Nikola Tamindzic is a photographer based in New York’s Lower East Side, who is also responsible for the cover of Coming & Crying. I first saw his photos on Gawker & Jezebel, and then darting across Tumblr in rapid reblogs. Though we’ve shared common friends and company (literally, we’ve covered a few parties together for Gawker), how we originally connected was when I modeled for him, a few days after arriving in New York myself.
I’ve already gone a bit into how we began collaborating on Coming & Crying before we knew that’s quite what we were engaged in. For the sake of this public interview, I wanted to ask him more about how he approaches sex in his work, especially in his portraits, because I wished I had the same license myself in my writing — of having the object before you, even if she looks like a person, understood by one’s audience as a model, as a character, even if it’s you. Or in this case, me.
After a twilight discussion in a little bar in the East Village (on shattering champagne saucers, and why it’s possibly ridiculous that my iPhone is what I chose to record this interview on), we got to talk around all of that for about two hours. Here’s the first 12 minutes.
MGG: You said that you don’t really shoot sex, and I agree.
NT: No, I haven’t. I have done that a couple of times, but I didn’t find it terribly interesting. It’s a photographic truth — the whole “Blow Up” thing? The photographer riding the model and like getting good photos? No. You aren’t going to get anything.
MGG: If you’re an actor in it. But you’ve shot couples.
NT: Even with that, I feel like, perhaps I get the most natural results by posing the fuck out of everything, rather than the other way around, when people are really going at it —
MGG: They’re not necessarily present.
NT: That’s just my experience, I didn’t find that — I thought the experience was an end in itself — rather than the photos.
MGG: But watching people having sex, when your job isn’t necessarily to be involved?
NT: Yes, plus, I kill erections — like (*snap*) —
MGG: You kill erections?
NT: Well. Another guy in the room will kill your erection in no time if he’s not involved in any way.
MGG: When I’ve shot people having sex, that was as a pornographer. I had a different set of expectations going in. The couple that I shot was crazy in love, but that wasn’t what was supposed to get on the camera. I wanted it, but I know that only a fraction of my audience in that context would care about anything like that.
NT: But it’s not the kind of process that I’m interested anymore. I think there’s too much process and not enough result. And I may be terribly old-fashioned, by preferring the outcome to the process — like, we all are full of amazing stories about how great the shoot was, and how this interaction was so great, and blah blah blah blah blah, and all we have are three shitty photos to show for it. I don’t really care for that kind of thing. I would like something to be memorable.
So the question is, why do you do this?
MGG: Why do you want to shoot sex?
NT: Why would you want to? Not for your own titillation, because it’s the obvious thing. You can get over that. You want to see if that’s all you’re interested in. You are naturally curious about what lies behind it.
But I feel what lies behind it is what you and I made. What I did in that month with some other people as well — and you’ve seen the other photos so you know where that was going.
What is sex about? It’s about abandon. It’s about something falling out of you — or, into you. Which is why there was — I don’t know how quite to put it, but that slight glistening of water, implying something being born. Your photos were able to go both ways — you were not quite sure if something is being born, or is giving birth.
MGG: Now I can see that, especially in the second one that you posted, that was so hard —
NT: The second one specifically has that thing. Which is why I cared about it. It’s mysterious to me. It’s confusing to me. It was not — it wasn’t even a sexual situation, but I responded to it in that way, because something was happening that was in you.
MGG: And not anything really planned. And that’s the thing which almost makes it more true to sex, rather than going in and saying, we’re going to position you this way, and then turn you this way, and then we’re going to get this…
NT: Yes. It is finding something that would be true to the essence of it, while still going back to the aesthetic that I want to work with. I like sex shot in a blurry, messy way — natural light, maybe black and white — because I think that’s how we experience it. It is a blur. But that’s not what I’m looking for. I might be interested in doing that in 20 years, or two years. But now, I’m interested in this.