Interview with Photographer – Nate “Igor” Smith

DJ Cobalt 60: I know photography was a career you feel into more than it you sought out. Why do you love creating images?

Nate “Igor” Smith: It wasn’t exactly something I fell into, I just didn’t plan on it being a career. The reason it became a job is because I carried a camera with me everywhere anyway. People just kept asking me where they could see my photos so I started a website and eventually I started getting paid. I don’t love creating images, I just have no choice. It’s a compulsion. I just need to do it.

DJ Cobalt 60: Where does most of your knowledge in photography come from?

Nate “Igor” Smith: I took photo classes in high school and then studied it in college but aside from two or three teachers that helped in college 90% of my photo skills come from either my high school classes or from trial and error. I was probably a better photographer as a senior in high school than I was four years later.

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DJ Cobalt 60: What’s your set-up like? How has is evolved over the years?

Nate “Igor” Smith: It’s been the pretty much same for many years. Whenever the Nikon D700 came out I had to buy a real lens so I got a 24-70 2.8 and that’s pretty much all I have used since (aside from my upgrade to the D800). I carry a 50mm 1.4 sometimes and if I think I am gonna need it a 70-200 2.8 but I try to carry as little gear as possible. I always have a P&S 35mm on me at all times. Usually the Ricoh GR1 or a T4 if my GR1 is broken (I have broken a lot of both). I also will bring a Instax Wide camera if I am shooting girls and I almost always have a SLR 35mm filled with b&w film that I bring out from time to time if I think I can get some interesting portraits. I just got a Leica M6 but before that it was the Nikon N80 which was the first camera I ever bought with my own money.

DJ Cobalt 60: What is an image of yours that you believe best represents your style and aesthetic and what was the situation surrounding it?

Nate “Igor” Smith: I think of myself as a pretty diverse photographer so it’s hard to really pick an image like that. I picked this photo of a fight because it combines a lot of stuff I am known for: subcultures, nightlife, being in the wrong place at the right time, violence, shooting quickly and mediocre composition.

DJ Cobalt 60: Who are some of your favorite photographers? Is there a particular one who has influenced your photography more than the others?

Nate “Igor” Smith: Glen Friedman is the person who made me want to shoot bands which is how I started my career. I met him in 2001 and since then he’s always been around to look at my work and tell me why it sucks. It’s great to have someone like that in your life. My mom gave me a Bruce Davidson book in high school and to this day he’s my favorite photographer. He’s so completely brilliant that it’s almost impossible to be influenced by him. My work will never be anything like his so I don’t really try. Ed Templeton has been a favorite ever since I discovered his work in 2008. I knew him as a skateboarder but I didn’t know about his photography until I saw “Beautiful Losers”. Not only does his photography have the realness and energy that I want in my work but he’s also been such a huge part of growing the photo book/photo zine scene which is something that’s really important to me. Lastly, it’s a little hard to admit but early Terry Richardson was pretty influential but maybe not in the most obvious way. Yeah I like snap shot 35mm stuff and shooting naked girls or whatever, but what I really liked about Richardson’s early work was the humor. I think combining sex and humor is really hard to do well and I think he did it very well and I admire that even if he might be a monster and his work is pretty fucking boring now.

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Model – Janice Griffith

DJ Cobalt 60: I flat out love your work and consider you one of my favorite photographers and artists though I know you would be the first person to say your photos aren’t art because you feel what you do is more about putting yourself in weird situations and documenting what happens than it is about you actual conceptualizing anything. In my opinion the artist I’d most compare you to is Japanese director Miike Takashi because he is all over the map, you never know what he might do next, the man will literally shoot a movie like “Thirteen Assassins” and then follow it up with two kids movies, I mean this is the same guy who directed “Visitor Q” and “Ichi the Killer” doing kids movies and I more often than not love what he is up to. I’m not going to lie the photos you took of people like “Charlotte Stokely” and “Janice Griffith” are what brought me to your site but, than there is all this other crazy work on there that isn’t explicit like your street photography and pictures of Emmy Rossum at South by Southwest that I also love. Recently you decided to create separate Instagram accounts, one dedicated to your personal work and one still featuring the sexy photos most people know you for but, not solely centered on naked girls. Is this sort of you taking your photography a little more seriously?   

Nate “Igor” Smith: Given that Takashi Miike is one of my favorite directors of all time I really fucking appreciate that insane comparison. And that being all over the map thing is fairly intentional. It’s not good for my career certainly but I take pride in shooting stuff that you would never expect me to shoot.

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Model – Emmy Rossum

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I hate being pigeonholed so I guess that’s a lot of what the new Instagram is about, but it’s mostly just away to get rid of some of the people who don’t give a shit about my work as a photographer and just want to see naked girls. You can see nudity anywhere, I don’t know why people want to be jerking off to my work. I also would like to get more commercial and editorial work which is hard when people associate me with mediocre pictures of porn stars.

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Model – Gabi Paltrova

DJ Cobalt 60: I’ve heard from models that I interview routinely voice their frustration with people on Instagram and Tumblr for not appreciating their photos no matter how well produced they are if they don’t feature nudity but, going crazy for poorly shot selfies or any image of them that has nudity. To an extent I can understand where they are coming from, my lowest viewed interview on my blog is the one I did with landscape photography Dick Arentz, I mean on a technical level he might be the best photographer I’ve ever been lucky enough to interview, he studied under Ansel Adams, uses large format cameras from the early 1900’s and is a master of platinum printing but his photos don’t have any hot naked women in them. What have your fans taught you about your photography?

Nate “Igor” Smith: People can’t tell the difference between good photography and bad photography and that blows my mind. It’s why iPhonography is taking photographers jobs. We see too many images and we can’t tell the difference from a good one and a bad one. We just look at the subjects. When hiring a photographer quality of image is the last thing people think about. They hire them based on how cheap they are, or how many Instagram followers they have or what sort of access they can get you, but as long as the images are in focus people don’t give a shit. On the positive side that’s pretty good for me since I am an average photographer that’s pretty good at getting into shit and getting a bunch of eyes on whatever I have been hired to document.

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The Faint at Motherfucker

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And as far as the complaints from models, I don’t know what they expect. When you are a model you are the product. The image isn’t important as long as it’s an image of you. If you post a selfie you are giving people what they want. It’s you and it’s real. When you post a set up photo it’s less you and more about the photoshopping or the photographer or the concept or the make up or whatever. That’s why people like my photos of girls, because I just give them what they want… a realistic photo of a naked girl.

DJ Cobalt 60: As a photographer you have a lot of range covering events like the AVN Award show to shooting Ford models for Teen Vogue. In photography you tend to hear that you have to choose a lane and stick to it because that’s the only way to get noticed and paid not to mention narrow what clients will hire you for if you shoot certain jobs and there is a lot truth to that sort of thinking yet, you’ve been able to branch out to other genres as a photographer maybe not as much as you would like but, more than others. What do you think has given you the ability to be so flexible with “The Driven By Boredom” brand and are you always very mindful of the jobs you accept and don’t accept?

Nate “Igor” Smith: Those people are right. I have fucked my career up for sure. “The Driven By Boredom” brand is pretty much garbage when it comes to getting actual paid gigs. I am never mindful of the jobs I accept if they pay well. I fucking shot a cigarette ad and I find the entire cigarette industry horrifying. Always down to sell out given the chance.

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That being said, I will work for way less if it’s something I want to do, especially if it fucks with other people’s perception of me. That Teen Vogue thing I essentially did for free. It was part of a larger job with Ford Models but I could have skipped it and they would have paid me the same amount. I did it as a favor to a new client and to get to work with some amazing models but mostly I did it because I thought it was funny to get published by Teen Vogue.

DJ Cobalt 60: Sometimes I get the sense from Miike Takashi that he sort of has this fuck it attitude when it comes to his career, he’s not always sure if the movie he is about to direct will or won’t work but, he’ll give it a try if the idea intrigues him enough. Do you approach your photography in a similar fashion?

Nate “Igor” Smoth: I do stuff if it’s interesting or it pays my rent. I try not to think about it too much. Down to shoot anything but weddings.

DJ Cobalt 60: If tomorrow you never had to take another paid assignment what would photograph? Are you tired of photographing naked women?

Nate “Igor” Smith” I am not tired of photographing naked women exactly. I am tired of people only wanting to see naked women from me. I am tired of my fans being creepy and sexist. I am tired of people with cock shots for Twitter avatars following me.

If I could shoot anything I wanted I would just travel around the country meeting people and taking their photos. I would shoot girls and landscapes and decaying Americana and junkies and celebrities and coal miners and farmers and bands and protests and puppies and festivals and food.

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DJ Cobalt 60: Do you have any regrets about the choices you made with “Driven By Boredom”? Would you did things differently if you got the chance to start over from the beginning? Can you see one day stopping “Driven By Boredom” all together or doing what I have heard a lot of photographers allege using one name for commercial/editorial work and another name for erotic/sexier work? 

Nate “Igor” Smith: I have no idea. I mean it’s changed so much over its entire history. The site just celebrated its 15th anniversary this month and it wasn’t a photo blog until 2007 and it didn’t become so girl heavy until a few years later. Who knows what it will look like 5 years from now. I do try to use Nate Igor Smith for more commercial/artistic work and “Driven By Boredom” for the parties/boring girl photos but I don’t see “Driven By Boredom” going anywhere. It’s tattooed to my arm…

DJ Cobalt 60: When I interviewed legendary Ozsplotation director Brian Trenchard-Smith we brought up the fact that you can make art house films like Ang Lee and they’ll let you make “The Hulk” and still go back to art house films but, if all you do is make action or horror films they won’t be so open to letting you make prestige pictures or big tent pole movies even though you may be more suited to do so (James Gunn director of “Guardians of the Galaxy”) than the art house guy (Michael Apted directing a James Bond film). Do you think the same is true when it comes to photography? Because a photographer like Deborah Anderson can go and make a photo book and documentary about porn stars and still get to photograph George Clooney but, the photographer who is most known for shooting porn stars won’t necessarily be able to book the George Clooney job.

Nate “Igor” Smith: Well Ang Lee’s Hulk was a fucking disaster and everything James Gunn has made was great and you could see a progression to big budget stuff. I mean he wrote the screen play for Scooby Doo so it’s not like him making Guardians came out of nowhere. I am sure he will go back and make something crazy after his Guardians run though…

People love to jump down into the sex industry and then go back to their real lives. There’s no commitment there. There’s a million people who’ve done it. Timothy Greenfield Sanders comes to mind right away. Or you can you look at a movie like “The Canyons” where they use porn people to get that edge but there’s no risk there.

Personally for me I like subcultures and I like sex workers and I generally like shooting these people more than professional models. I’ve never done “actual porn” because it’s not what I am interested in artistically but working for clients like Hustler and Blacked isn’t exactly helping me get mainstream work.

DJ Cobalt 60: I’d like to ask you about Charlotte Stokley because I don’t think anyone photographs her better than you do. First off I want to say one of the main reasons I like your photos of porn stars is because it feels to me like you have fun with photos and capture their actual personality no more so than with Charlotte as opposed to the photos you see of them in hustler or penthouse which are pure fantasy or doing the obvious and saying since I have a porn star and they’ll let me shoot super graphic photos I’m going to shoot super graphic photos. How did you meet Charlotte and what do you think she brings out of you as a photographer than no one else does?

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Model – Charlotte Stokely

Nate “Igor” Smith: I think I was introduced to Stokely by Dave Naz’s film “Skater Girl Fever” which I was given by my buddy and former Vivid Alt head Eon McKai. I thought she was pretty amazing but I don’t think we met in real life until AVN in 2013. Maybe my girlfriend at the time Kimberly Kane had introduced us but I don’t actually remember. I had wanted to shoot her for a long time. We shot for the first time as she was getting ready to go to the AVNs and she had this amazing energy about her. She is totally insane but in the best possible way.

I ended up going with her to Joshua Tree for Hustler but the best photos we took were on the road trip, they were as good as anything we shot at the actual park. Hustler ended up running their first ever combined interview/pictorial. They used the 35mm shots from the road trip with the interview and then ran the Joshua Tree digital shots as the pictorial.

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Model – Charlotte Stokely

So when I did my Route 66 road trip book she was the first person I thought about and I booked the entire trip around her availability and it was the best decision I could have possibly made. She is so unpredictable and out of control but also a total professional and an incredible model. The three days we spent on that road trip were three of the best days of my life photographically.

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Model – Charlotte Stokely

Also, to your point about porn stars… I shoot porn girls not because they do porn, but because they are comfortable naked and I get along with them well. People are fairly easily offended and I am pretty bad at not offending people. Sex workers tend to have a higher tolerance for my bullshit. I also think porn is a pretty interesting subculture.

DJ Cobalt 60: Are you going to be photographing Charlotte again anytime soon? Is there anyone else you feel you have that same sort of dynamic with?

Nate “Igor” Smith: I hope so. It’s been a while. And yeah, there’s a bunch of people that I love shooting with like that. I most recently really hit it off with Gabi Paltrova. I have only published a few photos from our first shoot but I can’t wait to shoot her again. April O’Neil, Raven Rockette, Carter Cruise and Lily Labeau all come to mind. Would be weird not to mention my ex Kimberly Kane. And there are a ton others that I never get sick of shooting… Ash Hollywood, Shay Laren, Samantha Bentley… And then there’s a ton of friends of mine that aren’t porn girls or anything that I would love to jump in a car with and just go on some photo adventured with any time. Amy Rose, America, Chloe and Whitney all are on that list if you wanna look them up on “Driven By Boredom”. Honestly I hate this question because I know I am gonna leave a ton of people out.

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Model – Carter Cruise
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Model – Whitney

DJ Cobalt 60: Laast month was South by Southwest  and like years prior you are there taking photos of the festival, what’s your advice for shooting in public locations with less than ideal lighting that you can’t do much to change?  Do you like to blend into the background or let everyone know what you are there to do?

Nate “Igor” Smith: Before anything I am a journalist. You might not see it in my work but that’s how I think. I shoot girls with no lighting equipment because shooting quickly in bad situations is my greatest strength. There are hundreds of people coming out of college every year that could kick my ass in a studio or in photoshop so I play to my strengths. I shoot fast, am decent at shooting in every lighting situation and I make people comfortable quickly. That works well for event photography and it works well for making models happy. It’s a lot easier to get someone to shoot with you for free if they know it’s only going to take 10 minutes.

As far as advice for that, my advice would be to take a camera with you everywhere and shoot all the time. The only way to get good at shooting in shitty lighting situations is to shoot in shitty lighting situations a lot.

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DJ Cobalt 60: How do you respond to people getting in your face about not wanting their picture taken at events like say The Gathering of the Juggalos, I’m not saying you are purposely taking pictures of people who don’t want their picture taken and you go as far as to state on your website that you will take down any photo if someone asks you to but, there still tends to always be one person who gets offended when they see a camera in their direction.

Nate “Igor” Smith: I try and be really cool about it. I never want to take photos of people who don’t want their photos taken. Juggalos are almost always cool if you come at them the right way. I might have had 5 people have a problem with me in 6 years of shooting that festival. It’s much more likely some too cool for school guy or someone cheating on their boyfriend or something. I had a fashion model punch me in the face once cause I took her photo even though I was in the process of deleting it. She had told me like three hours earlier she didn’t want her photo taken and I totally forgot by the end of the night. As soon as I took it I remembered and showed her my camera as I deleted it and she tried to grab my camera and when I pulled it away she hit me in the face. So yeah, I have had issues but most of the time it’s not a problem and I am pretty good at talking angry people down. That being said, it can really ruin my day when someone is a real prick about it, because for the rest night I am thinking twice about taking the photo. I always shoot first and ask for permission after.

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DJ Cobalt 60: What do you have planned for the rest of 2016? Does paid work come your way pretty regularly or in bursts of intervals? How do you find time for personal projects like the Route 66 road trip?

Nate “Igor” Smith: Well I already got booked for the Gathering of the Juggalos so I guess I am doing that again. It happens right around the Republican National Convention and they are only three hours apart so I would like to shoot some of that madness as well. SXSW just ended and is a big money making week for me so I have rent for a few months. I honestly have no idea what is coming next. I never know how I am gonna keep paying my bills but it’s been working out so far. As far as finding time for shit, photography gives you nothing but free time. On a good month I might work 10 days. The rest of it is just sitting around trying to figure out how to get more work and all the bullshit that goes along with this freelance life. But it’s flexible as hell so doing a trip is easy… as long as I can figure out a way to pay for it.

DJ Cobalt 60: A moment in in time you regret not having your camera on you and wish you could go back and photograph?

Nate “Igor” Smith: http://animalnewyork.com/2012/i-should-have-shot-that-nate-igor-smiths-bloody-buddy/

DJ Cobalt 50: When are you most satisfied with your work?

Nate “Igor” Smith: Never.

EVERY PHOTOGRAPHER NEEDS to take photos all the time.

THA LAST TIME A PHOTO LEFT ME SPEECHLESS every time I see a new Vivian Maier photo I am blown away. She took hundreds of photos that are better than any photo I will every take in my life and we still haven’t seen them all.

WEIRDEST THING SOMEONE HAS EVER SAID/DONE TO YOU WHILE YOU WERE TAKING THEIR PICTURE In the middle of a totally professional shoot a model out of nowhere asked me if I would take a photo of my dick in their mouth to send to their boyfriend. No comment on if I did it or not…

MY TOP 5 MIIKE TAKASHI FILMS Ichi, Visitor Q, Dead or Alive, Happiness of the Katakuris, and maybe Sukiyaki Western Django

THE DOLPHINS WILL WIN THE SUPER BOWL WHEN I die. I assume god is punishing me for something and they will never win in my lifetime. Never in my life has any team I rooted for won a championship except for the Georgetown Hoyas but I was 4 so I don’t think that counts. 

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ALBUMS I CAN LISTEN TO FROM BEGINNING TO END WITHOUT SKIPPING ANY TRACKS I listen to Menagerie by Bill Withers more than probably any other album but I only have in on vinyl so I mostly only listen to side A because I am too lazy to flip it.

SUCCESS TO ME not having to shoot any fucking weddings.

DJ Cobalt 60: For people interested in your work or would like to learn more about you where can they go?

Nate “Igor” Smith: drivenbyboredom.com, igor35.com and @drivenbyboredom on everything.

 DJ Cobalt 60: Is there any you would like to thank who has either supported you throughout your career or been instrumental to your career?

Nate “Igor” Smith: My parents, my high school photo teacher Constance Vieira Da Cunha, Glen Friedman and Tommy Daniels.

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