Graffiti, sculpture, stencils, stickers, wheat pasting, installations, posters, murals. Call it vandalism or call it urban commentary, but street art is here to stay. Documenting this ever-evolving scene for the past several years, Birdman (Bryan Mier) is one of street art’s most esteemed photographers who has done everything from climbing walls at 2 o’clock in the morning to watching his back (literally) in order to get the right shot. And now the photographer is stepping in front of the camera to share “Wish You Were Here,” his first solo exhibition at Novel Cafe in Downtown LA.
Opening on Friday, December 9 at 6pm, “Wish You Were Here” is a photographic journey that includes shots on roof tops, after-dark sessions and rare images of artists up close and completely in their element. “While climbing buildings, going wheat pasting and watching murals being painted I try to capture an artist’s process that not that many are able to see,” says Birdman. “The night photography gives the average person a glimpse at the world we see at night; the amber glow of street lights and the dangerous installment process of donating art in the streets.” I recently caught up with him to talk shop and find out what it’s like to break the law for the sake of art.
Birdman! So tell me … when did you first know you wanted to be a photographer? And specifically, a photographer who captures street art?
I never wanted to be one actually. I just took photos of buildings when I traveled and saw it as a hobby. But one night I was really bored of my day job and I wanted something fun to do. So my friends and I drove around Hollywood with my new camera taking pictures of art we found interesting. Didn’t realize people were actually looking at my photos until I was at the Art Walk and bumped into some fans of my work. They helped me realize what I was doing was bigger than I thought and ever since that day things have taken off. Thanks JB and Wil!!!
Have you ever been so excited/moved/inspired/fill-in-the-blank by what you were shooting that you decided to put down the lens and actually participate?
I personally haven’t created art to put up since I’m just not good at visual art. I went to music school and consider myself a decent musician but visual art has always fascinated me since I’ve never understood it. Probably why I’m addicted to chasing it. So instead I go with the artists when they put up the art and try to capture our adventures.
Speaking of participation, do you see yourself as a participant or a spectator in the street art scene?
I see myself as a participant of the scene. Like I said in the last question, I get my hands dirty when I can. I also try to stay knowledgeable about events or feuds so I can inform others about what’s going on.
Tell me about the name Birdman. Is that because so much of your work is from an aerial vantage point?
Haha, no actually. It came from a drawing my friend would do of me in high school as a vulture since I hadn’t grown into my Adam’s apple yet. Asshole. I created the name since I work in the music industry and didn’t want to mix up what I do when people search my name … and I really didn’t plan on this taking off so now I’m stuck with it, haha. I help put up art with artists and break some laws for my photos, so I figured I earned a nickname; that and my love to climb buildings. Didn’t realize how perfect it was until later.
“Wish You Were Here” is quite an apropos theme for your show–your work captures moments in time, especially when one considers street art’s generally short lifespan. What do you hope to accomplish with your photography?
It’s also the title of a great album I listen to when looking for street art. I just want to have fun and help artists document their work, and if I can get the process of the whole piece, great. If not, hopefully I’ll take a good picture of it in its natural environment. I’d like my photography to make people happy. I really enjoy getting messages from people in random places saying they love looking at my photos since the art where they’re at sucks or there isn’t a scene.
Ever been arrested while following an artist? You must have had some close calls.
Haha, I’ve had a few close calls. But I’ve never been arrested (knock on wood). Rules to remember while putting up art: don’t get too confident, trust your gut, keep looking behind you and have fun!
How do you determine what’s worth shooting?
If I like it.
Tell me about some of the photos in the exhibit. How many pieces are there? How were you able to narrow it down?
There are 20 photos, 6 collaborations and 14 of my favorite street photos. The collaborations are with artists I saw as my friends or close acquaintances. Those are my favorite as I had each artist paint on top of a photo I took, turning it into a hybrid of them interacting with their own art. And the others I had to reaaaallllly look at to find which I considered photojournalism rather than pictures of dirty walls.
Will all the photographs be for sale?
Yup! All of my collaborations are one of one and $300, 11″x 14″ framed. While the street photos are all editions of five for $100 11″ x 14″, the lucky buyer of the first print gets a free frame.
Why do you think street art is important? What does it do or achieve that art in a museum or gallery does not?
I think it’s important because it tells a story about the current events that are going on. There was an event or idea big enough to stir up emotional thought where an artist created something and illegally placed it for all to see. I’ve even found that artists who couldn’t have their work seen in a gallery put it in the streets where they were free [to decide] how it was lit or displayed.
Vandals are artists even though some can’t see it. If their artistic integrity is the need to write their name everywhere they go, I have a lot of repsect for them. It’s a raw form of art … kinda like saying why certain jazz musicians sound better live than they do on a recording. Sure, the idea is there but that emotion when it’s live is just something else. In my opinion, compared to galleries or museums, it shows the childish rebel in all of us. We have either had it or secretly wanted it and hopefully people can live it through my photos.
Speaking of galleries, you’re also the house photog for Maximilian Gallery & LAB Art. What do you think about street art moved indoors? Does the setting change the meaning at all?
Yes and no. I like seeing it indoors as well as outdoors. The setting changes the meaning but like I said with jazz, it’s great to have it recorded but nothing beats live. Recorded being a gallery and live being the street. You can really see what the artist is capable of doing in a gallery setting since they have a lot of time to work on their piece (sometimes), but in the streets there can be a lot of variables going on in the placement of the art that make that art form so special. These galleries are giving those artists a perfect setting to be seen in. I have a lot of respect for anyone willing to take a risk for art.
Do you consider yourself an artist?
I’d like to think that, but I could also be crazy, so who knows? Check out my show and tell me what you think.
Exhibit goes until Saturday, December 31 @ Novel Cafe, 811 Traction Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90013.
More info: www.flickr.com/photos/birdmanphotos