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"Hari Nef"Zak Krevitt

Sex, GIFs and locker room jocks

New York's School of Visual Arts student Zak Krevitt kicks off our photography Class of 2014 with his NSFW portfolio

In the spirit of our six-week, digital-first States of Independence project we're launching a new photography strand today, Class of 2014. Every week we'll be throwing the spotlight onto a different photograpy graduate from the US – from Rhode Island to Chicago we've cherry-picked the most exciting student talent that's about to get unleashed on 'the real world'. We're kicking off with Zak Krevitt, fresh out of New York's iconic School of Visual Arts, the 23-year-old photographer has already been stirring up the art world stateside with countless collaborations and a smattering of European exhibitions from Helsinki to Paris too.

We caught up with Zak to talk more about his NSFW portfolio, how to deal with heartbreak on Grindr and the gay activists redefining art right now.

Tell us a bit about your artistic background? When did you first get into photography as a serious career?

Both of my parents are artists of a sort. My mom is a sculptor and painter and my dad designs truss, I grew up going to gallery openings and foreign films, art has always been a big part of my life. I started as a “serious” photographer when I was 15, I was making portraits of my friends and putting them online, eventually I was approached by LA designer Brian Lichtenberg who stole those designs from Alex Kazemi. He messaged me on myspace and said “Hey, I like your photos, and you’re not too bad looking yourself”. I was 15 and didn’t know any better so I started shooting for him.

What drew you to SVA?

NYC and Joseph Maida.

Tell us a bit about your graduate portfolio?

A lot was happening in my life at that time and I dealt with it the best I knew how which was to obsessively photograph it. I had just broken up with my partner and was having a lot of anonymous sex with guys from Grindr and Craigslist. I was no stranger to this scene but something about it this time around had me thinking critically about the act and the larger implication on the gay community. I was intrigued by the notion of being so physically close with someone, the closest you can possibly be, which is to say inside of them, while being completely emotionally distant and removed. I’ve always been interested in contrasting dualities and this one was prominent in my life at the time. With the help of my SVA-appointed mentor Phillip Gefter I came up with the working bracket of “Queer Cognitive Dissonance” which refers to the storm in your mind that brews when two opposing views come together, as viewed through a queer lens. My life is sort of dominated by that, so photographing it only felt natural. I went to New Orleans too, that was pretty fun. I had the opportunity to photograph the living legends and unknown founders of the gay rights movement in the south. Queer lineage is very important to me.

"I recently re-gifted Walter Kundicz's Champion to my boss, Nicola Formichetti for his birthday. Some of the pages stick together..." – Zak Krevitt

Gay activism is a big part of your work – who do you think is emerging right now as one of the fore-runners for your generation in terms of gay activism in art?

Hari Nef, Alexis Penny, Bailey Stiles, Sam Banks and Colin Self aka the amazing queens of Chez Deep have been really major in changing the discourse around drag and queer culture in New york. I’m reading Alexis Penny’s book right now and its blowing my mind.

Your portfolio is pretty NSFW – what American idols of erotica in photography would you say have inspired that?

I won the “Mapplethorpe Foundation Award” from SVA so I guess I should say him right? - Mapplethorpe. I’m also really inspired by porn. Mostly jocks in locker rooms and twinks in the forest. I hooked up with this sex-crazed 30-something guy during that whole post-breakup sexual escapade who gave me Walter Kundzicz book Champion. Walter was a gay porn photographer in the 50s in a time when gay porn was a pretty big no-no. The imagery is amazing and the sets and costumes are all so perfect, that would became a huge inspiration for me. I recently re-gifted it to my boss, Nicola Formichetti for his birthday. Some of the pages stick together...

Tell us about the story behind this shot?  

This is a photo of my dear friend and long time muse Brennen Steines. Brennen has CVID which is this crazy and rare disease that’s never quite the same patient to patient. It flaired up in a big way recently and Brennen was hospitalized, first here in New York, and he was later airlifted to Madison, Wisconsin to be near his family. I was by his side a lot while he was in New York and made some photographs of him where he still looks really healthy and musclar and his normal, exceedingly good-looking self. Two months later on my way from NYC to CA I stopped in Maddison and surpised Brennen in the hospital. I spent the next 36 hours with him in his hospital room. He had been hospitalized for 80 days straight and could barely eat. He had lost an insane amount of weight, he was lethargic, he had really lost his spirit. It was so terrbile to see him like that. Still, he put on a brave face and we played video games and talked about art and football. I made a few photographs of him while there. He was released from the hospital three days later.

If you could pick one place to shoot in the US where would it be and why?

Loveland, Ohio, so I can meet my boyfriend’s family and photograph his crossfit trainer father.

You've exhibited around the world but which is your favourite US city to show your work in?

I don't really get shows in the US.

You've said in the past that photography is a "lubricant" for creating social interactions for you – what is it about shooting someone that helps you break down social barriers do you think?

It allows the photographer and sitter to embody a heightened version of themselves. You allow yourself to let loose and blame your inhibition on getting the shot. It sets up a stage in which both photographer and sitter perform on.

Who are your favourite rebels in photography?

I’m torn between Lucas Blalock and Tim “Spike” Schutsky. Molly Matalon too: damn.

You created a GIF series – do you think the future of digital photography lies with this format?

I don't think still photography will ever die, in an ever increasing battle for eyeballs, videos will lose out as the longer more time consuming medium, a sad thing to say but I fear it's true. GIFs are a happy medium of the two. If I use something, a new medium of technology, I like to figure out what you can do with it that you can't do with anything else, with access to video equipment I was able to make video portraits and in turn GIFs of Brennen. I set the GIFs to play a few frames off so when seen as a whole the three faces would fall in and out of sync depending on bandwidth and time, creating portraits of someone that could continue to lead a life of their own after I had put them into the world.

You're already shooting for the likes of Urban Outfitters and Ink, what's the next frontier for you?

Dazed? A show in Madrid with my dear friends Molly MatalonTim SchutskyCaroline TompkinsCorey OlsenPatrick O'malley and Jake Sigl, curated by Joe Maida. I’d like to organize some art shows in NYC and I would love to go back to Europe and organize some more group shows of my friends and I #internationallyknow #crewstrong #GO_OFF.