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Meet Matt Kulisch

Today we’d like to introduce you to Matt Kulisch.

Matt, before we jump into specific questions about your work, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I’ve been shooting seriously for, perhaps, ten years, beginning during my last year at university. I had a talented instructor, Rosi, a mixed-media artist, who motivated me to take more nudes and document pieces of performance art – including the work of Cuban / American interdisciplinary artist Ernesto Pujol. Both Rosi and Ernesto encouraged me along the path of conceptual art photography. Later, I did an MFA which focused on visionary poetics and surrealism, which helped me to theoretically support some of my methods.

These days, however, it’s all about queer boys and queer pictures. For me, masculinity is too often traditionally rendered—a kind of lovelessness worth frustrating. It’s why I want pictures that tell stories, innocence and desire, vulnerability. That’s what I’m interested in. I work and talk with friends, many of whom are also artists and photographers. I read lots of art retrospectives and monographs, mostly LGBT artists. You know, try and invite influence while not worrying too deeply about maintaining a particular voice. Find muses in my subjects. Be inspired. It’s funny how poetry and performing art brought me here.

Has it been a smooth road?
It’s never a smooth road when you start as a wispy little gay boy in a Mormon community. I think the bigger challenges for me, as an artist, were happening before I even called myself an artist. I had to learn what desire was, what it meant to me, how I could approach it – and not approach it – through my gaze. Especially when I was in the closet, pictures were my only, non-imaginative inroad to desire; in my experience that makes for very bad art-making. So I had to deal with my shame, and learn how to make images, before I made any headway. It still takes a lot of awareness, plus practice, practice, practice.

Please tell us more about your work. What do you do? What do you specialize in? What sets you apart from competition?
Hmm. I like to create scenes. Something intentionally cinematic in quality to my pictures. It’s not enough for me to show a model; I want to see the model set in space, how they take up space themselves, and to see how they fit within the greater space. Scene is story, I guess. Otherwise, I just like to see what happens…

I’m just a photographer, honestly. I should probably learn something about marketing, huh?

But as for what sets me apart from other photographers, in LA anyway, is that I tend to raise eyebrows with model casting choices. I don’t really work with agencies, just regular boys. And I don’t really shoot streetwear or fitness, both LA staples for men’s photography. I’m also pretty unabashed about nudity – my work is, after all, primarily about the body – so my subjects don’t really fit into the profile of typical Hollywood masculinity. One magazine called my work obsessed with “the eternal ephebe.”

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Because LA is a company town, even outside of film and in the other visual arts, there’s still a standard of professionalism established here that I’ve found absent in other cities. I appreciate working from a place of understanding with models and clients – it makes the process so much smoother. There are also, simply, a great many creatives in Los Angeles: it means much more opportunity to collaborate.

If I have any complaints, it’s that LA can be surprisingly conservative when it comes to controlling one’s image.

That being said, I’m lucky I’ve gotten to collaborate with some true artists in LA who feel the same way I do about rejecting control. Who don’t play by “company town” rules all the time. Who like a bit of mess. Who wanna just see what happens. LA is full of paradoxes. But it’s got incredible heart.

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