Santa in Camo

Even Santa has a day job - the underground photographer Alex Fakso gets seasonal for his latest project

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Primarily recognised as one of the pioneering photographers of the graffiti world, Alex Fakso often states that his main intention whilst shooting is purely to create a good image and evoke emotion, as opposed to simply trying to tell a story; yet his images so accurately narrate the raw and unpolished essence of the streets. His two published books, Heavy Metal and Fast or Die, do not merely focus on portraying his peers going underground and tagging subways in metropolitan cities around the world, but grant exclusive access into this subculture from a non-journalistic perspective. Fakso's ultimate desire is to present an unfiltered portrayal of reality through his work. In a Dazed exclusive, he tells us about the development of his new project and exhibition "Santa in Camo" which, at first glance, appears entirely different to anything he has done before.

Dazed Digital: Most people know you for your action filled photographs of graffiti writers, subways, squats and other forms of "street life". The photographs from your newest project appear to be the complete opposite of that, was it intentional? 
Alex Fakso: My ultimate intention is to always present a sense of reality in my work. When I began photographing underground writers and subway tunnels, it was something completely new, now everybody is doing it. This project is different in the sense that I'm showing photos of a popular mythological character, Santa, but from a new perspective. I took photos of Santa in the real world, on the streets, hustling and selling military supplies, which is how he survives. It's not a fantasy I portray Santa as a normal human being with his own struggles. You can still feel the streets in my shots, I approached this project with the same intentions as the other subjects I've documented - the only difference now is that I'm taking something well known and putting my twist on it. 

DD: Tell us about the title of the exhibition Santa in Camo... 
Alex Fakso: The title represents the character balance of the subject; when Santa isn't dressed in his iconic red suit with the white fur trim, he is dressed in camo pants and t-shirts for his day job of selling military supplies. All the photos are monochromatic red and white or different shades of green. The title represents, literally, what the viewer will see in the exhibition. 

DD: How did the project develop? 
Alex Fakso: Well "Santa" is actually my father. One day he came to me and said he wanted to start this new venture. I thought it was crazy but I find his character interesting, his life is extraordinary. I started taking the first few photos in 2009; I would shoot him every time I travelled back to Italy. We'd travel up to the freezing cold mountains or be at a street market by the motorway in the boiling sun, selling military supplies: the job he's been doing for over 40 years. Other times he'd be dressed up in his suit, taking photos with children...or trying to find reindeer. He even went to the North Pole! 

DD: What is "Santa" like as a person? 
Alex Fakso: He's very funny, very eccentric and works very hard at everything. 

DD: Can you share one of the most memorable experiences from shooting this project? 
Alex Fakso: A lot of crazy things but mostly a lot of arguments! [laughs] 

DD: What's the main purpose or statement you are hoping to make with this project? 
Alex Fakso: I want to make a link between all the projects I have documented; as well as show that you can still be a street photographer and document a commercial subject like Santa. With most of my other work/projects I took something gritty and sometimes unknown then made it into something people could hang in their homes as art. With this I want to show that although Santa is a popular figure known to bring joy, there's still a struggle and there's beauty in every struggle. It's still reality, just like my other projects. 

DD: What can we expect next from this particular project and from you in the future? 
Alex Fakso: I have a fascination with pop-up books. I have been collecting them for years and would love to make this particular project into one. I'm currently working on 3D images and long landscapes of subway tunnels potentially for another book, but that's a while off. 

Text by Zeyna Sy

Exhibition runs from 19th to 29th December 2012, Studio 74, 74 Salusbury Road, 2nd Floor, London, NW6 6NU

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