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Arts and Entertainment

The Documentary Photography Of 'Hawaii-Five-0' Star Scott Caan

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Scott Caan dabbles in just about everything. On top of starring in Hawaii Five-0, doing theater productions, and yes, his former life rapping in '90s hip hop group, The Whooliganz, he's been taking photos over the past decade, shooting intimate and documentary snapshots of his life, his travels and his A-list friends.

Caan credits his start in photography in the early 2000s to his Nikon FE camera he got and the guidance of his mentor, cinematographer Phil Parmet (Grindhouse), whom he met on set of Dallas 362.

He's releasing his second book of photographs, "Vanity," on October 30. However, he'll be signing early copies of the book on August 30 from 7 to 10 p.m. at the opening reception of his photography show at the Martha Otero Gallery in the Fairfax District. His exhibition will be on display through September 13.

Caan spoke with LAist about the peculiar definition of "vanity," his bond with Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo who wrote the introduction to his book, and more.

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What was one of the most valuable lessons that Phil Parmet taught you about photography?

I guess it’s not really something that he said. It was looking at his work and looking at the way he would approach shooting a scene. I don’t think photography is something that someone can teach you. They can teach you how a camera works, they can teach you where to set your f-stop and shutter speed to get your good exposure. I guess at any kind of artistic or film school or arts school or photography class, you’re pretty much going to learn technical things and I don’t feel like you really learn anything about the photos you’re going to shoot until you start shooting photos. It was mostly looking at the soul that was in his work—not comparing to that, but you know realizing, “Oh, okay, if you’re going to show someone photographed, you’re going to take photos and the idea is to look for soul." But that’s not something someone explains to you. It’s kind of something you see in their work and you go, “Oh, that’s what I like,” and I guess it’s sort of subconscious. It’s not something you can really give a lesson on. You know what I mean—you don’t know you like that photo and later on down the line you’re like, "I like it because it’s something about the soul of the photo." I don’t want to sound pretentious. The short answer is more looking at the photos he took than it was anything he said to me.

What do you like to shoot?

I tried to shoot rock stars and I tried to go to concerts and snap some photos, but I was just trying to be obsessed with certain photographers and trying to emulate what they did. When I found out the stuff that I liked to shoot, a lot of people asked me, “What do you shoot?” And it’s always a really tough question that I can’t answer because I don’t know. I kind of just shoot—I don’t know if there’s a style, if it’s called documentarian style of photography or street photography or a day-in-the-life photography. My stuff is pretty scattered. I don’t have the time to dedicate to one subject that a lot of photographers I admire [do]; they’ll go sit with somebody for six months and shoot their world for six months. Or shoot a group of people for six months. My style is when I’m shooting I run around and shoot whatever that's interesting to me. If there’s a style for that, maybe you know and you can tell me, and when the next time someone asks me I can just say that. [Laughs]

Okay, I’m going to research and figure it out for you. Do you feel that since you’re in film and TV that you get to shoot from a point of view that other photographers who aren’t celebrities get to shoot?

Sure, sometimes. Obviously, I’m more likely to get an intimate moment with a movie star that I’m working with for three months than a photographer that’s been hired by some magazine who has three hours to get a photograph from them. So, the answer is: sometimes, yeah. But again, like I said, there are advantages and disadvantages that my lifestyle doesn’t allow me to go and spend a ton of time [with someone], but then the advantage is that I’m allowed to be with certain people that other people wouldn’t be able to be with or certain situations.

There’s a description somewhere in the book that says something like where I’m able to get where a lot of people aren’t able to get.

I saw that excerpt from the book about how you were at the Cannes Film Festival and you were able to take the rare cover photo from up top, above the red carpet.

Yeah and that photo. The book’s called "Vanity." And everyone goes, “Oh, it’s a vanity project.” And my idea [is that] this photo sort of embodies that and you open the book and the photos aren’t really similar to the one on the cover—like photos of celebrities. In fact, I don’t think there are any photos of celebrities in the book, maybe one or two.

What was your reason behind calling it "Vanity"?

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Every time I do something that’s not acting—if I put up a play or do a photography exhibit, someone says, “That’s a vanity project.” And that always really confused me. I ended up looking up the word and the definition seemed muddled to me. Wait, it’s self pride in one’s work? Self pride in one’s self? And I’m like, “Wait, why does anyone ever do anything?” Like there’s always such a negative connotation to the term, and they’re like “It’s a vanity project.” And I’m like, “I just don’t get it. Like, all right, I’ll just call this a vanity project because these are photos that I dig." And my first book I had a lot of hands in it, a lot of people saying, “Oh no, there should be a lot more nude women and more celebrities and that’s what’s going to sell.” And this book, I was like I want to put photos of a guy who’s a friend of mine that nobody gives a shit about, that nobody ever wants to have a print of that guy. It’s just a photo that I dig. So, in a sense it’s a vanity project for that reason; it’s a vanity project because it’s the furthest thing from a vanity project at the same time.

What's one of your favorite photos from this book?

There’s this photo of this kid that I was hanging out with in El Salvador in kind of this shantytown. This kid was walking us around his neighborhood and he just walked past this dog that appeared to be dead but was not dead at all—so it’s not a depressing photo. But it’s just this kid walking by this dog in this alley of his neighborhood in El Salvador. Something about this photo [makes it] one of my favorite photos. I can’t tell you why—I just had a fun time with the kid and I got a lot of fun pictures in his neighborhood.

Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo wrote the introduction. Could you talk a bit about that?

I’ve worked with Mark before and he’s one of the most interesting—and man I don’t want to say it or make it sound like there’s anything negative—but he’s one of the most interesting artists I know and he kind of has his hands in everything all the time and he’s constantly looking for fun things to do. I don’t know—I just look up to the guy a lot. He was interested in a photo of mine 10 years ago when we were working together [on The Dog Problem] and we traded: he gave me a painting of his for a photo of mine. I just reached out to him and asked if he would do it [write the intro] and he said, “Yeah, I’ll give it a shot.” I just asked him and hoped he would do it and then he did it.

What projects do you have planned on the horizon, both film, TV & photography?

I don’t know—I have a ton of things. There’s nothing that I like less than people in Hollywood that talk about what they are planning on doing. So, I do have a ton of stuff that I really hope happens, but nothing’s really it until we’re really there doing it. There’s a couple of movies I’m trying to get made, this book I’m trying to get published, and you know, no matter how good any of it looks it’s not worth talking about until it exists.

Do you still dabble in music at all?

Not working on anything specifically. I did a song on a buddy of mine’s record that came out a few months ago. I did a song with a buddy of mine that may or may not make this record. [I'm] just playing, having fun.

Martha Otero Gallery is located at 820 N Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, (323) 951-1068. Opening reception is August 30 from 7 to 10 p.m., and the exhibit will run through to September 13, 2014.