I learned that David Foster Wallace killed himself while I was listening to LA’s NPR station, KCRW, stuck in traffic, driving west on I-10, near the Museum of Tolerance. It was 2008. In Infinite Jest, DFW’s seminal work, the character Joelle Van Dyne says about herself: “I’m so beautiful I drive anybody with a nervous system out of their fucking mind.” She’s not lying. She is referred to as the P.G.O.A.T. (Prettiest Girl of All Time) and she wears a veil to hide her beauty — or to hide a scar from an acid accident involving her mother and father (like many things in the novel, the truth is ambivalent and contested). She runs a late night radio show under the name Madame Psychosis.
This all relates to Neave Bozorgi. I first found Neave’s work in 2015, when he was shooting for The Hundreds. He did a weekly column featuring beautiful natural light, excellent play with shadows, and an artful eye for the human form. His work focused around the female body and as he rose to prominence he worked with Kylie Jenner, Charlotte McKinney and many others. I’ve followed his career and have appreciated his groundedness, and his pursuit of the real. In an article we did in 2016, he summarized his mentality with: “I hope that by people seeing these little moments that I’m capturing in my life, people will start paying attention to what’s going on in front of them in their life.”
And in an interview he did with Mo Mfinanga, Mo asks him, “What do you find the purpose of your work to be?” Neave replies, “To make you appreciate and think.” Recently Neave displayed prints in a gallery show called Optica, at Feeny’s Photo in West Hollywood. He has also released a beautiful photobook, Private Collection, and a photo course/handbook called Photo Zero. He continues to pursue projects not for the trappings of fame and money, but from a deep appreciation for art and humanity. He talks about this frequently in his podcast, happy to be here, which is a mix of musings, music, highbrow insights and casual jokes (one episode is “sponsored” by an organic eggplant).
In one episode, titled “Kylie,” Neave reflects on the difficulties of connection when people want something from you — beauty, money, fame, sex. He has photographed and become friends with many Joelle Van Dyne’s, and yet, instead of being entranced by the beauty, he sees each person as a complete person. He is not solely drawn in. He has achieved popularity through social media, but he is planning to quit social media. He is smart enough to know that not all things that are praised in popular culture are good for us. He is like the rich man than knows money is not everything. We’d do well to believe him.
Neave says in another podcast that he seeks personal connection not in digital forms, but in real life. “Come give me a coffee and I’ll give you an apple,” he says, genuinely. Listening to him is a bit like what I imagine it would be like listening to Madame Psychosis — but Neave sounds oddly familiar to me, like the voice of a KCRW DJ Garth Trinidad. You see? It all ties together.
All this is part of the intrigue of Neave, and yet his work in natural light and skin is why I wanted him to shoot a small collection of photographs for West Skincare — natural light, natural skin, no make-up, no retouching. He proposed shooting with his friend Gabriela Bloomgarden. The idea was to shoot one role of film, in one afternoon. It turned into more — but that happens.
Why'd you think of Gabriela for this project?
I thought of Gabriela for this project was the level of comfort we have around each other, the fact that she gets me on product quality, and that she can be effortless in front of the camera.
What's she like when you're working with her?
She's curious and introspective which makes for really fun conversations. Plus we have roamed in the same circles, lived a few different lives already, so there are a lot of points we can connect on. She's very present during shoots, which I appreciate a lot. She doesn't check her phone, zone out, get distracted, or think of crazy ideas that have nothing to do with what we're doing.
How was the mood shooting in her own place? How did that affect the dynamic?
The place she's living in now is designed by Richard Neutra, so there are a lot of nice textures, windows, and warm tones. Another thing that Gabby and I connect over is our love for plants, and her place is filled with them. The mood is very relaxed and inviting; and I think whatever mood the room is emitting shows in the photographs.
What was this day like? And did you have a plan, or do activities just evolve naturally?
We had a loose plan but nothing set in stone. I'm finding that it's better to have a loose foundation for a photography project but allow space for the moment to dictate what comes from the shoot. Creativity is not something that can be approached with plans and formulas in my opinion. How do you make subjects comfortable with the camera? By being comfortable myself. If the photographer is agitated and full of static they will definitely affect the rest of the room. That feeling of anxiety and unease is something that is communicated by something that is beyond words and body language; it affects the field.
What's the thrill of shooting people on film?
The thrill of it is the unknown. It's a jam session every time. I bring my instrument, they bring theirs, and together we see what comes from the time we spend together and the mood we've brought into the space.
What time of day did you shoot? What are you looking for with light and shadows?
We shot towards late afternoon around 4:00 to 5:00 pm. I had been to her house before so I knew she had west-facing windows, so we planned it around the angle of the sun. When it comes to light and shadows I look for form and balance. I try to extract shapes made by shadows and then work them in with the subject.
How long do you shoot for?
I try my best to keep it at an hour max, but I give myself an extra hour of "just in case". Most people lose energy after an hour so it's best to get the shots you want before they start to fade. I've talked to a lot of model friends about this and the consensus is that when a shoot that goes over two hours it becomes a huge energy-suck. The same can be said for the photographer. I hope brands and companies embrace the idea of low-key productions instead of huge/elaborate ones that are mostly for show.
What film did you use? And what camera? Any editing?
For this shoot I used two rolls of Portra 400 and used a 1972 Canon FTb. There is slight editing because my scanner automatically lowers the highlights so I have to compensate for it in post production. Other than correcting the highlights I adjust the clarity by 5-ish percent and call it a day.
What about shooting in natural light, with natural skin do you find compelling?
Pretty much the word natural is the compelling part about it. It's all natural with nothing artificial enhancing or changing it. When it comes to photographing skin under natural light on film I ask for no make-up because make-up changes the way light reflects off of the skin. What was great about this shoot was the fact that we were shooting a story about a product that moisturizes and enhances the natural look of the skin, so it was perfect. I think it also affects the person in front of the camera to exist in their natural element without being hiding behind a layer. There's a sense of ease when everything is natural.