossible for them to regroup in order to come up with a reaction strategy.  When it was decided that everyone could be a photographer, it was made sure that very quickly, no one or anyone could become one. The Elites have a reason to be. It is thanks to an elitist system that we are still able to listen to a Scarlatti sonata today. If we had not protected excellence, it would have been dead and crushed by the numbers.

I disagree. Just because there are many photographers now does not diminish the abilities of the strong ones. Maybe you need to work hard to weed through the crap now, but there are still many strong shooters out there. In fact photography's democratization is not a new thing. It has always been an accessible form, and that's part of its appeal. Pencils and paper are widely available to all. They don't prevent you from enjoying good novels. Maybe its accessibility is part of why photographers lack humility. The art seems so easy that anyone reaches a moderate skill in just a few years. In classical music the learning curve is much more clearly defined to everyone involved.

I agree with your general interest in "dynamics of the photographic society". 

I think you might have misunderstood me. I did not mean there were no strong shooters. Should we carry on even if you are bouncing back on something I do not mean?

Sorry if I misunderstood. I was reacting to your discussion of elites and the protection of excellence. You claim the democratization of photography threatens the position of the elites. So I'm merely pointing out that they aren't threatened. They're still there, you just need to dig to find them. Maybe this will become a bigger problem in 20 years when some future resident (or Skinabot) needs to sort through it all and decide what has value, and some Scarlatti sonatas may well be tossed along with the rest of it.

Let me specify my idea of an elite in photography. I agree with you that there are many strong photographers out there now. The amount of photographers has not changed the fact that there will always be very talented image makers.  I do however think that these photographers are not “protected” by the system.  I think classical music managed a great trick when it set itself apart from the rest of music. This prevented the audience from ever comparing Debussy and Britney Spears. They simply are not doing the same job. 

The current situation in photography is different. Everything is thrown into the same well. I do not know anyone who is profiting from this system. Photographers can longer assess their levels. They are lost and do not know who to turn to improve. You have paradoxical situations where one very talented photographer will completely depreciate his abilities and another mediocre one will think of himself as a medium revolutionary. This contributes to photographers’ lack of humility. They decide for themselves who they are and evolve into their own restricted circles which is very depressing for themselves and photography as a whole. 

What is your assessment of Flak Photo Network? Why did you decide to participate there under an assumed name?

I started participating on the Slak Photo Network under my real name (Isaac Skinatas). I wanted to test controversial ideas and provoke people and assess how far photographers or photo thinkers were ready to go in their thinking. It is a great place to evaluate medium level photographers’ current psychology. Something that started as a farce slowly turned into a social phenomenon. I started realizing that some people were enjoying Skinatas’ comical and non compromising approach. I considered committing Skinacide about sixty times but each time I am stopped by this idea that I could not live without myself.

I think we both agree the photo world is out of whack. So what is your prescription for fixing it? What would an ideal photo world look like, with ideal review mechanisms and price points and training, etc.

At the Skinacam facility in Skinshasa, we are constantly testing new products to destroy present photography to later rebuild it with a healthier foundation. Everybody knows our landmark product: The Skinatas License for a Camera:  In the following months the final product will be launched and from then on, only worthwhile photographers (as chosen by a jury which will include myself alone) will get this license. All attempts at making a picture by a non licensee will result to an individual nuclear destruction (including surrounding neighborhood.) My license will help a recognizable elite of photographers to stand out from all this photography democratization which is burying raw talent. 

Another measure is that Skinacam.corp will ban pictures of famous people. When the world will run out of pictures of famous people, the magazines will once again have to buy stories and documentaries involving unknown individuals. This will create a market. The next step will be about using that new power to take photography out of the Art market which is currently destroying it. The Art market, like all stock markets, has greatly contributed in creating disproportions in between values and cost. It has created absurd inequalities. The art photography market has also created this terrible new breed of boring conceptual onanists touring the world with their fridge magnets exhibitions.  Photography has to be less democratic for its viewers and fairer for its producers. 

It will become forbidden to present work for free. People who will want to consume photography will have to pay for it.  Free exhibitions will be destroyed. Web galleries will only be allowed to consist of 10% of the final work. Paid photography reviews will be banned. All photographers will be forced to help educate the next generation of photographers for no income. The "Arles Rencontres de la Photographie" will be moved to Skinshasa and renamed "The Isaac Skinatas Photographic Destruction Festival" There won't be any photo exhibitions any longer as a recent study has given us proof that photographers only care about their own work and do not enjoy other people's exhibitions. Instead of wasting time in boring exhibitions, the festival will concentrate on what photographers really want which is finding someone to get drunk and have sex with. Aside from the money coming from Skinacam.corp we already have two additional sponsors: "Ricard" the pastis brand and Durex the best engineered condoms in the world.  

Another main measure will involve books.  Makers of mediocre photography books will soon be fined and forced to recycle the paper from their unsold book during a customized jail sentence in our new prison facility in the Philippines. Blake...we're doing so much that it would take a book to explain it all. I am very optimistic about the future of photography. I think that some things are really starting to come together in style.

Here's a question you asked on ISDG. What is the perfect award for a photographer?

To keep his creative energy and work intact from the photographic circus’ mediocrity while still managing to reach an interesting audience. To find the constant resources to make his work evolve and to continue finding joy in the process. In other words, the greatest reward for a photographer is to keep on being a photographer without hiding in a hole. Lastly, and to crown it all, if you can get the Skinatas Camera License, you’ll be the happiest photographer alive.

How old are you? Where did you grow up?

My birth papers were lost when our house was set on fire by political  opponents.  My father, Ezra Skinatas was a diplomat, we therefore moved every 3 years from a continent to another. I really do not feel that I come from any place and detest any notion of patriotism or nationalism.

Asking you questions is like interviewing an actor who is always in character. Are you Andy Kaufman? Anyway, your Facebook profile says you live in Switzerland which I suppose explains your lack of nationalism. What is the photo scene like there in Geneva? 

What about some personal info? How old? Are you married or in a relationship? Kids? Family? Job? Anything? If it's too personal you could just assign some Skinabots to this question.

I do not know what you are talking about when you say “actor”. I am Isaac Skinatas owner of Skinacam.corp a company devoted to the destruction of photography. That is all the knowledge people need to possess. My biography is irrelevant. What matters is my plan. I’m a modest guy and do not like discussing my private details. In addition, I would find these minutiae sleep inducing if I were the reader. Let’s discuss some relevant topics such as my glorious “Isaac Skinatas Photographic Destruction Group” which is quickly becoming the place to discuss serious photography on Facebook. We could also talk about my next invention or anything that you can think about which does involve me whining about my childhood with John Williams music playing loudly in the background.

Fair enough. I agreed not to pry and you're welcome to divulge as much or as little as you want. I disagree that your biography is irrelevant or uninteresting. Without that info the answers become more of a shell game, sort of intriguing but with not much impact. It's the same with photos. The knowledge of who made the photo and what they are trying to express is often a great aid in understanding them. As for the Skinatas Group, I'm not sure I'd agree it's the place for serious discussion of photography but it has developed into an interesting corner. Since it has its roots in Flak Photo, how do you think it compares? 

The future will tell what kind of impact Isaac Skinatas will have. There is no shell so there is no point in trying to break it or look past it. We are here to write a story. There is no reality and there has never been. I refuse to enter your game of reduction. You have asked to interview Isaac Skinatas and this who you are interviewing. If you are looking for someone else, I can assign a Skinabot to assist you. 

Regarding my glorious group, let me tell you why it is on its way to becoming the only relevant Facebook group on photographers. Firstly it is run by a man of great creativity and intelligence: Isaac Skinatas. It is not a boring group with democratic rules tailored so that every pixel producing idiot can give his opinion as if it was a rare diamond. It is not a hobbyist group.  My group is about paradoxes. I ban, delete all that is irrelevant. However, if you manage to excel in mediocrity I will keep your art for everybody’s enjoyment. I want the geniuses to discuss with the tramps. I do not want a middle class group. This endeavor is about assessing the damages that have been inflicted to photography. It is not an open wall for anyone to ejaculate his narcissistic personality disorder through useless debates that only remotely relate to photographers’ everyday reality. The ISPDG is an experiment to redefine photography’s practices, violently challenging photographers in their certainties, and eliminating the crippling, diplomatic and hypocritical taboos that are stopping the discipline from overcoming its present adversity. The Skinatas Photographic Destruction group is an individual artistic project with a strong editorial drive. All promoted topics are about photographers looking at themselves in the mirror and attempting to raise their game. The ISPDG is made up and followed by cosmic photographers such as Olivier Pin Fat, Luca Desienna, Jean Christian Bourcart, Cristina  De Middel, Nicolas Janowski etc.... It is a group of practicing photographers or individuals highly active in the process of making fine arts photography. I do not want my group to take the democratic and academic turn other groups have taken. The ISPDG also has the aim of promoting works of great quality. I will show photography that has often been overlooked by the American crowd. I will interview photographers that I like, do not like but always respect. I will produce authored content and not let a bunch of individuals build my monument while pushing my “like” button from afar. I want to be involved with photographers in their craft and deep ideas.  
How does make money?

Skinacam.corp’s main income comes from the sales of “The Skinacam” which is the world’s most evolved camera. We have other products which are getting increasing attention such as “The Skinabrain” or the “The Skinagun.” We also sell military products to militias such as the “Skinatanks” or “Skinashnikovs”. In addition to all of that, we own and have invaded 2 countries: The Skinatas Administered Republic of Congo ( with its natural resources) and the Philippines that we have invaded in an hour, right after the typhoon. Our growth is so gigantic that it has become a problem for the management to keep up.

I'll keep an eye on ISPDG to see how it develops. 

Did you read my glorious Cristina De Middel interview?

Yes I read the De Middel interview. Glorious. There was one quote in particular which caught my attention, when Middel says "I would definitely make a successful book about you because you are a very good character and obviously master fact and fiction, which is one of my fields of action." I think her analysis of you is quite similar to your analysis of photography. There is a removal from reality which activates the art. And when you say "it is photography's link with reality which is burdening it," I almost have the sense you're describing yourself. That you want to transcend the real world and become a mind without concrete ties, perhaps one kept alive by Skinabot machines. 

I disagree completely by the way. For me photography's convoluted relationship with reality is the root of its appeal. It is appealing in a way that, for example, the number 5 can never be. For numbers are pure human constructs, like music. What is your opinion or fate, accident, and coincidence. Do they exist or not? What about God?  

I believe in the order of chaos. What appears to be confusion is governed by precise rules. I believe in both the desire to order things or the need to generate disorder. I think both energies are necessary.  A glass is destroyed following precise physical rules although it appears to be a mess for the uneducated person describing the phenomenon. Striking light on chaos provides relief for some while creating unsettlement for others. I could live with fate existing but not as an occult theory. I would see it as a system which we can feel or notice but for which we do not have a present explanation. Whether actions are fate, accident or coincidences is a question of interpretation.  Although a large part of events occurring are beyond my control, I try to remain an interventionist. I constantly ask myself how my input will change the world. Too many people use fate to justify their laziness and mediocrity. We have to carry our natural condition yes but there is also a part of it that we can change.

If I had to draw a line, I would rule out occult beliefs as they can harm both the individual and the society.  The occult should be handled by educated minds.

I have outcasted myself from religion practices but I believe in God. Spiritual life is an intimate practice as is sexuality. It is filled with black boxes, violence and intense love. It is a subject I could not debate about as it is based on very precise emotions reached through individual experiences.

What photos do you own? Either fine art or family snaps?

Aside from the many prints I was given by photographers over the years, I own an August Sander print and a Seiichi Furuya print. One of them is this one:

My Wife in Joy and Sorrow, 1911, August Sander

and the other is this one: 

Schattendorf, 1981, Seiichi Furuya

I myself do not take pictures anymore but I’ve gathered (like everybody) a collection of memories and snapshots over the years.


Dan HAYON said...


Gordon said...

I feel sort of half hand jobbed after ten minutes reading all that. The Skinatag backstory would be fine if it was amusing but it is sort of ornate In a silly way and pretty much submerges the real ideas of value here. It would be cool to see someone advance a nice and biting critique of this sweet and screwed up photography village we live in but there is too much skinatas branding in these screeds for my taste. Though the licensing is brilliant. If only. IS should be sending these out. And sometimes with restrictions printed on them. I sort of love the use of a character as it could be a brilliant critical shield for his/her photo vendetta - creating the opportunity for anonymous honesty is so very smart. The Skinacrusade should live on but all of the mythmaking and backstory threatens to bog it all down. We are not quite to Kaufman I think, closer to Joaquin Phoenix maybe for now. But that guy is interesting too.

Anonymous said...

Gordon read my blog, this is where the real stuff is happening.

Isaac Skinatas

M_Avina said...

Would love to know if Skinatas has read The Birth of Tragedy. Nietzsche properly lays out the relationship between still forms such as sculpture (and perhaps photography) and music--and argues in favor of music as a superior form. For my money it is the alpha and omega on aesthetics.