Interview Series: Sugar Los Angeles

Sugar Los Angeles, a “photographic company”, has been up and running for just barely a year and has already garnered thousands of followers, hundreds of girls asking how they can be a “Sugar girl” and multiple workshops set up in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York on “Photographing Women.” I like to call Sugar Los Angeles pure art – none of the images are retouched, there are never any make up artists involved and all photos are shot in natural light.

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The product is beautiful photographs that show primarily young women in their element – whether that is in the kitchen, bedroom, or outdoors, wearing mismatched lingerie (oftentimes whatever they had on under their clothes that day) or bare skin. I first met Kody, the man behind it all, when I shot with him a few months ago. What ensued was one of the most intimate photo shoots I had ever been apart of – I hung out in my underwear at my best friend’s house all day while Kody took the sidelines, shooting us making drinks, taking a bath and indulging in a long winded session of girl talk in bed.

Needless to say, Sugar Los Angeles is quite an experience for all parties involved – from the models who enter the world inside Kody’s mind to the spectators who are allowed to indulge in naturally rich images of women you could easily run into at the grocery store. We were lucky enough to have Kody answer a few questions for us. Check out the interview below.

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Q&A

LF: What is Sugar Los Angeles?

KODY: I’m a photographer and these are my friends. Okay…I guess you need more than that. Sugar LA is really focused on portraying women in a strong and confident way. I started photography a few years back and fell in love with it. I spent the first couple years “creating” what I wanted to see but I started to realize that it had no heart. I was shooting with these wonderful, beautiful, intelligent women and would always hear “that doesn’t even look like me”. Not in a bad way at all, but I guess I started seeing it that way. I decided to throw out all of my work and just start over. I made this massive list of what I thought it took to create a business and an idea that I could personally stand behind. I still have the list and still follow it every step of the way. It is those same wonderful, beautiful and intelligent women as themselves. No make up. No rules. Only a shared vision to create beautiful images we can be proud of.

LF: How did you come up with the idea of creating Sugar Los Angeles?

KODY: I spent my entire life growing up in a small town just outside of Sacramento. It wasn’t somewhere you had an industry of any kind, let alone fashion, models or art. I worked at an Apple store at the time as a trainer and I would see people everyday that I wanted to photograph. For me, it started as a small idea to build a portfolio and learn to shoot beautiful images while finding my style. That was it. It changed dramatically when I started realizing that what I was doing was important to me. I had no resources, only my small one bedroom apartment and time after work. I spent this entire last year photographing people I know who aren’t “models”, but instead worked at the local Starbucks, gas station, restaurant, wherever. All of this while working full time at Apple. I guess I just saw no reason that a no name photographer from a worthless little town couldn’t create something different.

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LF: What’s the story behind the name “Sugar Los Angeles”?

KODY: My fiancé has actually called me Sugar for our entire relationship. Every time we got off the phone, went to bed, you name it, I heard “Love you Sugar”. When I started Sugar LA in January of 2013, one thing I knew was that I needed to push myself in order to feel challenged. I think I thought this way because of skateboarding. I was pretty bad at skateboarding, but a lot of the cats that I hung out with were pro skateboarders or were at least sponsored and when we would go skate, I had to step up my game. I’m a huge believer in understanding how you got to where you are and what pushes you. I guess I just applied those same thoughts I had in regards to skateboarding to Sugar LA. As for the Los Angeles? Well, LA is the playing field. That was where I wanted to be. That was where everyone I knew of and enjoyed seeing their work were coming out of. It just made sense.

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LF: Your work has a very particular style – sensual, slightly voyeuristic and graceful all at once. What are your main inspirations at the moment?

KODY: I started seeing these moments every morning when my fiancé was getting ready. She would have mismatched underwear on, doing her hair and I would just stop and think “beautiful”. I think the fact that I am in happy and healthy relationships really helps. It allows people to be themselves around me and have fun without thinking I have a hidden agenda.

While working full time at Apple, I could only shoot at night. This meant no access to locations, sunlight, anything. I started shooting in my apartment and still do quite often. It was a small space, only seven hundred square feet and always kind of a mess since I was working all day. I started to try and find different angles to shoot from so I could mix it up and hide my clutter.

When working out of your own place, you become super comfortable and by me being comfortable in my space, it became pretty easy to set people’s minds at east. Everyone I work with knows that I love photography more than they could ever imagine and know that I am in it for the right reasons. It is probably why they allow me to capture what I capture and that means a lot to me, especially since many of them have never shot with another photographer.

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LF: How do you find your models?

KODY: I love this question. A lot of it now is from people following me on Instagram. I dig that platform and it is crazy how much you can learn about someone there! Anyways, let me just share a couple stories…First shoot ever – At the mall having a cigarette and I had my camera with me from a meeting at work. A girl sits next to me and basically says, “Have you ever shot modeling work?” The next day we did a shoot. She had never modeled before, I had never shot people before and we came out with some pretty beautiful nude images. More recently – I go to this gas station all the time because I drink more Red Bull than a human body should probably consume. The owner knows I shoot photos and hands me a phone number while saying, “this girl came in from the restaurant across the way, you should shoot with her.” The next week, we did a spread for Inked Magazine. Really, it is completely random, I could be here all day telling these stories!

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LF: What is a typical day like for you?

KODY: Well, like I said I start with a Red Bull. These people better be giving me some kickbacks for these shout outs. A lot of times I have nothing too planned out. Someone might call and ask if I’m free. If I am, we are usually shooting about an hour later and start putting stuff online about twenty minutes after that. Or someone submits photos to me online and I just respond, “Busy today?” I end up going to the most random places to shoot. I love it. Everyday feels like a new adventure and I don’t ever really know what I’m stepping into.

I just left Apple about two months ago which has given me a lot of free time to focus on photography, marketing and everything in-between. I don’t really watch television or even just relax anymore… Always building, always creating. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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LF: How do you approach creating?

KODY: I really try to not over-think it. I think that’s a lot of what is wrong with so many things we see these days – they have been so over-thought and scientific that we lose the heart of it. You have to realize that if I even thought about it I would drive myself mad. Going somewhere new and meeting someone you have never met before has to have some natural flow it it if you are going to create something together.

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LF: What can we expect to see from you in 2014?

KODY: I am actually really interested in photographing celebrities. I have always had this vision of taking a regular person and turning them into a celebrity and taking a celebrity and turning them into a regular person. I don’t want to change my format of what I do, I just think it would be interesting to see these people make their own decisions and work with their own concepts, while taking chances and pushing the envelope. That whole environment is sort of closed off to the general public in a way since these people have someone tell them what to wear, how to act, what to do and what not to do. I really want to break down that boundary.

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LF: How fast do you live?

KODY: “If you ride like lightning, you’re going to crash like thunder.”

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Check out more work from Sugar LA here and peep some of his new, exclusive prints while you’re at it.

It’s All Gucci…