I Against I: Deciphering Yopoosh
THE LITTLE VOICE from the GPS on my iPhone led me through the labyrinth of D.C. streets, promising, that it would lead me to Pasha, the artist from nearby Maryland, who provided the location where we would discuss, amongst other things, mobile photography.
“Oh, what’s good, man? Glad we finally made this happen.” This date was scheduled for coffee and chatting; we were both 20 minutes late. We settled down in a plush Friendship Heights restaurant on Wisconsin Avenue, with Old Blues Eyes creating background noise. All that rested on the table in this secluded booth was his iPhone and mine. While I prepared my iPhone voice recorder app, he constantly surveyed his surroundings, with thoughts noticeably flowing through his mind. “This is my first interview, man. At least this is the first one in person.” I didn’t mention that it was my first time conducting an interview, as well. At least this was true for the purpose of discussing art and photography. When he spoke, his voice – a lighthearted voice, in a cultivated and introspective manner – seemed to come after deliberate thought.
“Were there certain pictures that you wanted to talk about?”
“Before we get into specific photos, I wanted to know how you would introduce yourself to people who are unfamiliar with your work,” I asked. Skillfully he sidestepped that question and proceeded to answer the question he preferred. “I don’t know, really.” He proceeded to answer his question, “for the montages, mostly, I try to create my own little environment.” His statement was apparent to me as I examined his Instagram feed prior to the interview. I noticed that his environment is, at times, not enough. That it is missing something, and he decided to add that missing element.
“I’ll never forget the day I realized what was missing in the environment. I skipped class and just started walking around my campus in Arlington. I took a picture of this stairwell and thought of putting something in it, in the picture. I just didn’t know what.” He paused, as if to re-imagine the discovery all over again. “I kept on walking and kept doing my thing, taking pictures. So after a few hundred feet away, I realized it would be cool to put an astronaut in the picture. Just to throw an astronaut, out of nowhere, into the photo. That was the first one I made. It just evolved into animals.”
The art of montaging photos goes back to the invention of photography in the mid nineteenth century. The manipulation of photos through composite pictures made in the darkroom, double exposures, and other forms of combining photography were popular and coveted by many aristocrats. There is always someone trying to step outside of the norm. Digital photomontages became prevalent through the introduction of Photoshop, Gimp, and other similar software. But to do these montages on your phone, I could tell by the manner in which he discussed these photos, was a source of pride for Pash, and rightly so.
“I did a series soon after. I called it ‘Animals on drugs.’” This title reflects the photos well, I thought. With their wide array of colors and scenarios that only LSD could provoke. “I did one with penguins on clouds, diving. Another one with a fox wearing a fur.” He smiled, noticing the irony of such an image.
Hearing him now, I completely forgot that I had met him once before. One of his photos was selected as the winner of a local DC photography contest. It was an interesting flip of a prominent bridge in New York City. At the time, people were not yet flipping photos that often, so this particular photo really stood out. Many of the usual DC mobile photographers were there. But it was out of the norm for Pash to make an appearance. But on that night, near Malcolm X Park, he discussed photography with the attendees’ eager to pick his brain. I realized here, sitting with him, that he values his privacy and appreciates the challenge of letting his work speak for itself.
“Sometimes I have a slight idea of what I want a finished montage to look like,” he continued. “Even still, it’s not until I start playing around with it that I realize that certain elements will look better in certain locations.”
“I was wondering if you were into photography before your phone?”
He nodded firmly, as though establishing that creativity for him did not begin with apps. “It was in high school that I felt I was really in my element with photography. To capture an image and to share an image with people was cool. But yea, as soon as I got my iPhone, I started pushing it. I noticed that people liked what I was doing… With people reaching out to me – people I respected – to do collaborations, I knew that my work was getting across. Like Abbie Cornish, @abbiecornish on IG, and Mike Diamon, @mikediamond. We collaborated on a number of photos which received a lot of great feedback.”
collaboration with @abbiecornish
“So tell me about a place you loved to photograph,” I asked. “Freedom Tunnel,” he said emphatically. “In New York City.”
The Legacy of Robert Moses sits under the streets of New York City, a vast stretch of space that snakes under Manhattan for 2.5 miles. Riverside Park Tunnel, also known as the infamous Freedom Tunnel, was at one point the home of substantial number of homeless folks who sought refuge in its dark and secluded area. Beginning in 1974, folks began to trickle in, designating specific areas as their own, claiming the land as their own. In 1990, Amtrak work crews found approximately 113 residents living in various parts of the tunnel. The Amtrak crews did not yet discover what the actual number was. In fact, it stood closer to 5,000. The residents called all those that lived above the topside society. There was a clear separation between them and us. This was clear to the Amtrak crews as each resident rebuffed all invitations to speak, declined to provide information, and refused to cooperate in any meaningful manner. The residents established Glaucon as the Lord of the Tunnel, and as such, spoke for all of the residents.
When Pash entered the tunnel, all of its past residents were now gone. With the tunnel now mostly deserted by its previous residents, what remained was the same vast space, now covered in graffiti – spearheaded by graffiti legend Chris “Freedom” Pape – that has become must see for urban photographers and courageous tourists alike.
“I first heard about the Freedom Tunnel through a friend in Harlem. I brought along my iPhone, film camera, as well as a Canon 7D. As I got deeper in the tunnel, I began to fall in love with the place more and more. Mostly because the perfect amount of light was coming in from the city above.” His photos of the Freedom Tunnel are natural, with minimal edits. He did not place an animal on the tracks. There was no need to. There was no missing element to the environment. “Combine the light with the beautiful graffiti splashed all over the walls,” he continued, “and you have yourself a photographer’s dreamscape.”
Pash made his first trip to the tunnel this year, and, it seems, like it pushed his boundaries further out. “We stopped nearly every 50 yards. I would rotate using all of my cameras, unable to stop photographing such an awesome place. To enhance the lighting, I brought along some flour to throw in the air and bring out the light rays that were coming down from above us. Anytime my friend would light a cigarette, I would photograph it because the smoke worked really well with the lighting down there.”
“About 30 minutes into the tunnel, we noticed 3 people with flashlights. Because cops frequent this area, we were sketched out. We paused and waited till they walked by us. Once one of the figures came into light, I realized it was Steven Duncan, the notorious urban explorer! We exchanged a few words, and he gave us a flashlight. In total, I spent 4 hours underground. We reached a point where we saw a little bit of light through a tiny crawl space and decided we should take that exit. As we took our first step back outside of the tunnel, I felt like I had just stepped into a new world.”
He was now topside.
Sensing A Break in the conversation, he reignited it: “I do like to incorporate the graffiti element into the edits.” I previously asked him if graffiti or a love of it played a role in the shaping of his craft. A month ago, I spoke with local graf artist Monolith, @monolithdc on IG, about the aesthetics of graffiti, and he stressed the importance of symmetry in any effective piece. Pash echoed those sentiments: “Graf culture plays a role, especially in paying attention to the symmetry and color balance, amongst other things.” He mentioned to me that he has done work with stencils likes to remain active in street art. An element about some of Pash’s photos that struck me was how graffiti-layered walls would be the scenes in which a glamorous female would stand in front of. Seemingly out of place but cleverly blended together to just work. “And all you use is Blender?” I asked. “All Blender. Blender, and then I take it into Snapseed or VSCO,” he said as he half-smiled and eyes narrowed. He normally begins the process in Image Blender, where he first uploads the background image and proceeds to layer it with another photo. After blending it properly and creating the shadows, Pash mentioned that he takes the photo to either Snapseed or VSCO Cam and tones the image till he likes the result. Many people who have followed Pash throughout the year have noticed that he goes through periods. He will go a few months with strictly montages and follow that up with street photography. “After I took a trip to New York, it just kind of spawned a need to just post regular street shots.”
As we sat there, now almost one hour since arriving at the restaurant, he began to speak about his idols in the photography world. It appeared as if it were easier for him to discuss the work of those he enjoyed. He didn’t need to think about an answer, it just flowed out – a sense of enjoyment and acknowledge in the work of others. “Bill Cunningham. Terry Richardson is another amazing photographer. Bill Cunningham said something along the lines of, ‘if you don’t take their money, they can’t tell you what to do.’ I just appreciate that idea, and that he has never sold out and does what he does. Sleeps in this tiny-ass bed, in a tiny-ass apartment. I admire the way he carries himself and his work. These two, Cunningham and Richardson, are mostly portrait, people photographers. With respect to mobile photography, I would definitely have to say that @13thwitness and @mattfrench, have influenced my work, and the way I view possible photos.”
Though spending all of his life on the outskirts of DC, Pash, a soon-to-be graduate with a major in Graphic Design, doesn’t feel much inspiration from his native DC streets as he does from, say, New York City. He himself admits that he has not explored the city much, and realizes there is much to see, but the motivation might be to move directly beyond the Capitol. “New York, London, or possibly Australia.” A quiet man, who speaks through his imagery, reiterated his desire for the separation between what is private and what is social.
As our conversation came to its natural conclusion, we stood up from the booth, with Tony Bennett now crooning, we dapped each other, and continued to gather our phones to leave. He grabbed his iPhone, unlocked it, and proceeded to return to his world of creativity.
Find Pasha on:
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