When Anton Yelchin, the 27 year old actor best known for his work in indie films and the Star Trek reboot, died in a tragic accident last summer, it sent shock waves of grief through the entertainment community and the world at large. It was a devastating loss that no one saw coming. Yelchin was young and hugely talented, beloved by the people who worked with him, a bright light coming into his own. He was an artist in the truest, rawest sense of the world, nuanced and naturally curious, the scope of his creativity wide-ranging, extending far beyond his popular movie roles. His homegrown Los Angeles roots ran deep, past the glittering facade of Hollywood, and he was fascinated by the surreal, magnetic underbelly of the city. He sang and played guitar in a punk band called The Hammerheads and was, according to friends, embarking on a second career as a photographer: shooting for art publications, preparing a portfolio, and discussing a debut solo photography show at OTHER Gallery in Hollywood, in which he was an investor.
The exhibit, “Anton Yelchin: Photographs,” opened posthumously in November, curated by his family and friends in memory of his unwavering creativity. The exhibit showcases a series of 40 portraits, shot over the course of 6 years, documenting Yelchin’s experimental eye and enthusiasm for the uncanny. It’s a poignant testament to his artistic vision, to the lives he touched, to the lasting power of a creative life lived fully, with eyes wide open.
Yelchin’s portraits are otherworldly, at once playful and dramatic and grotesque, often featuring masks and erotic, moody lighting. They feel rooted in a desire to tug at the corners of ordinary moments, to lift the curtain and reveal the bizarre and extraordinary that lies underneath, usually through multiple exposures and intense saturation. The exhibit feels like a tender, frenzied tapestry of Los Angeles as a whole, spontaneous and bold, beautiful and unashamed in its’ magnetic weirdness. We spoke with Kelly Cole of OTHER Gallery about the exhibit’s conception, Yelchin’s fascination with Los Angeles, and why he was “inspired by the odd.”
The exhibit is up at OTHER Gallery LA through March 1st – don’t miss it. A selection of prints will be available online through the gallery in the coming months, and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Anton Yelchin Fund for a variety of programs that empower children and students of filmmaking.
LF: Hi Kelly! Thanks for talking with us. Anton’s dedication to a creative life was palpable. Beyond his acting roles, he also played in a punk band and took photographs. What was his relationship to his photography?
KC: Anton had an enormous natural talent in many creative areas. As a writer, musician, actor, photographer and director. He was always creating. I think he approached everything he did with a truly uncommon innocence and curiosity. He was always experimenting, questioning, and going back to the drawing board. You can see this evolution of ideas in the exhibition. He wasn’t afraid to fail. And he was really excited to try things with the camera and see the results come back. His love for photography inspired him to adventure out and take risks.
LF: I read that this exhibit was conceived and planned by Anton, and then executed posthumously, to honor his artistic vision. What was his inspiration for the exhibit? Was there an intention or vision behind the show’s curation?
KC: He had begun putting together a portfolio to be used by an agent to procure photography work for him. His concern was that the work stand alone, and not be perceived as good photography because he was a celebrity. So it was being shown anonymously, using a pseudonym. He had invested in OTHER [Gallery], as a means of supporting other artists’ work, and we had discussed doing his first full scale show there when he was ready. His longtime collaborators Dan Monick and Gena Tusso, and his father Victor and I ended up curating an overview of his work, as we thought he would have wanted it, using a good chunk of the folio he had curated and adding other images.
LF: His images are dramatic and evocative, almost cinematic. Do you think his photography was influenced by his experiences both acting in and directing films?
KC: In part, yes. More so, I think you can see his enthusiasm and interest in people. He was definitely inspired by the odd. Outcasts. Misfits.The bizarre and macabre. He never did lead with the idea that he was “somebody.” He really tried to break down the barriers with people and have communion with everyone he met. His curiosity was disarming. His hunger for knowledge was infectious. He didn’t judge people, rather he tried to meet everyone on an even plane. I never met anyone quite like him in that way: someone who had success, but was almost embarrassed by the way it put a wedge between him and normal human interaction. He really adhered to not letting it affect him. He always made the other guy feel special.
LF: His work often features masks, distortion, and color saturation, which makes his few self-portraits stand out as tenderly poignant. What drew him to focus on portraiture?
KC: I think he was trying to capture truth. He seemed to really be concerned with essence. The truth of a person or a thing.
LF: His work feels centered on extracting images from the strange world that exists specifically in Los Angeles. What appealed to him about LA?
KC: Well for starters, he grew up here, in the Valley. He loved the Valley. I think he was fascinated with what Hollywood did to people. He distrusted it, and yet he loved it. He definitely loved the freaks. He often wandered by himself, just meeting oddballs and street people. He had no judgement on people. He was more at home with common folks than at a Hollywood party.