Street photographer Ari Marcopoulos on his new direction, and why he hopes to change perceptions of his work
Since moving to New York from Amsterdam in the early 1980s, Ari Marcopoulos has been one of the city’s most important youth subculture, music and fashion photographers. Starting out as an assistant to Andy Warhol, he has gone on to shoot everyone from Jean-Michel Basquiat and the Beastie Boys to NYC rap crew Ratking and LA hardcore group Trash Talk. As well as having numerous fashion campaigns under his belt, working with Supreme and Carhartt, he also created the cover art for Jay Z’s 2013 release Magna Carta… Holy Grail.
However, Marcopoulos’ latest show, L1032015, marks a seismic shift in his style. Aside from a stark shot of his brother, the black-and-white collection replaces his more traditional form of street portraiture with brutalist shots of urban abandonment, foggy mountain tops, crashing waves and Marcopoulous’ own messy, but intricately ordered studio floor, complete with images of Karl Marx, as well as a 50 second-long video shot from his studio window. Below, we spoke to the photographer about New York, working with Jay Z and hitting a new stride in his work.
What initially made you want to move to New York from Holland back in 1979?
Ari Marcopoulos: Change of scenery, habits. (To) be in a new place where I didn't know anyone and see what happens.
What do you love about New York?
Ari Marcopoulos: The people – mostly the people I don't know, like the ones I see riding the subway, or the kids playing basketball on the court behind my house.
Is it still as exciting and inspirational as it was when you first moved there?
Ari Marcopoulos: Inspiration comes from within and yeah, it’s exciting, perhaps exciting in a different way. I am also a lot older so my relationship to the city is different. The thrill comes from a place of experience and understanding, not just from the new. But New York never fails to surprise.
What made you first want to pick up a camera?
Ari Marcopoulos: Seeing astronauts taking pictures with their Hasselblads.
How would you define your new work?
Ari Marcopoulos: A combination of my conscious and my subconscious.
“There is a perception of what my work is like out there and it’s not always accurate. There is always growth, but the work is really a combination of thought and doubt, and it always was” – Ari Marcopolous
What brought on the change in style?
Ari Marcopoulos: What appears to be abstract is not so abstract, really. Portraits still play a role in my life, but less so. The exhibition is a reflection of my state of mind now.
Where were the images for the new exhibition shot?
Ari Marcopoulos: The landscapes are fictional to me, like a short story. I travel a bit but enjoy leaving the location as the least important part of the information. Tasmania, Japan. northern California, New York and Los Angeles are some of the places I visited recently.
Did you make a conscious decision to change they way you worked, or did it come naturally?
Ari Marcopoulos: It’s not so much a change in the way I worked. There is a perception of what my work is like out there and its not always accurate. There is always growth, but the work is really a combination of thought and doubt, and it always was.
Which photo in the new exhibition means the most to you?
Ari Marcopoulos: The photo of my brother, because he is my brother.
Probably your most mainstream project of recent years was shooting Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail artwork – how did that come about?
Ari Marcopoulos: A friend brought me into the project and Jay Z (and I) saw eye-to-eye on what would be a good way to go about it. Everyone involved trusted each other on the project, so I had the freedom to interpret the album material in my own way. It was a great collaboration.
Which new creative are you most excited about at the moment?
Ari Marcopoulos: Frank Benson, a New York-based artist.
L1032015 opens on April 4 and runs until May 9 at the Marlborough Chelsea gallery in New York