Last Witness is a grime-style photographer who has taken to making his own unique street art in NYC. I first saw one of his bolted skateboard pieces while I was walking around New York City and immediately sent the artist an email asking if they’d do an interview. After admitting to Last Witness that I wasn’t a cop, everything was good, and we were able to have a rad interview which includes a tutorial on how to make your own Cyanotype and perfect fake blood.
Daniel Rolnik: What’s the best way to make fake blood for a photograph?
Last Witness: As nerdy as this sounds, it all depends on what part of the body youre gonna make bleed, how old you want the blood to look, and what film you’re going to shoot with. But a basic quick mix if youre in a jam is 1 pint corn syrup, 1/4cup flour, 1/4cup water, some red food color, and tiny bits of blue and green color as well. If it looks too magenta, throw more green in the mix or if it’s too blue, throw some yellow in there. Shake the mixture up good and use it right away, as it will rot and possibly even explode out of the bottle and on to the flour.
DR: How did you get involved with MSI [Mindless Self Indulgence]?
LW: Actually a pure fluke, my buddy called me up to work as a production assistant on their “Straight To Video” shoot and I just kept snapping all my own shots as the production went on. We got VIP passes to their show afterwards at webster hall, wrapped bandannas around our faces, and ran into the crowd ready to rock the only way we know how – only to get snatched up by bouncers and thrown down a few flights of stairs ’till we were on the street where we handed the backstage passes over to some pretty grimey homeless guys to go in and enjoy the the show.
DR: When did you start putting your work on the street?
LW: Everyone seems to discover me as some sort of street artist, but I’ve always been known as and consider myself a photographer. The plaques have been an ongoing project for roughly the last 5 years. It came about out of pure frustration and anger that my work went right from a darkroom into a box for no one to experience first hand until I could gather enough resources to put together a gallery show. One day I came home from my day job reeking of sweat and was surrounded by boxes of prints…To me, the next logical step was to put them out there on the street anyway I could. I’ve always said I was a grime-style photographer, you’ll never catch me out there wearing a vest with a million pockets shooting some wedding, a typical clean cut set, or even rocking some business plan. The street became my portfolio. I wasn’t going to drop it off at some office to hope for a job, I was going to let it become apart of peoples’ lives even if it’s just for a second. Prior to the plaques I took my photos and made them into 1 to 4 color stencils to spray up, but I didn’t feel like they did the original prints justice. People who saw them started to think they were ripped images from movies, which was far from what I hoped to achieve. The next move was large photocopies of my pictures that I wheat pasted to the walls, but this felt like a failure once again due to a lack of image quality and how they were getting lost amongst the vast array of paste-ups already out there. Finally, I created the plaques using scrap wood and/or broken skate-decks with actual prints and image transfers on them. I bolted the first one to a traffic sign and sat across from it all night watching people stop to take a minute to look and even touch it. There it was, this small intimate moment people experience while getting to soak in my photography.. so I bolted them up all over every chance i got knowing full well they wouldn’t last long out there. Some only stay bolted for a few hours, others a few months, but never the less as soon as I walk away from one I know that time is running out. I’ve begun to use adhesives in order to glue them straight to walls and other surfaces which seems to add a tiny bit more longevity – either way there’s no end to this project in sight.
DR: Do you have a bolt gun? How are you able to keep them up on the polls?
LW: Nah, when I bolt them up nothing lasts long at all, so i’m still shocked you found that piece after all these months. It’s all done by hand. I wrap a rag around my band and snap the bolts off in hopes that no one can undo them (sometimes i throw glue on the back too) but they still get torn down. I just hope they go to good homes and not the trash
DR: What’s your camera of choice? And what film?
LW: It all depends on what I’m shooting and what I’m going for. My solid choice is always Nikon, I like my F6 or f100 with a roll of Fuji Velvia for color. I tend to go high speed for black and White shots and use Kodak 3200. I also have a huge array of beat up antique cameras I love using and frankensteining. I my thing isn’t what I’m shooting with, but rather what I need to use to get the end result I already see in my head, if that means loading 4×5 large format film and taking days to get one shot or weeks in a dark room working with weird processes, then so be it.
DR: What series are you currently working on taking photographs for?
LW: I will forever be working on my Testimony series, where I talk to people and listen to their issues about what they deal with in their lives. Then, I have them reenact climaxes or key moments from what we discuss and photograph it. Afterwards they write a letter about their experience dealing with this in their life. I’ve been slacking on this series for a long time, but will get back to it soon. I’ve just gotta work on other things at the moment to pay the rent, but even still, bits of the docudrama style will always through in anything I shoot. Actually, that skate deck you stumbled on had images from the Testimony series on it with a stencil sprayed on the background – I hope you got to see the photos on it before some asshole slapped another USPS sticker over it with their fucking name that no one cares about or can even read.
DR: Does anyone play the violin that’s featured in your shots under Alternative Process? If so who?
LW: That’s actually the second violin I’ve made. The first one was for a girl. She lost her connection to playing it which was sad because she had such passion for it, so I found one and tricked it out with photos. Well, things with her didn’t turn out so well, so I made this one for a show I did in Midtown NYC back in early October. I had to make this one just to ease my brain, so I could tell myself I made this one for me and not anyone else. I’m actually pretty psyched on it because I was able to use the last bit of REAL polaroid film I had left at the bottom of my fridge - it’s not even made anymore.
DR: What’s going on in this picture: http://lastxwitness.com/artwork/1081117.html?
LW: HAH! out of my whole site this is what you pick? Haha that is Mistress O and her subs. That guy actually paid to fly them both out here to New York for Halloween. This was taken at the bottom level of the Santos Party House where there were NO lights at all. It was so tough to shoot I could barely focus – the only light was coming from other camera’s flashes and people’s cell phones, oh and some glow sticks. I’m surprised i even got this shot, but that man sure loved getting his balls kicked in. Mistress O is a great model by the way and knew what she was doing that night for sure.
DR: What’s a Cyanotype?
LW: Cyanotypes were originally developed as a way to copy notes, sketches, or blue prints back in the 1800′s - not as a photo process. But since it takes light to create them, it was inevitably going to end up this way. It’s a cool process because you don’t need too much to do them, but you do need patience. You can create your own chemistry of potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate or you can just look for a kit that you can buy for pretty cheap. The coolest part of this process is that it’s the rare moment in photography where you get to see brush strokes, as this is how you coat the paper of your choice with the solition to make it light sensitive.
Last Witness’ steps to make your own Cyanotype
(1) Take your negative (whatever size you want small or large format or even any flat opaque object – personally i like using xrays) and put it directly on the paper
(2) Press glass over it so it lays flat and totally on contact then expose it to a light source – or even just leave it outside in the sun.
(3) Once you get your exposure time set you wash it out with water to let loose the blue that wasn’t exposed - creating your image..
(4) Throw some hydrogen peroxide on it to deepen the blue if you want..
(5) Dry it out and your done..bored yet????
DR: How did you learn how to do all those different dark room photo processes?
LW: I actually found an enlarger in the trash when I was young and thought I could sell it with out knowing what it is. Once I learned about it, I set it up in my parents’ basement and did a massive amount of trial and error while reading lots of books (yes books, remember those?). After thinking that I invented a ton of techniques that already existed, my pops signed me up for community college. The program there was amazing for weird alternative processes which lead me down a whole path of searching for more of them…When you come to my show, you’re definitely subjected to image repetition, but never the same way twice.
DR: What’s your funniest craigslist story?
LW: oh I love raiding the casual encounters section and stumbling upon girls I’ve known who have stooped to selling their bodies on there.