Ansel Adams, famous for capturing a multitude of black-and-white landscape photographs -- many of which likely adorn the walls of your dentist's office -- once said, "You don't take a photograph. You make it."
Seetwist Productions lives, breathes, shoots and essentially embodies those words by profiling some of the most prominent street artists in Colorado. You may have even seen his work and probably didn't even realize it. Millions of people have seen Seetwist's video on Cartoon Network for Children's Hospital, a new show on Adult Swim, which features Guerilla Garden.
The mastermind behind the camera is Eric Seetwist, a former musician, current train-yard sightseer and founder of Seetwist Productions. The focal point of Seetwist's creative endeavors is to capture both art and artists within their respective environments and to keep the most sacred parts of urban art true to its colors while showcasing its soul, passion and voice.
We grabbed a few moments with Seetwist recently and asked him about how he started documenting street art in Denver, what the most compelling this is about his subject matter and what he's listening to when he's shooting.
Westword (Rachel Romero): How did Seetwist Productions get its start, and who does it consist of?
Seetwist: I first got my start walking along train tracks with some friends and photographing the hand-drawn monikers and paint-stick drawings that brakemen, BNSF employees and train-riders would leave. After taking about 100,000 photos or so, I began to notice pieces from local artists and started documenting the pieces I found in the street, as well.
My Flickr account started to gather some attention on various online forums, and eventually I was asked to document a legal wall being painted. Seetwist Productions is myself (Seetwist is an acronym for See The Way I See Things), and occasionally my good friend Kofi, who accompanies me to the larger shoots to get some extra footage.
Ww: What is your relationship with The Dope Group?
ST: I've been friends with various members of The Dope Group for close to a decade now; I did some photography work for them when their new line of clothing was released, and I do some time-lapse projects here and there for them, as well.
Ww: What equipment do you use?
ST: I use a Canon SD900 as my pocket camera, as well as for my macro shots and panoramas, and a set of Sony Alpha A100K DSLRs as my time-lapse cameras. For lenses, I usually stick to a Sony 18-70mm or an Aspherical 28-90mm for my standard shooting and a Quantaray 70-300mm for my telephoto shots. Kofi uses a HP M-527 and a Sony A1100, and we're about to go HD with an Olympus Pen EP-1 here shortly. My remotes are interval timers made by Aperture.
Ww: You have close to 5,000 photos in your Flickr account, mostly of urban art of graffiti around town. What is the most compelling or interesting thing about your subject matter?
ST: The dozens and dozens of different styles that people can create with just a marker or a spray can. The 5,000 photos on my Flickr site are just a small portion of what I put online; I have close to five Terabytes and over 2,000,000 photographs of local graf pieces in my collection, and I'm constantly amazed at how diverse people's styles can be.
Ww: In addition to taking still photos, you also have a vibrant YouTube page and have created time-lapse pieces featuring local artists Filthe and Delton Demarest [the artist shown painting GB Fish & Chips in the video above and after the jump], which is something that I've never seen done in Denver before: What inspires you to shoot art in this format?
ST: I love seeing how these pieces are created from beginning to end. Since so many people document street art with their video cameras, I wanted to try something a bit different. It's a bit more work -- some of the finished movies consist of 30,000+ photographs -- but I think the end result is more interesting. Not only that, but it gives me a chance to play around with extra still shots that I normally wouldn't be able to get via camcorder.
Ww: In the old days, photographing and videoing graffiti artists was almost offensive. Has this changed over time? Do you still run into cats who prefer not to show their face?
ST: To a degree. Street art itself seems to be gaining more acceptance in mainstream culture, and movies like Exit Through The Gift Shop and Shepard Fairey's work on Barack Obama's campaign poster are certainly helping it along.
I run into people who ask that their face is hidden all of the time. In fact, a lot of my work ends up taking a few months to produce because I have to go through each individual photograph and blur the faces and identifying marks on the folks who ask to remain anonymous. Some people won't allow me to take their picture at all.
Ww: You used to be a musician yourself. Any particular reason for the move to visual arts?
ST: No particular reason. I've played in a few local bands over the years, but they've gradually drifted apart for one reason or another, so I decided to go alone for a while. My father is a photographer, so I kind of picked up the hobby from him, and over the years, I gradually worked my way up from shooting with disposable cameras to point-and-shoot cameras to DSLRs.
Ww: Do you have a favorite album or song to listen to while you're shooting?
ST: Right now, it's the new Emancipator album Safe In The Steep Cliffs, and I'm playing the hell out of the track "Old Devil."
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Ww: What's next for Seetwist Productions?
ST: I just finished time-lapsing a huge intergalactic-themed mural and some models being body-painted in front of it; that should be going up on my YouTube page sometime this week. I have a project or two lined up with Guerilla Garden, and I'm also working on a really intricate ghost-writing time-lapse with some artists up at North Denver Photographers. Between all that and a few semi-secret projects that are still in the works, I should stay fairly busy until the end of summer.
[Watch time-lapse clip mentioned above after the jump. FYI: Mildly NSFW]