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John Kilar's Venice Beach

The bizarre and the absurd through the LA photographer's eyes

You could describe John Kilar’s photographs as raw, or even disturbing if you were merely judging by the bizarre faces and absurdities captured in some of his photos. But it's stumbling upon the breathtaking shots of nature, and the out of the ordinary sights taken from everyday life that stand out the most. Having picked up a film camera when he moved to Venice Beach, California, he's since had the chance to photograph many faces familiar to our readers, including Dave Grohl for the April issue of Dazed & Confused. Thanks to Kilar's photographs, you can travel from an artificially sterile world to places you would never otherwise reach. He doesn’t necessarily seek these objects out, but we can just be grateful that they somehow always find him.

Dazed Digital: How long have you been shooting on film and why did you become obsessed with film photography?
John Kilar: I've been shooting film since the very beginning. I'm mainly drawn to the rawness and the grain. I enjoy the fact that you have to be more selective with what you shoot. And also anticipating getting rolls developed, especially ones from months ago. I completely forget more than half the photos I've taken so it's quite nice to remember the shenanigans I got into.

DD: Do you find it easy to approach people you photograph?
John Kilar: The majority of the time. I get hassled every now and then. Usually by crusty kids on the boardwalk or some homeless folk. I'll take a photo out of instinct without thinking much so it cuts through the awkward approaching phase.

DD: Do you think your photographs represent the real side of Venice Beach? Are you trying to show people that side of life is still there even if it may be unpleasant for some people to look at it?
John Kilar: I would hope so. I just document life through my own eyes. It all comes down to a matter of perception. Something unpleasant to one person can seem completely beautiful to the next.

DD: We can still find a good portion of romantic sunsets, sunrises, beaches and forest shots. Is that your guilty pleasure? Do you like the contrast between ‘beautiful and ugly’?
John Kilar: Nature is anything but a guilty pleasure. It’s pure bliss and the only thing that brings me complete solitude, considering how big of a distraction society is. I thoroughly enjoy all the contrasts in life. It’s all an experience to me.

DD: What is your process like when shooting singers or fashion shoots?
John Kilar: I like keeping it as close to my “regular” work as possible. I’ll choose a specific area first, then usually just wander around to maintain a level of spontaneity.  I don't like to over-think it. It feels like hanging out more than anything. And they’re usually always friends of mine which makes it fun.

DD: Loads of tattoos on your pics. Have you got any?
John Kilar: Nope! Virgin flesh.

DD: Is there anyone or any concept you would really like to photograph in the future?
John Kilar: It would be wonderful to get commissioned to document my adventures, permitting me to perpetually travel. My best work tends to come out when I’m witnessing new realities and experiences, so I just want to keep moving.

DD: What have you been working on recently? Any future plans?
John Kilar: I’ve been focusing more on conceptual shoots lately. I’m super selective with who I work with but I have some really exciting people I’ll be shooting soon! I'm also focusing on other aspects of art and have some musical projects in the works.