Photographer, Todd Cole is a true master of his domain. Having formed a symbiotic alliance with Laura and Kate Mulleavy of Rodarte, he’s solidified his place as a fashion photographer and filmmaker du jour.
Also immersed within the music industry, and having worked closely with LA band No Age, Cole’s latest foray in directing is for NY based indie band, Liars on their latest film clip – a haunting and dark video that is just as captivating as it is skillful.
GrandLife were lucky enough to speak with Todd Cole about the creation of the Liars video, as well as gaining an insight into this amazing photographer’s career and ideas.
GL: How did you transition between taking photographs and directing films, and what do you find more inspiring?
TC: I moved to LA from Texas to try and become a director. I worked on some feature films as an assistant location manager during my first year or so in LA, and I then assisted a director for a few years. All the while I was teaching myself photography. I ended up directing music videos for a while, but didn’t enjoy it at the time. So I quit directing and focused on photography. I spend most of the last decade building my photography career. A few years ago, as fashion films and branded web content started to become more prevalent, I directed the first Rodarte film, and I had so much fun making it. So essentially I started in film, then moved to photography and I have arrived where I actively do both. I love doing both, but the are very different in so many ways. But at the moment, film is more inspiring. There are so many new creative challenges. Moving images are much more multi dimensional – things like narrative, performances and music are so much fun to work with.
GL: You’ve had a rather speedy rise to becoming a household name since the acclaim of your fashion film for Rodarte. Was that the ‘big’ moment for you in your career?
TC: I had been friends with Kate and Laura for a few years when I made the first Rodarte film. We had been collaborating on print editorial projects, and I suggested we make a film. I have enormous respect for them, and I absolutely love collaborating with them. It has always been kind of effortless to work with them, and I think it is because we are inspired by the exact same things. Making that film was a big moment for me, but only really in the sense that it came together so easily, it was so much fun to make and I had made something really cool with my friends. To me, thats the point of it all – to make good work with good friends, and have a fun doing it. I think think if this happens, the result is usually a success.
GL: Who amongst your peers do you work with regularly, and whose work do you truly admire?
TC: Obviously Rodarte. I also really respect, admire and enjoy working with the cinematographer Matthew Lloyd. We do almost every film project together. Other artists I admire are Mark Borthwick, Mike Mills, Guinnevere Van Seenus, Oscar Tuazon, Tim Hecker, No Age, David Benjamin Sherry, Gus Van Sant, Sam Shepard, Lee Freidlander, James Turrell, Takashi Murakami… There are way to many to name.
GL: Do you spend a lot of time looking at art and imagery? Do you have any special sites, galleries or magazines that you particularly like?
TC: Yes, but maybe not as much as I used to. I really love the magazines 032C and Pin-Up. I still buy French Vogue. I love Pitchfork. I love the Hammer Museum in LA. My friend Ryan Condor has a great menswear shop in LA called South Willard. The store’s website is one of my favorite blogs.
GL: Are there any other exciting projects you’re working on at the moment?
TC: I am working on doing a third film for Rodarte. I have already shot some of it, but I am speaking to investors to finance the rest of the production. We want this to be a much bigger and more elaborate film than the first two. I also have a new photography book that has just been published by AndPress. I shot the body of work over the last three years, and I am super happy with the images.
GL: Tell me about the film clip your created for the Liars. I’m a huge fan of their work, and think you’ve done a marvelous job of it. How did the teaming come about and who came up with the amazing, macabre concept?
TC: I have always loved that band. I have seen them live quite a bit and each time they blow my mind. They also have a strong history of music videos. A few of my friends and fellow directors at The Directors Bureau have some really amazing videos for them. For the new single they asked me to write a treatment. Their only brief was that I could do whatever I wanted, but they just wanted something really dark. I had not really gone there before, so I was very excited to make something brutal. AND I loved the song so much. When I come up with an idea, I listen to the song over and over again, and eventually I get sick of it. I still haven’t gotten tired of the song. When I write, I just start thinking of images the music inspires, and images I would like to see put to the song. To me, the song called to be shot at night – driving shots – with somebody doing something very wrong. And I have this amazingly colorful dry cleaner at the end of my street, so I just started imaging him doing really weird shit after hours. Then the plastic came in to play – I know it would be really visual. Whats creepier than asphyxiation by plastic?
GL: Are you a big music aficionado, and if so, are there any bands you’re looking forward to seeing, or records you want to buy?
TC: I have always been a huge music fan. I love Animal Collective and I cannot wait for their new record. I would love to see Grimes live (this clip on Jools Holland is a winner). I love Tim Hecker’s music. I have already joined Sebastien Tellier’s cult, The Blue Alliance. I love Willie Nelson. He is kind of my ideal, professionally speaking.
GL: Aside from the Liars, and I saw your work with No Age (another band I LOVE), who else would you really like to work with?
TC: Grimes, Nicolas Jaar, Girls, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Merle Haggard, Panda Bear, Fennesz, Kate Bush, Neil Young
GL: What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t creating imagery?
TC: Running a ranch maybe. I really love the Bruce Nauman and James Turrell art and ranch precedent. A place to make work that is removed from the scene. Large landscapes. And I have always loved horses.
GL: Do you believe in true love?
TC: Yes. I moved in with my wife on our second date and we have since been married for quite a long time.
GL: Is LA home to you? Do you prefer LA over NY?
TC: Yes, LA is home. I love LA in so many different ways. All the terrible cliches are true, but at the same time they are generally avoidable. My life is nothing like what you see on Entourage. I think New York is amazing and travel there quite a bit, but I always miss the light and the space in LA.
GL: Where do you usually hang out when in NY? Are there any secret spots that you particularly love?
TC: My favorite place in New York is Mark Borthwick’s kitchen.
GL: Lastly, do you think the world is going to end this year as the Mayans predicted?
TC: Oh don’t get me started…. you will totally open pandora’s box with this. I am a recovering conspiracy theorist. Most people didn’t bother to ask, but the title of the first Rodarte film, Aanteni, is ancient Mayan for a scream for HELP. I thought that title was timely and suited the film. But honestly, I don’t think the world is going to end on December 21, 2012. I think things are shifting in new ways, and new possibilities in living for human beings will evolve. Hopefully we are evolving. But no, I don’t think there is no morning after on December 22, 2012.
View the Todd Cole directed Liars film clip below.