Dark Aesthetics: An Interview With Actor Anton Yelchin and Kate Parfet On Their Photographic Collaboration

Today on Autre, we present a photographic editorial by actor Anton Yelchin – who stars in a new movie called Green Room as a member of a punk band that is forced to battle violent white supremacists after witnessing a murder – and model/photographer Kate Parfet set in a desolate landscape in Joshua Tree. Eschewing the traditional late sixties vibe that most photographers try to achieve in the desert, Yelchin and Parfet went for a darker and grittier aesthetic that harkens runaway fugitives playing with a camera at their hideout. We thought it appropriate to ask them a few questions about the shoot, their collaborative process and how photography is different than their respective "day jobs."  

Autre: How did you both discover and become interested in photography?

Kate Parfet: Growing up, I spent several summers on a lake in Vermont at Lochearn Camp for Girls; an attempt to socialize an introverted preteen without a list of extracurricular passions.  While I didn’t take to waterskiing or the proverbial basket weaving as expected, I did take to taking photos of inanimate objects on the disposable cameras I’d buy at the canteen. I’d process the images in town, collage them and make into small zines.

Anton Yelchin: At age 12 I had an obsession with Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and then proceeded to watch all the other Kubrick films I could including a doc called Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures in which it was revealed to me that he started as a photographer...I got a camera sometime shortly after, but spent many years just photographing flowers in my neighborhood. Somewhere, there are albums filled with prints of roses, like a backlog of unused images for air freshener ads. I only started to take photography more seriously and shooting more aggressively a few years ago.

Autre: Kate, you are also a model, what do you get from being behind the camera that you can’t get from being in front of it?

Parfet: While I like the collaborative process of working with a full team on a more traditional editorial shoot, I use the camera to snap the world felt and seen in my head. Anton tends to shoot more portraits and I gravitate towards the in between moments.  We’re both incredibly obsessive with detail and like to control the elements of the frame - light, positioning and color balance.  I’m must admit we’ve talked ad nauseam about how many stops to push a photo.  Funny enough I still don’t think we’re any closer to our answer.

Autre: Anton, you are an accomplished and talented actor, but also a talented photographer, do you feel like you can express yourself differently with a camera opposed to being a mark or taking directives?

Yelchin: Taking photographs seems to be a means to express some kind of emotional, abstractive narrative. I look at the images that I'm most proud of like a film about the world the way I see it (or at least saw it at that moment, a perspective that seems to be ever-shifting and filled with self-doubt.) I've always liked the idea of lining images up into a kind of "story" but without any particular beginning, middle, or end, which is more in line with what I think of narrative anyway and is something that Kate and I bonded over. I think the beauty of images is that they are by definition fetishes and every image (banal or not) as a fetish holds within it the promise of a sensuousness that (without generalizing) at least I, as a human being, am drawn to. I was drawn to photography as an extension of film, and the beauty of film is that it's a sensuous, fetishistic medium.

Autre: Who are some photographers or artists that you are both inspired by?

Yelchin: I think what inspires me is in a constant state of flux...it's easier to stick to photographers and perhaps cinematographers, though the great medieval, Mannerist, and Baroque painters of Italian, Spanish, Flemish, and German origin are a constant source of inspiration, along with select modernists like Dali. Hieronymous Bosch holds an especially tight hold on my imagination. Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Jacob Holdt, Boris Mikhailov, Nan Goldin, Philip Lorca de Corca...images in Cassavetes films, the new Romanian Cinema and the work of DP Oleg Mutu...the cinematographer Michael Chapman. I've always loved Brassai's images of prostitutes at night. I've recently been very influenced by the images in the old AtomAge magazines. Kenneth Anger's work.  The list goes on. I already sound like an ass so best to stop there.

Parfet: I too am inspired by Nan Goldin and other contemporaries like Todd Hido, Stephen Shore, Robert Adams, Alec Soth. The work of poets Angela Rawlings, Susan Howe and Gretchen Mattox, to name a few, give me a roadmap in my head for the images I seek out when attempting to step outside myself and try a new direction.

"....Kate and I agreed that it would be more interesting to bring some of our personal tastes into a setting that hasn't generally been aligned with that aesthetic. The desert also makes me think of aliens, and aliens make me think of glam rock and glam rock inevitably makes me think of leather and leather makes me think of...well..."

Autre: When you are both shooting each other, do you communicate or is it intuitive?

Parfet: We tend to have a shorthand and a very intuitive feel for each other and for the images we want to create, so beyond small directions...it's quite easy and intuitive. A lot of people go to the desert because it’s the perfect place to shoot something that looks like it was taken in the late sixties, but you two went for grit opposed to glamour, why is that?

Yelchin: We both agreed on the sentiment that we are opposed to the banality of post '68 imagery that seems to pervade everything these days. For lack of a better term, I'm utterly turned off by all the hippy shit (I can envision Kate nodding enthusiastically in agreement.) We like Surrealistic Pillow as much as the next guy (begs the question, does the next guy even like Surrealistic Pillow?) but are opposed to stripping '68 (and other modes) of whatever transgressive attitudes it had at the time and using it and them purely as an aesthetic, which by and large is an action almost impossible to achieve with anything these days given the overwhelming prevalence of the Image in our culture and how everything becomes an advertisement for some mode of being. That being said, I think Kate and I agreed that it would be more interesting to bring some of our personal tastes into a setting that hasn't generally been aligned with that aesthetic. The desert also makes me think of aliens, and aliens make me think of glam rock and glam rock inevitably makes me think of leather and leather makes me think of...well...

Autre: Both of you shoot predominantly on film, or entirely on real film, do you think there is something lost in digital?  

Yelchin: I like film because it brings you very close to the absurd reality that you might spend a day shooting and not get a single image that you like or works, and you won't really know for a few days at least as you wait. It connects you and grounds you to a material reality and a patience that seems lost with digital. I also think the grain texture remains forever different, and in my opinion, what I find to be more beautiful.

Parfet: I just echo the sentiment really. The film process slows the brain against the immediate gratification epidemic of the digital age.

Autre: Anton, when you are on set, do you pine to get back out and shoot pictures or do you bring your camera with you when you shoot a movie?

Yelchin: I usually bring a point and shoot with me so I can go out on the weekends and shoot a bit. I used to bring more cameras, but I'm also an Ebay nut so sometimes I'll order something if I'm really pining for it when I'm on location.

Autre: There is something very real, almost dark, about both of your aesthetics, where do you think this comes from?

Parfet: I think acknowledging darkness is an important and natural part of self-exploration. My images help me process certain complex emotions instead of internalizing in an unhealthy way. 

Yelchin: I've always been drawn to a certain kind of dark aesthetic in cinema and in film, to what's abjected or considered abject. I've been tremendously influenced by noirish cinema whether that's Von Sternberg or Scorsese in the 70s or Lynch, etc.  

Autre: What’s next?

Yelchin: More film! Hopefully more ideas, more work. Trying to learn, trying to see differently.

Parfet: Playing in the unchartered waters of digital images. Helping set up a new photo studio concept in Tokyo’s Daikanyama district. Would like to get back to the desert at some point.  

You can see more of Anton Yelchin's photography by following his Instagram page. You can follow Kate Parfet here. Green Room is out now in theaters. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE