It’s liberating to write “crackling intensity” without feeling like a total hack. With greasy hair obscuring piercing eyes, the phrase nicely suits actor-director-photographer Norman Reedus.
The Walking Dead star has long favored hoods, outcasts and societal fringe denizens over pretty boys, imbuing his characters with a live-wire spark that reflects the man behind the mask. Reedus is just as intense behind a camera lens, presenting surreal, haunting and often frightening images that are all a reflection of Reedus’ uniquely skewed worldview.
Reedus will be hosting a retrospective of his photography at Voila! Gallery in Los Angeles on November 12th and it will run through the end of December. The exhibition features never-before-seen photos and selections from his first photo book The Sun’s Coming Up… Like A Big Bald Head. Reedus tells Playboy that he’s always been attracted to the dark and disturbing, and can’t figure out why.
Was the camera immediately a special or magical tool?
It’s more that the camera is my eye. I see things in a certain way and wanted to capture it. I don’t know if it’s a magical tool, but it’s my own quiet little headspace. I had three short films that I directed and was selling for charity and I had my website BigBaldHead.com where I had photos up. So many people tried to order the photos that I had to put out a book. I just kept going with the book and it did really well. I did a few gallery shows in Hamburg, Berlin and all over the United States. I’ve just kept going.
Have you always seen the beauty in inherently horrific or terrifying images?
I don’t know if it’s just that as even the short films I’ve directed have those elements. I don’t know what that is. My favorite movie when I was a kid was The Omen. If something shocks me or takes me back I end up staring into it for a long time. Those have always been the things I’ve been attracted to. I don’t know why.
Are you comfortable with your own natural beauty?
[Laughs.] That’s funny. Just yesterday I was telling our Walking Dead hair and makeup people how the first time I ever saw my name in print was for the film 8MM. It was a quote by Joel Schumacher saying, “Norman is interesting looking, but he’s not good looking.” We were laughing about that. I’m a weird looking little guy. I guess I am interesting looking but natural beauty? Jeez…I don’t know what that means.
Have casting directors ever tried to steer you towards pretty boy, sex symbol roles?
I remember going out on this one audition a long time ago when the show Lost was really big. I remember being there, trying to act my ass off, and the casting director said, “Can you try to be more good looking? Like the blond guy on Lost?” I was like, “What the fuck? Who the fuck is this guy? What kind of fucking director does that?” I immediately looked up the guy on Lost and was like, “There’s no way that’s going to happen. I could never be that good looking.”
With your photography, I get shades of David Lynch, Harmony Korine and Larry Clark. Do you relate to those guys?
Those guys are all super talented. I’m a huge fan of Harmony and always have been. All three of those guys are inspirational but I don’t know that I’m anywhere near those dudes. I like all their stuff. I remember David Lynch had an office near Hollywood up in the hills called Picture Factory. One of his producers Neal Edelstein had bought one of the paintings I had done way back when I first moved to LA and had it up in the offices. I think I told 80 billion people I was so excited.
How did you hone your photography style? Did you have any formal training or a mentor?
I’ve never had any real training. I’ve been around a lot of cool photographers and learned from them. I have a lot of photographer friends and I’m continually learning and playing with new things. I have a show coming up in Los Angeles where everything is printed on metal. I’m always playing with different aesthetics. I had a friend when I first started traveling around with a camera who was the bassist for the band Porno for Pyros. I said to him, “I want to play bass. What kind of bass should I pick up?” He said, “Pick the bass that feels the best in your hands. You’ll learn faster and like it better.” I kind of did that with a camera. I’d travel to Russia, find an old Lomo in a junk shop and play with that for a couple of months. It’s the same with digital cameras. I don’t have a trusty go-to camera. After three months I’ll find something new and play with it.
Are you a traditionalist, in the sense that film really means something to you, or are you cool with digital?
I’m cool with both. I like film. I like playing with film. I was with a lady for a while that was really into film. I like the chemicals and all that stuff but I’m not opposed to digital. A lot of times I’ll take film images and fuck with them.
Andrew Lincoln has a quote about your photography that I agree with. “Every photograph is in some way autobiographical.” Despite the surreality, is all your work somehow rooted in your world?
It absolutely is. I have a story about every photo. Every single photo I end up liking has a story. Sometimes the stories behind them are really complex and interesting.
How about the werewolf with the syrup and pancakes?
I was just fucking around with a friend of mine. I like to do a lot of stuff with masks. I had the idea to order 20 pancakes and have them delivered to the house, along with some sticky syrup.
How do you know when a photo is a keeper?
I’m a photograph hoarder. I have like a billion hard drives full of photos. I’ll sometimes just go back to them or I’ll see a series of things from the past that ties in with a series of photos I took recently and they go together. I just go with my gut when I have a feeling about something. Sometimes I leave it up to the people that I trust or are really talented. Sometimes I just capture something that hits and resonates with me.
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