interview by insane wayne chinsang
illustration by vinnie baggadonuts


Wayne: Just so you know, the interview will be transcribed and printed verbatim.

Chas: Okay. Well, thatís too bad. Because Iíd like you to edit it and make me sound talented. (laughs)

W: (laughs) Iíll work on that.

C: (laughs)

W: Okay, letís start out by talking about Columbus, Ohio. I know you were born there, went to school there, and now you run your business out of there. My question is, what is it about Ohio that keeps you there?

C: Well, after I graduated from college I hitchhiked all around the country. Iíve been to the East Coast and the South and the West Coast; San Francisco, and I lived in a lot of locales. But I always drifted back here because, for a long time, Columbus was what I called the ďLast of the Low OverheadsĒ. In other words, I could work and devote all my time to art, and not have to maintain a full-time job. So, I could just get things done and not worry about money and income. And also, itís comfortable. I know everybody here.

W: Do you think that thereís a stigma associated with Ohio? When you tell people youíre from Ohio, are they surprised?

C: Well, theyíre not surprised. But letís say you go to New York and walk around and see all the art directors looking for assignments. Theyíll love your work, but as soon as you say youíre from Ohio, you can see the interest evaporating. Itís not that they wonít do work with people who arenít in the city, but they have such good talent there, sometimes they just donít want to deal with it. And that hasnít really been a problem for me, because Iím more interested in doing my work and honing my vision. If I had lived in New York or L.A., I would have spent all my time working and maintaining my overhead. Here, I was able to have the luxury and freedom of the space and low cost to produce work. Itís a trade-off.

W: Right.

C: Now, at this point in time, being in Columbus is kind of hurting me because I could actually get work and assignments on either Coast. So now, itís not a good thing.

W: Does that mean a move is possibly in the future for you?

C: I donít know. I canít overcome my own inertia to be a body staying at rest.

W: Right. So, with your commercial work, and with your book, Motel Fetish (Taschen)-- which is obviously a collection of work you wanted to do, as opposed to needed to do-- how do you handle paid work over work youíre passionate about?

C: Commercial work is just a real necessity. Photography is my only marketable skill. What am I gonna do? If they call and want me to shoot something, I try. I prefer the least creative work possible. In other words, I donít want to offer them solutions. Because the solutions Iím drawing on my own point of view is, usually, psychologically dangerous. And thatís the solution they least want. My experience in the commercial arena is that when you give them an image, the first thing they want to remove is that which is ambiguous and that which is poetic. It makes them uncomfortable. But, if anybody has got any work for me, call me up. You want a box shot on a white background, thatís exactly the assignment I want.

W: (laughs) The no-brainers.

C: Right. The other side of it is that the images in Motel Fetish can be used as stock imagery, so I like selling that work. And it gets on book covers or CD packaging.

W: So how did Motel Fetish come about? I remember when I spoke with you last December, you said that you had pitched it once before, but it got turned down.

C: Yeah. I started earnestly working on this in Ď96. A friend of mine, Shawn Wolfe, who is a great designer out in Seattle, was doing some work for Ray Gun magazine, the David Carson project.

W: Right.

C: So, Shawn ran one of the motel images, and David Carson liked it and said, ďWhy donít you do us a little fashion layout?Ē So I started shooting some girls, and then Carson left Ray Gun, so the fashion bit never happened. But by then I had realized that I was on to something that interested me. At about the same time, Eric Krollís Fetish Girls hit the street, and I looked at that and thought, ďI am doing the same kind of photos.Ē Many of them were remarkably similar in spirit. So I thought, ďThis Taschen guy is gonna want to do my book.Ē So I sent him about 60 images, and they sent them back to me and said, ďDonít ever send us anything again.Ē But I was committed to doing it, so I just figured I would keep working and shop it around. I always intended for it to be a book, not as an exhibition where anybody can come in and see it. I wanted to get it in the hands of those that were going to be sympathetic and want to see it. The book is a great venue for me with a sexual subject like this. So, a couple years later Eric Kroll calls me up and says, ďThis is a good book. Let me show it to Taschen.Ē And I told him that Taschen had previously passed. So Eric said, ďWell, if I show it to him, maybe it will be different.Ē Eric showed it to him, and it wasnít different. Taschen passed a second time. I kept working. Two years later, in 2000, I went out to San Francisco to see some friends, and Eric lives out in San Francisco, so I stopped in to see him and showed him how much more work I had. Eric said, ďWell, maybe my new publisher in New York will take it.Ē So he asked them, and they said they were interested. So Eric went back to Taschen and said, ďThey want to do Kriderís book, so this might be a good time to do it.Ē And then it gelled.

W: Thatís great.

C: Yeah. But the difference is that when I first showed it to him, I only had like 50 images. It was very premature. The third time I submitted, I had over 2,000 images. So there was a big base with which to edit from. It matured in that five years, so the timing was much better.

W: You had said that the editing process was grueling. That it took you a long time to decide what went in and what didnít.

C: Right. The publisher had his concept, Eric had his ideas of what was good, and I had my ideas of what I needed in and what I wanted out. In the end, it worked out pretty well, mainly because there is not one photograph in there that I am against. I think thereís a lot of weak sisters in there that I could swap out and put in some better work, but we just ran out of time and had to go to print.

W: And thatís always gonna happen, too. When you look back on something, youíre always gonna find stuff.

C: They gave me a lot of freedom and some good input. It was a good effort by everybody. Eric did a good job.

W: So, how easy is it to get models? Especially when you were starting out?

C: Not easy at all. I work with friends and acquaintances. When youíre in a conservative land, regardless of how hip and cool everyone thinks they are, when youíre in the Midwest there is this strain of conservatism in there. When I meet a model, I set up an interview where they come and talk to me about what Iím doing and where itís going. Sometimes I end up having to convince people that itís okay. If you were in L.A. where there is an industry, people are knocking on your door. But here itís a matter of model by model, big long discussion to convince them that youíre legit. I try and let the work do the talking. I draw a spectrum from no nudity to some extreme nudity, and they can pick where they want to be on that spectrum. They draw their own boundaries, and I try to respect that when we shoot. When I get up to their boundaries, I give them a little push. Maybe they go over, maybe they donít.

W: I have to admit, when I came to the book release at your studio last year, I was amazed at how many people I knew in your book. (laughs)

C: Right.

W: And one of the girls in your book I had actually shot in college. And the photos I took of her, I didnít even think they were that risque. She was topless, but she was completely covering herself up. And that piece got chosen to hang for exhibition. But when she found out about it, she freaked out. She didnít want her parents coming across it, so they had to take it down. Now, fast forward a few years, and now sheís in Motel Fetish. You must make them feel comfortable when you shoot.

C: Well, I try. The comfort zone is important, not only psychologically, but in temperature, too. You have to have a room at the right temperature. That issue that you ran into with that model is common. I have to try and keep all the models informed of where their photos might appear. There is nothing worse than getting blindsided by some doofus at a bar going, ďHey, I saw you in that magazine.Ē Itís not cool. So I tell them, ďYour photo was submitted here. I might put it in this magazine. So, now you know.Ē Itís just a courtesy.

W: Right. So, what is it about motel rooms, panties and lingerie, women, and fetish? What is it about all of those things together that makes you interested?

C: Well, Motel Fetish was always just meant to be a working title. I really donít see myself as a fetish photographer. Iím not really in that whole genre. Fetish seems to be a box, and I donít want to get in that box. So, it was just meant to be a working title. But it just sort of stuck, because there was so much investment in it. Itís really the room that Iím interested in. The room is really the antithesis to a studio space, which is seamless. We see all of these subjects photographed against a negative nothing space; about the form and the light. What I was interested in was a believable environment that everyone has been into. So when you look at the photographs you will accept it as a real reality or real possibility. Because weíve all been in those rooms. Once you see that space, youíre comfortable. And then you can deal with the subject. Now, the personal fetish angle, or the lingerie thing, is that Iím interested in girls in underwear.

W: Me too.

C: Over a period of time, what I was interested in became more obvious to me. In the beginning, Iíd dress people up more; stockings and girdles. After awhile, I realized I liked my models in just panties and bare legs. So thatís the direction I go to. But everything Iím interested in in photography lies within Motel Fetish. It can be portraiture. Itís a large still life. I construct the set; I put the model in there; I move her around and fuss with the light and the lamps and the ashtrays, until everything is perfectly placed. Itís a large still life.

W: Thatís actually one of the questions I had. I think one of the things thatís nice about the work is that everything is working together. The color, the way itís laid out and thought out. Itís designed and structured very well. But do you think itís hard for a viewer to look at an image and not just see breasts?

C: Yeah. Itís a duality. Some people only see that. Others will go below the surface and pick up all the nuances. Itís more than just a book about sexy girls.

W: Exactly.

C: Itís a sexy noir narrative, for me. And it has all these plays of light and shadow and color and beautiful composition. Itís working on all the levels.

W: You kind of started talking about this already a little bit, but do you feel like youíve been typecast as a ďfetishĒ photographer?

C: Not really. I get thrown in the conversation with the lump. But, again, being in Columbus, itís amazing how still obscure I am. It doesnít matter.

W: Right. So how time consuming is the process? Creating the sets has to take more time than the actual shooting.

C: In the beginning I gave the sets a lot of consideration. I would construct them a day ahead of time, look at it, stand back from it, see how it was going. But in the later years, it didnít really matter. I had three sets built at once. And then I would just change some of the props, change the art on the wall, put in a different lamp,.. it just didnít matter too much anymore. I just developed a system and a method that I could work consistently, and not really have a fixed idea. I could just go in the space, bring in the model, and then whatever happens would happen. Itís spontaneous in that degree.

W: When I was in college, we had different photographers come in and talk to us about our work. One of the things that was pushed on students and really stressed was that if you were going to do fine art work, itís really got to be driven in meaning. And I always struggled with that, because I was more interested in making a pretty picture. My question is, is there a message in Motel Fetish, or is it just beautifully constructed work?

C: I struggled with that same sort of thing; the meaning aspect. I thought, ďMeaning to who? To an audience? To a viewer?Ē And once you get into that trap-- communicating your ideas to them-- youíre not freed up to just let it go. Youíre censoring yourself, to some degree. When I got to Motel Fetish, and even some years before then, I gave up completely on the concept of what the audience was going to think. The image had to have meaning for me. The experience of doing it had to have meaning. And also, it had to have meaning for the people involved. I have my personal themes that are consistent throughout all of my work for a 20 year span. So I know what my personal themes are. And I can work them through in any genre: still life, portraiture, and then Motel Fetish. And those themes are psychological tension. Thatís the way I see the world. So, I know what my themes are, and then I just construct the pretty picture. They have great composition, great color, and then my theme of psychological tension. And you get that tension either through placement of the model, and then all that really fine, tight composition has its own tension. You know what Iím saying?

W: Yeah. Do you run into people that try and attach meaning to your work?

C: Thatís fine. Thatís the other side of it. Since Iím not going for meaning, Iím not trying to illustrate an idea, it leaves it open and ambiguous. You donít know if itís a love scene or a crime scene. Are these people willing victims, or what? And thatís the cool part of it that makes it really work. Itís really open. Like stills lifted from a movie. Itís either pending action, or action arrested. You donít know whatís going on. Something could be outside the frame that is equally as important as whatís in the frame.

W: I read in the book that right before you started doing this work, you had abandoned the art gallery idea. Why that take?

C: Well, because there is no real legitimate art gallery scene in Columbus that will support you. And trying to crack the New York scene is tough. In the Eighties, I had a gallery. But then they folded after a certain period of time. Itís a matter of survival. Do I want to put my money into production of new work, or do I want to put my money into framing and presenting and doing a show, where I couldnít recuperate my investment? By abandoning the pursuit of exhibitions I could spend all my money on the production of new works at a prototype level. And when the time came to either exhibit it or do a book, I had all the proofs ready to go. So, it was a survival tactic.

W: You know, itís kind of funny. I know a lot of artists, and the general consensus seems to be that there is this complete disdain for the gallery scene. It sounds like a dreaded world to get into.

C: Yeah. I wish someone would approach me and want to represent my work in that world. Itís another full-time job trying to market yourself and try and get some gallery interested in you. If they came knocking, I would answer the door.

W: What inspires you to create? I know youíre influenced by Ralph Gibson--

C: Yeah.

W: What else gets you going?

C: Well, in your student years you look at everything in photography and painting. Iím interested in all the Surrealists and Pop artists. Photographically speaking, Ralph Gibson, Helmut Newton,.. so all of that is inside. But after a period of time, I stopped looking. I donít look at much contemporary work. Iím not really interested in who is doing what, because Iím like a sponge. Iíll just suck it up and go, ďI think I need to do this. I should try that.Ē Iím just doing the thing that seems meaningful to me.

W: Thatís great. Now, I know that you use a computer for your work as well.

C: I scan everything and make inkjet prints. Thatís basically how I got my book deal. I had every photograph I had ever taken for Motel Fetish and had it color copied. I had volumes and volumes of images. And when it got to the editing stage, I just shoved a two-foot stack of color copies in front of them.

W: Do you see the marriage of traditional and digital as being a nice way to work?

C: I love images. I donít care if itís digital or film. Whatever is affordable and expedient. I spent this past summer shooting everything digitally under these motel lighting conditions. And Iím thrilled with it. Now, I donít have a good camera, so Iím thinking that I wonít use these images large. Maybe Iíll do a small book. But Iím all about going digital.

W: Whatís next on your horizon?

C: I want to keep shooting the same technique. I donít want to have to reinvent myself, or come up with a new way of working. With the way Iím putting images together now, Iím trying to make it more narrative and more cinematic in the actual design layout. Pairs of images, three images, looking like film spliced together. Itís much more conceptually driven, and itís not all about the women. Itís about the exteriors, like cars on the street. I donít want it to be a book of page after page of females in a room. Itís more abstract. Iím moving in tighter. Itís not about the lamps or the environment, but itís still textural. You know youíre within some sort of space or environment.

W: Will you be pitching that to Taschen?

C: I was just in L.A., and I believe that Taschen is moving in another direction. And a concept-driven thing like this may not be for them. So maybe some small printer or publisher might be interested.

W: Cool. Well, the last question I have for you is one we ask everybody.

C: Alright.

W: Do dogs have lips?

C: Do dogs have lips?

W: Yeah.

C: Mine does. Sheís a white dog with black lips. Everyone always says that Iím her daddy. And I always say, ďIím not her daddy. Iím her boyfriend.Ē (laughs)

W: (laughs)

C: So I know she has lips. (laughs)

W: Well, thanks for doing this, Chas.

C: Sure. And thanks for sending me that video of you. That was pretty cool.

W: Oh, no problem. Iíll transcribe this and send it over to you.

C: Okay. Are you going to do a little drawing of me? (laughs)

W: Do you want us to?

C: I donít care.

W: You know, whenever we interview artists we usually use a piece of their work for the image. But we could do a portrait of you.

C: Itís okay. Just use one of the photos.

W: Alright.