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LAist Interview: Craig Havens

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Ed Note: We postponed publication of Monday's LAist Interview until today in honor of the Independence Day holiday.

Craig Havens, a graduate of Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, is a fine art photographer whose commercial assignments have appeared in magazines such as Rolling Stone, JANE, Los Angeles Magazine, WYWS, and Detour. In 2004 he became the first American photographer to be honored with a solo exhibition at the Grand Hall Artists Union in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Craig's first featured exhibit in LA, "Soundings" and "Opal," will be on view at the Create:Fixate 2nd Annual All-Photography Show and “Optical Lounge and Audio Lab" on Saturday, July 16th from 7 PM to 2 AM in the mezzanine of the Spring Arts Tower, a refurbished Art Deco Bank Building in the heart of Gallery Row in downtown Los Angeles.

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The main exhibit, "Soundings," is comprised of a series of large format black and white silver gelatin prints, showcasing seductive images taken on the edge of night.

Craig is at the forefront of not just of the burgeoning downtown arts scene, but also of the entire downtown revitalization.

Downtown loft developer, Tom Gilmore, has commissioned Craig to document the renovation and development of Gilmore Associate's latest project, the St. Vibiana development, and all the firm's upcoming redevelopment projects. Plans are also afoot to publish “St. Vibiana: Then And Now”, a showcase featuring the photographs of both Craig and legendary photographer Julius Shulman.

Craig’s next assignments include a book on the history of Blue Note Records and a project with Diane Keaton involving Southern California architecture.

Age and Occupation:
30, fine art photographer

How long have you lived in Los Angeles, and which neighborhood do you live in?:
Since 1993, Chavez Ravine in downtown Los Angeles

Why do you choose to live in Los Angeles?
It’s the next thing. I like the mix of cultures and its abundance in subject matter. You could look at Los Angeles your whole life and never see the entire city.

Aesthetically, is there a Los Angeles sensibility?
I think people mistakenly believe it has an aesthetic sensibility. It's usually described as a city of celebrity and wealth, which is how it's depicted on film and television. But it's more elusive than that. It's impossible to condense everything to a singular aesthetic or a style and still be true to the vastness of Los Angeles.

Why do so many photographers focus on the landscape and architecture of LA and not its residents?
There are definite physical and sociological barriers between the people of Los Angeles. And that's become accepted. It's a part of living here. You have to make an effort to challenge these barriers. It's the most rewarding adventure to take as an artist and as a human being.

What's the most cliched image you've seen of Southern California?
The landscape of Southern California is what's sold the place to the rest of the country. The beaches, the sunsets, the Hollywood sign, the mountains, the highways. After living here for a number of years, I've begun to see these things in a much different light. They seem even more elusive in person than when viewed from a distance. This series speaks to that.

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What's the most original image of SoCal that you've devised or seen?
I've always been drawn to the etching that Ed Ruscha did of the Hollywood sign. It could've been a total cliché, but the way he worked it was profound. It spoke deeply to the true undercurrent of Hollywood. There's an image from this series (although not in the show) of the Hollywood Bowl entrance that is evocative of the same issues.

Is the writer Lawrence Weschler right about the light being unique and special in Los Angeles? He wrote the essay "The Light of LA," which was published in the book Vermeer of Bosnia last year.
I haven't read it. But I find that Los Angeles light is unique, only because it's a specific point on the globe. I find myself working against the light a lot. In Los Angeles you have to wait for these little windows of magic light, but it's beautiful then. It is a unique light, albeit challenging to capture.

Is it hard or difficult to shoot photography in LA?
People understand the power of an image in this city. Everyone knows when a camera is being pointed at them in Los Angeles and they don't want to be exploited or misrepresented. It's just something you have to contend with, working here.

What is LA about your latest show/exhibition?
All the work was made while I was living here, although not necessarily shot here. I live and work here, Los Angeles informs the work.

Please describe its unifying theme?
They're all, for the most part, taken after dusk when the light is very subtle, very unpredictable. I've always been drawn to that time of night, when there's still a faint light from the sky or the moon. It speaks to a time of transition. This series explores that.

What's your preferred mode of transportation?

How often do you ride the MTA subway or light rail?
Five times a month, when I don't need to be there in a rush. I'm a big supporter of public transit.

What's your favorite movie(s) or TV show(s) that are based in LA?
Barton Fink. I'm a big fan of the Coen Brothers.

Best LA-themed book(s)?
Ham On Rye - Bukowski

Share your best celebrity sighting experience.
I hiked to the Hollywood sign and painted it with Leonardo DiCaprio. I went to his birthday party at a friend's house in the Hollywood Hills. After the party, me, Leonardo and about three other drunken fools stumbled and tripped our way up there, avoiding cameras and fences, with a gallon of pink paint and a roller. We only got as far as "The..." before we heard helicopters and ran. I've got pictures.

In your opinion, what's the best alternate route to the 405?
Metro Bus #2, then transferring to Metro Rapid #761 will take you to the Getty.

What's the best place to walk in LA?
Elysian Park.

It's 9:30 pm on Thursday. Where are you coming from and where are you going?
From my house to my studio.

If you could live in LA during any era, when would it be?
2010 when the subways go straight to the ocean.

What's your beach of choice?
Punta Cabra in Baja. There's an image of this beach at night in the show that really captures the power of the Pacific Ocean. The strength and the vastness of the Pacific Ocean at night is one of the major inspirations for my work.

What is the "center" of LA to you?
Wherever my wife Ping stands.

If you were forced to live in a neighboring county, which would you choose? Ventura County is a wussy answer.
Riverside. It reminds me of where I come from in New Jersey. It's homey.

If you could live in any neighborhood or specific house in LA, where/which would you choose?
The Hollyhock House by Frank Lloyd Wright. Who wouldn't want to live inside a piece of art?

Los Angeles is often stereotyped as a hard place to find personal connections and make friends. Do you agree with that assessment? Do find it challenging to make new friends here?
No, I think that's a cop-out. I've met the best friends of my life here.

What is the city's greatest secret?
At this point in time, my publicist says it's me. I'm an undervalued stock about to go public.

Drinking, driving. They mix poorly, and yet they're inexorably linked. How do you handle this conflict?
I drive a Volvo, slow and underpowered. I figure if I'm going to do it, I should drive as slow as I can in a car that's built like a tank.

Describe your best LA dining experience.
The strip of Ethiopian stores below LACMA. There's this one that's half mini-mart, half restaurant and you sit on carved deer and eat stewed lamb with your hands. I like eating with my hands.

What do you have to say to East Coast supremacists?
It's an old argument that's dying. The old east coast, west coast debate has really run its course. I think the emerging generation of artists consider themselves to be citizens of the world and operate accordingly.

Do you find the threat of earthquakes preferable to the threat of hurricanes and long winters?
Yes or I wouldn't be living here. Living on unstable ground informs my work.

Where do you want to be when the Big One hits?