Monday, October 28, 2019

Q & A with Louie Moskowitz

Louie Moskowitz is a photographer based in Redway, CA.

I've been digging your photos on IG. But I don't know much about you. How'd you starting taking photos?

Yeah, unfortunately but also fortunately IG is where I put my work up. I’ve met some great people that way. Considering I’ve never left my small town in the boondocks here, I’m very grateful for that.

I started taking photos on a cheap p&s my parents got me when I was 16, then 17 was the age I was allowed by my mom to have a small pot grow in the back yard next to her plants. Instead of saving or buying a car with the money I made, I spent more or less all of it on camera equipment, stuff I would never buy now. Haha. Then down the line I started shooting with a Yashicamat and that’s when I started turning to film, around 18 or 19. My father mainly is why I got interested.

Is he a photographer?

My Dad was an artist, a painter. He was born in the 40s and started coming up in the 70s. He got very famous in Japan and was a top selling poster artist in the states as well. Stewart Moskowitz was his name. I took a lot of photos of him at the start.

Sounds like a cool person.

He was very cool, drank a lot of wine, hung out in his studio every single day and night. But was a very loving man and a best friend.

Did he take photos too?

My dad took a lot of photos for reference for his paintings, and of family, but was not a photographer or a “techy” guy at all. Born in 1942 and painted his entire life, from when he drew with his own shit on the wall as a baby up to the week before he died. He is the reason I make art a part of my life. My great-grandfathers on my moms side were photographers. One, I have his Rolleicord that I still use, and his massive polaroid pathfinder.

So you grew up in Humboldt? On FB it says you're from Topanga. I thought you might've moved to Humboldt later.

Yes, I was born in Los Angeles and at 8 years old, when my dad was getting less and less money from Japan, we moved here to Humboldt. Redway, to be specific.

I was about 8 too when I first moved to Southern Humboldt.

Wow! Hahahaha.

Yeah, weird.

So great. What age were you when you left?

I lived there from 3rd grade up through high school, then left pretty much for good, although I would still go back to visit.

South Fork yeah?

Yeah, and I think they even had a darkroom back then. Redway School > Miranda Jr. High > SFHS.

Ahhh, I gotcha. I went to Redway school, Skyfish in Briceland, Whale Gulch school, and then to multiple different continuation schools in So-Hum. Never graduated though.

We lived out on Prairie Meadow Road about 2 miles up Elk Ridge.

Oh okay, wow! Then you really got the full experience of living here then if you were way up there!

I don't think there's any definitive experience but I fully enjoyed my childhood there. Wouldn't trade it for anything. My life now is very removed from that scene. So when I saw that you were there in that place making photos, it kinda struck a chord. I knew zero people making photos back then. As I said, I think the high school had a darkroom, and I vaguely remember some students with cameras, maybe for yearbook? As for the rest of the community maybe photography was happening? But if so I was oblivious. Certainly no street photos or anything in that vein.

I love photographing this area, wouldn’t change it for anything. And yes, there’s a lot of people taking photos here, but mainly of skylines and the stars and more landscape photos. I could say negative things about the photos of our area in this age that become popular, but I’ll sound like a jackass… which for the most part I am.

Well, there's that stuff everywhere. But I think you know what I mean. Grab candids, loose pix, snapshots, that kind of thing. I don't know if that was happening when I was there. So I like to see you doing that stuff.

Yes! I so badly wanted to move out of this area when I was a kid. Jesus Christ, I would cry about it. But after learning about the photographers you and I both stand on the shoulders of, I really started to see. I wanted to leave and make photos in Japan or New York or go back to Los Angeles and live with family. But the photos I would see, the ones I liked, were somewhat intimate with people.

Which specific photographers were important to you?

Photographers like Winogrand and Robert Frank of course...Dorothea Lange is in there, Arnold Newman, Charles Moore, Bruce Davidson. Walker Evans is a huge one for me.

I know that shooting like them is not easy in a community as tight as SoHum. No anonymity possible. So "street shooting" takes on a different flavor.

I know people here, I’m not a stranger. So I don’t feel like a complete jackass if someone is driving by, seeing me take a photo of some local, whether it be transient or not. I’m glad to be seen with my camera in this community so people aren’t shocked when I’m in the grocery store and it’s slung on my shoulder. It took me quite some time to feel comfortable walking around with my camera in plain view. I was embarrassed about it.

Why did you want to leave the area? For photographic reasons? Or some other reason?

Well I always wanted to leave…but then with photos, I really really wanted to leave... make photos in another place. After being told by a friend, Nic, who is local photographer in Arcata with way more experience than me and someone I really look up to this day, he said, “if you don’t photograph this area, I will.” Hahaha. That’s what pretty much made me really rethink my situation.

Maybe the grass is always greener? As someone who doesn't live there anymore I am SO glad to see that world through your eyes. So I hope you stay and shoot it.

Thank you Blake, I really appreciate you saying something like that. My intentions are to take pictures here ’til I die. I will travel, but this is home, and this is where I want to be making pictures with my camera (s). And to live with my girlfriend and our 60 some odd animals we have.

Follow your own way wherever it leads. I totally understand the draw of shooting in active places, cities, etc. I live in Eugene which by most standards is pretty boring photographically. But I've come to enjoy shooting here. That said, I need a periodic dose of big city about 2-3 times annually.

That may be true, but I do love the way you photograph your town. It’s not boring to me. It’s different in the best of ways.

Cool, thanks. I just shoot the fuck out of whatever's handy. Mostly it's Eugene but sometimes I'm somewhere else, so my photos happen there. Whatever, I take the same approach everywhere. Always looking.

Me and my girl used to live out in Alderpoint, and on Sprowl Creek Road, both about 40 minutes from Redway. But just recently about 3 or so months ago we moved into Redway, right across the street from my mom. I’m not exactly sure if our neighbors or thrilled that we moved a complete farm into town.

What's the complete farm? Dogs, chickens, or what? Do you raise animals for meat or products?

I’ve been talking to my girlfriend about raising meat birds, and I am probably going to do it down the road, so I’m not supporting any other fucked up meat farming practices. But it’s a hard one, man. For now we just have our beloved chickens that for the most part all have names and are our friends and give us eggs. We don’t keep them locked up. They roam the yard freely. I think our number of chickens is around 40. We have our 4 big dogs, and 5 cats, and 13 ducks... and I think 5 fish.... hahah. But we’re hatching more chicken eggs as we speak.

Damn, 40 chickens? That's a lot.

Hahahah. Yes.

We had 4 at one point. Good eggs. But then the neighbor's dog got ‘em.

We just lost 12 of ours to fucking dogs. Pisses me off so much. Very much beloved chickens, we get attached to them. They’re a lot more smart than people give them credit. Actually, in fact, most people that don’t think chickens are smart are in fact idiots.

Maybe you could express "chicken wisdom" in your photos somehow?

I think maybe I show that. Well I love taking pictures of our chickens. I wish we lived at our old house out Sprowl Creek Road. An awesome place to make photos of our birds, great landscapes.

Maybe you can describe the area for people who’ve never been there. Like Whale Gulch. How would you describe that place?

Man, it’s so hard. Whale Gulch is about a solid 45 minutes from Redway, the closest town, and the closest to the 101 freeway.

And Redway itself is pretty isolated. It’s about 40 miles via 101 to the nearest stoplight, and 80 miles to any airport. My school bus ride was about 40 minutes each way.

It’s gorgeous, picturesque, and we as kids being 12 and 13 years old would get away with smoking pot, driving around in our parents vans, doing mushrooms, acid, all while in the forest. Whether you’re on the cement road or on a hike deep in the woods you are constantly surrounded by the forest. It’s pretty unbelievable.

That's a good summation of the area. Not only the world’s tallest trees, but the freewheeling culture. The 1970s have never ended in SoHum. I think it's hard to grasp for people coming from a more conventional outlook. The extreme topography and geographic isolation is intense too. You could be just a few miles from some other ridge and it can feel like another planet. Like the road way out past Whale Gulch, to the Sinkyone. About 20 miles from my road as the crow flies, but it took over an hour to drive. What a magical, lonely place. Some of my favorite memories as a kid were out there.

And that’s great man, is Sinkyone near Usal?

Usal beach is the South end of Sinkyone Wilderness. The north end is Needle Rock. You come to a cabin/visitor thing and then drive past it to the beach/trail. Anywayze...

Oooh, I know that!

You mentioned taking acid as a 12 or 13 year old in Whale Gulch. It reminded me of a very strong acid experience I had out there in the Sinkyone. We parked on this dirt road, then hiked to I think Wheeler Beach?? It was maybe 2-3 miles but within the first mile the acid had kicked in and all the sudden I couldn't remember which way the trail went. I found myself standing on the trail but I had no idea if I was supposed to walk this way or that way. For someone like me who is extremely geographic (my dad's a surveyor) and oriented and kinda anal that way, it was uncomfortable. But just for a moment. Then we made it to the beach and all the seashells turned into tiny skulls. Perfect day.

Hahahhhaha, ah man, that’s great dude.

All of that stuff, all those memories were very private back then. I think if I had those experiences now there'd be a temptation to share on social media. Who knows which way is better?

I completely understand that, I think the better way is to share person to person instead of the empty work of social media. 12 was the first time I smoked pot, then mushrooms at 14, hahaha, and then acid at 16.

That's about par for kids growing up in Humboldt.

My parents found out I smoked pot on my 13th birthday. They grew indoor at the time, and I would steal moldy buds they were throwing away and take the only smokeable bits off. Pretty much, all my friends parents grew pot, teachers included.

Pot was the region’s economic engine when I lived there.

Since I was 17 I either grew pot or worked on pots farms for my income. To this day actually. When I was younger I would grow in my parents backyard and split it 60/40 with them, me getting 40 percent. Just to help them out because they were having a hard time. And I was living with them.

I think legalization may have put a big hole in the economy? I've heard rumors that things are crashing.

Yeah I guess, to some extent. The thing legalizing did, was made it so big asshole pot growers that were already rich are able to profit and treat their workers horribly with minimal pay. My last job was that, never in my life working on farms was I treated so bad, and it was from out of state growers with legal permits. Horrible people. Where I work now is with locals with legal permits, and are absolutely good people up and down. And I couldn’t be more grateful. I had to quit my last job. I couldn’t take the treatment. I wish it would become illegal again and I could just grow in my mom’s backyard once more.

Do you think pot (or mushrooms/acid) has had some effect on the way you make photos? On the way you see the world, I mean.

Hahahahah, probably. Not anyway I could tell. I mean acid changes you completely. When I was 18 me and friends out on a ranch in Miranda took about 6 to 8 hits each throughout the night, and that was the highest I had ever been…simply just beautiful stuff that is too hard to put into words. I still have a vile of liquid acid in my mom’s store room... Haha, I’m sure she’ll love reading that. Even though I’ve mentioned it a million times to her. Even when me and my girlfriend were moving I found a few gel tab hits in a random drawer. But acid is a wonderful and powerful thing. One time I took acid at a festival and I wore a wig the entire time, and I’m a bald man so it was very unusual. I haven’t taken acid in about two years. But I take mushrooms regularly. And there’s a few times I’ve walked around Redway at night very high on mushrooms. With my camera, of course.

Yeah, maybe that experience should replace all the MFA photo programs. Here's a bottle of liquid LSD. See me in 6 months. Who knows what kind of photos it might generate. I think a few breakthroughs might occur. Your photos are living proof. To me they’re far more interesting than most of what I see from more credentialed photographers….Ever get any good photos high on mushrooms?

There’s a photo I took of a couple, in front of a trailer in the melody trailer park in Redway. A boy and girl. The girl I had went to school with in a continuation school. And the boy a few grades below me. We took the photo and I walked around town with them. We walked up to this homeless man named Eric which I have seen around and they knew. He gave the girl a bag of shake to exchange for money, but then she asked if he wanted “white or brown” in exchange. Hahah ... and he said “white”... she took the bags and we walked off... and at some point we walked down to the shell station, and I don’t remember why, but she asked me to hold her knife while she did something, and of course her knife had a swastika on it.


At some point I parted ways to head home. And again, maybe a year later ran into her and took a photo of the same knife she had, but hidden in her boot that had her initials written on it.

Maybe it's not the mushrooms but just walking around at night. In a place like Redway after midnight, who knows what you'll find?

There’s a lot of meth here now.

You said the better way to share photos is person to person instead of social media. Do you have others nearby you can share your work with?

No, not really.

That's where social media can help. I mean, I agree person to person is best. But if you're in a smaller community it can really connect worlds. Like this chat for example.

Yeah, totally man. I’m very grateful for the people I’ve met through Instagram, as shitty a name as it may be. Horrible name actually. And embarrassing. Hahahaha.

Is there any local person-to-person photo community in SoHum? I know you had a show there (in Garberville?) recently. How was that received?

Man, no there’s not really any photo community’s I necessarily want to be a part of up here. But the show we had here in Redway was great. I put some pictures together that I felt very good about. All local. Redway to Garberville was my theme. And it had a whole booze section of the bars locally. And Redway Liquor, the only liquor store.

I left at 18 so I never got to hang much in the bars. But as a kid walking by them, I vaguely remember quite a scene going on there.

Bigger turnout at the show than I thought, but with the help of my sister and her friend that were also showing their work. Actually my sister and I will be apart of a family group show that’ll be in Los Angeles in the beginning of next year. It will be with the works of 5 members of our family, Louie Moskowitz, Sachi Moskowitz, Stu Moskowitz, Michael Frimkess, and Magdalena Suarez.

Where and when is the show? I usually make a photo trip to LA in Jan or Feb most years.

The show is on May 16th this upcoming year 2020, it will be at “These Days” gallery in Los Angeles. My sister runs an Instagram account for our family's work and to promote the show, which will post updates. That account is @familygroupshow, and the gallery’s is

Sweet. Congrats. Your sister's a photographer too?

My sister does ceramics, and very articulate drawing, and re-creations of our family’s works..Like our grandfather Michael Frimkess, who’s been in multiple Museums, like the Hammer Museum and the LACMA. Actually he is currently being completely ripped off by a man named “Jonas Wood”, who is quite literally re-creating his work and making money from it. Actually not just my grandfather, but his wife as well, Magdalena Suarez.

So your sister recreates your grandfather's works? As an homage, or some kind of conceptual thing?

Yes, my grandfather’s work is a staple in our family. Him being my mother’s father. She does painting and woodcuts out of my grandfather’s and his wife’s ceramic works.

Is it a commentary or reaction to this person Jonas Wood?

Jonas, on the other hand, may have a lot of followers on Instagram and get praise from asshole Los Angeles folk, including photographers we both know of. But he is a complete rip off artist of my own blood.

What about Nic in Arcata? Is that someone you can share work with?

Nic travels a decent amount, but when I see him it really counts for me. The feedback I get from him helps me immensely. Nic is a dude I met... maybe 5 or so years ago... through Instagram, and what a guy. This is his website he’s uploading to instead of Instagram.

I'm digging now into Nic's site. He's pretty good.

Yeah, Nic is one of a kind.

What's kind of funny about his photos is that I don't think many of them are from Humboldt. Which is maybe a commentary on what we talked about earlier, the difficulty of making work in a smaller community. Does he shoot in Arcata too?

Yes, Nic makes a lot of photos in Arcata. But he travels all over the globe and makes pictures But he once in awhile comes back to his hometown of Arcata.

I am in Arcata a few times a year. That's where my parents live now.

Wow, really? Why haven’t we got a beer before then? Hahahah. How old are your folks?

My parents are in their mid-70s. 

That’s around my dad’s age, he passed away two years ago at the age of 75.

They were involved in the arts/music scene —which is pretty much the entire community, now that I think about it— but I don’t think they knew your dad. He moved there too late, after my mom had already moved north to Arcata. My dad still lived in SoHum then but he’s kind of a homebody and not really connected socially.

That would make sense, he had been to Humboldt before, in the mid 70’s, but up near Rio Dell area, doing acid. Then 2002 we moved here into Redway.

Arcata’s funny. I visit a few times a year and I've built up a huge archive of photos from there. But I can't quite get a handle on the place.

Oh really. Why is that exactly?

Maybe because I'll always be an outsider there. I dunno.

I’m not a particular fan of Arcata.

Why not?

I don’t like it up there because of all the college kids.

Yeah, most of them are from Southern California, I think.

Douchebags, Hahah. Too many of them. Run amuck. But every once in awhile I meet a real person up there.

Yeah, kinda true. But it's not really the college kids which create the vibe for me. It's just a weird place. I always feel like there's some secret which I'm not being let in on. It's hard to photograph there. 

Yeah man I feel the same way, that’s a perfect way to describe it really. Like some secret you don’t know about.

I actually lived there for a little while when I was taking time off from college. (Does that make me a “college kid”? Haha) Same deal back then. Couldn't figure it out, not that I was taking photos back then. 

No that doesn't make you a “college kid”, I think I said that mainly because of the day and age we live in. I guess by douche-bags I just mean young people in my age range are usually dumb assholes, with horrible opinions. But every class of age has those. 

I was there in May for the Kinetic sculpture race. That should be a Great Photo Op. Very weird and eclectic. But mostly what I wound up getting is photos of people trying to look weird and eclectic.

Have you come down to southern Humboldt on any recent visit?

Not since my dad sold our property on Elk Ridge. That was maybe 5 years ago? We had a nice spot, a 40 acre homestead. It was kind of sad to see it go. But my dad is getting older, and it was time.

Wow! That’s a lot of land man!

During that trip I walked through Garberville for maybe a half hour, but didn’t spend much time there. It’s kind of funny because as a kid I spent hours roaming the town there after school. I used to know that place inside and out. But now I don't know anyone there anymore. What did Thomas Wolfe say? You can’t go home again.

Yeah, my favorite time to walk around Garb is in the morning , and my favorite time for Redway is at night. Especially taking photos of that liquor store. Jesus, that’s a staple in my photography here.

Why Garberville in the morning and Redway at night? What is it about them that makes the timing so different? Ever try it the other way? 

Well Garberville is nice, but Redway has more neon to it. I’m maybe saying that just because I live in Redway and can have a drink and walk around. Both are nice either in the morn or at night. The fog in the morning in Garberville is pretty fantastic though.

Like I said I left there before drinking age so I never spent much time at Redway Liquor. But I spent many hours nearby as a kid at the post office, and laundromat, and Mateel, and of course the school.

What kind of booze do you prefer, Blake? If I may interview you for a minute. Haha.

What kind of booze would I buy at Redway Liquor you mean?

Hahah, no not locally I just meant in general. Unless you want to take the trip down here to pay the premium prices at the liquor store.

Mostly beer.

Ooh, I just dropped beer.

I rarely drink stronger stuff. Unless it's some special occasion.

Beer is good. I just got sick of it and almost felt as if it were the equivalent to drinking bread.

Haha, that’s a good comparison. I’m 50. I'm pretty much done with hard drinking, stronger drugs, etc. That stuff catches up to you. I guess I’m sinking slowly into my boring middle age.

Yeah, I can see that. For me I love the relationship between booze and when I develop film. And pot as well, but more booze. Do you have that for printing or development?

I like to have a few beers in the afternoon as I'm printing at the darkroom. But if I get stoned I completely lose focus. Can't get anything done.

Hahah, I know the feeling! I had an absolute panic attack last night when developing some color. I smoked a roached left in my dad’s studio. I had two tanks to develop, and after I finished the first one I told myself no way can I do the other. Then after 5 minutes I convinced myself I can do it.

Film/darkroom work is kinda funny. You can get away with a lot of fudging. But it's actually a pretty technical process, so you gotta stay on the ball.

Very true! I’ve written down the way I develop multiple times to try and get it to a science. And made my own dilutions and so on. But I swear to god, I get better results when I’ve had some pot and some booze and I’m a little confused. And I’m not trying to make that rhyme.

You develop your own color film? And you have a color darkroom too?

I wish I had a color darkroom, but I develop my own color and my b&w film. And at the moment I print digitally through a fabulous printing press in Arcata. I’m over digitally processing my film. It’s degrading.

I don't think any digital process can ever replicate a nice light leak. But maybe I'm wrong. There’s probably some Photoshop effect out there.

Hahah, I noticed you’re a big fan of those!

I'm a fan of accidents. I think there's too much perfection in photography, and in the world in general. It's basically the root of most bad art.

Yes, I can get physically ill seeing too much dogshit art out there... no joke. It’s crazy how much of it is out there. Mind blowing.

Well that's kind of the crux of photography, right? To master the process but at the same time give up control. It’s the tension between domination and acceptance. Gotta have some of both. I think most photographers feel that tension internally. I know I do. I am constantly battling my ego to keep it from dominating my photos. But at the same time I need to have it involved, to know they're mine. Because that's what makes them what they are.

Yeah, I can see that. Dude, you asking me to do an interview made my ego jump like crazy, you have no idea, I was literally telling everyone in town. Hahah, man I was so nervous to do this interview to be honest. Literally shaking as I first started writing. I feel like talking about photography, especially about my photos, makes me sound so pompous. Haha. But I’m having a little whiskey now and it’s calming my nerves. But as I’m writing you and I’m drinking whiskey, I think... Jesus Christ, Louie you’re such a fucking asshole.

That’s the tension right there. Between ego and emptiness.

I try and balance it as much as I can, but in the end... maybe because of acid, since you asked that question earlier, I have personal appreciation for my own work. Of course I go through very intense ruts where I think of throwing my Leica in the river. One thing that keeps me sane is that I’m just documenting history in my town. I’m in the works of making a book called “Garberville”, that will be finished by the end of this year.

Sounds awesome. I’d love to see it when it’s ready. Do you think there’s any market for that type of book in Garberville?

I would hope. It’s not quite history yet. But people die, and buildings don’t last forever, and I’m sure the community here wants to see the town(s) documented so we can have an example of what things were like. Whether it’s 6 years or 16 years down the line.

Have you seen the book In The Vicinity by Ed Panar? Came out last year, shot around the pot farms of Southern Humboldt, where Panar has done occasional manicure work.

No I hadn’t heard of it until now, that’s great, ill have to buy a copy. I always stray away from photographing pot here for the most part. Since weed isn’t so unusual to me.

(All photos above by Louie Moskowitz)