Eric’s Note: I am not sure how I stumbled upon the work of Todd Gross, but when I first saw his images- I was hooked. Not only are his images colorful and vibrant, but they are quite surreal, wacky, and in Todd’s words– jazzy. Not only does he have a talent for spotting and photographing interesting characters, but also colorful “still life” photos on the street. Check out his fresh color work and thoughts in the feature below.
Todd: I am a 42-year old lifelong (townie!) resident of Queens, New York and Forest Hills High School drop-out. That’s the same school the Ramones didn’t got to. Love those guys. I saw Tommy buying flowers for his Mom at a local deli… once.
As a kid I was obsessed with collecting Mad magazines. Alfred E Neuman was my guy. I wrote and drew my own rip-off, called Nutso. Unfortunately, I lacked talent. My drawing skills were for shit. I couldn’t even make it to stick-figure level. We’re talking more like… blobs. Also, this being the early ’80s there was Atari and Intellivision to play, so I eventually grew discouraged and gave it up. But I knew I wanted to get involved with some sort of visual art at some point.
Flash forward to the mid-90s and thanks to a couple of angels, I had a well-paying gig at ABC, coordinating camera crews and tape couriers from the newsroom. Always intrigued by cameras, now I could afford one. I picked up a Pentax Spotmatic and off I went.
Honestly, I didn’t really shoot (mostly b&w) all that much. I was probably discouraged by the fact that my prints ended up mostly unseen, stuffed into a dresser drawer.
By 2001, like seemingly just about everyone on Earth, I ended up as a professional typist, shifting digits around, buildin’ some web sites. As most of these gigs went back then, there was a ton of down-time spent surfing the web. I discovered some blogs where folks (mostly local nyc web worker type cats) were posting photos made with digital cameras.
A newish thing at the time. I thought, wow, cool. I got really excited about pictures of parked cars, mannequins, garbage on the street–stuff like that. These images inspired me to order a little ($100 cheap!) digi-cam.
I built my ‘photo-blog’ quarlo.com and started posting pics taken with my crappy camera. After a couple months, I started to get feedback by email!? Some people liked what I was doing? That was an eye-opener. Why would someone take the time to write me about the photos? There weren’t even any words on the site. None, no captions, nothing. I didn’t even attach my name to it in the beginning. But, I realized I had an outlet for my creativity. I had an audience.
Previously, I felt frustrated, that I didn’t have a way to get the crazy shit in my head out. Now, I did. I found myself completely submerged in this random, jazz-like, often luck defined form of photography, that encouraged adventurousness, taking chances and interacting with people. I was into it.
I shot obsessively for five years, switching back to film early on. I just liked the look of film better. Film was film, like a movie. Digital reminded me of video or the look of daytime soap operas.
I was very happy doing what I was doing but then I made the mistake of taking a job at a photo-lab scanning film, printing other people’s pics. Now I got to be around photography all-day! Not an ideal situation for me. I think it’s best to keep work and photography separate.
The summer of 2005 was a hot one here in NYC and I experienced a personal perfect storm of sorts that slowed my output. The intense heat, my girl of the time incinerating my heart, the uninspiring dead-end job and general photo-fatigue all combined, slowed my output. I fell into a bit of a funk. I dropped the ball and eventually stopped shooting altogether.
From that time to say, 2010, there really wasn’t a day that went by where I didn’t think of photography or wonder why I wasn’t doing it. Gradually though, my situation improved, mentally and emotionally. I found myself in a better place, bought an iPhone and suddenly had a camera with my wherever I went.
A trip to Chicago in early 2011 convinced me I had my mojo back. It’s hard to say what did the trick exactly, but I took a picture of a hotel room lamp that I was happy with.
So, when I got back home, I bought a Nikon DSLR. Now, I shoot with that and the film cam I used for my favorite pre-break shots, a Nikon N80.
As far as what I’m looking for on the streets, if anything, it’s to produce images that synthesize my love of Mad magazine and Pink Floyd album covers. One part head-in-the-clouds, mysterious, nobody knows where you are stoner vibe and one mid-century, borscht belt flavored satirist.
Anyhow, I hope I don’t let myself get side-tracked again. I mean look, now my shit is going to be featured on Eric Kim’s blog!
Fini. The end.
More photos by Todd