Our Conversation with Photographer, Aton Ibe Crawley


What inspired you to become a photographer and what continues to inspire your work?  I guess it was just being in the art world and wanting to capture things. I mean, 'cause I was already drawing and painting, it was just kind of like, an easy switch 'cause it was just faster to capture the things I wanted to capture without having to relay them through my hand. So I guess that was one reason I bought a camera. And then another reason was to get into things for free. Like the first day I bought my camera, I went to a Denzel Curry show for free; it was great. So, that was initially, and then it was like wow I can really do this, and then it just became more. Then I got into film photography, and just built from there.

When you started shooting, did you feel it was something you could do career wise or just for fun?  Yeah it was more like this is something I can do for fun, and it's pretty cool, and it's faster than drawing. I don't know if photography by itself is a career path [for me], but photography would be part of the career that I'm somehow searching for. I don't know what that career is; not yet. 

How would you describe your photography style?  Raw. 'Cause at least when I started really going hard, it was like I was just trying to capture my life pretty much and everything I was doing, but not in any sort of elegant type of way, or in any type of like polished way. I was just capturing what it is, what I was doing. And I guess that kind of fed into more of my projects, when my projects became more raw than polished over.

What is the story behind your favorite photograph that you've taken?  I have two favorite photographs. One of them is a picture of a pair of Nikes on a beach. And then the other one, is a picture of waves crashing along some rocks. And what I recently found out via looking at the pictures side by side, is that they have the same set up, like the same geometrical set up in the picture. It's like the lines in the picture are both the same in both pictures. And it was weird 'cause I took them on the same night, and it was a very strange night. But yeah those pictures were always really...like I liked them a lot. And then everyone I showed them to were like "wow these are such good pictures." But recently I discovered that they're pretty much set up the same way, if you look at the hierarchy of everything in the photo. But they are two different photos even though they were taken on the same night. 

Do you feel as though your experience drawing and painting  make you a better photographer, or vice versa?  Yeah, they kind of all fall hand in hand. I mean recently its been more of a photography focus than a drawing focus, only because I don't have the time that I need to have my perfect drawings. But yeah they feed into each other, 'cause the more I use my camera and the more I look at things, the sharper and the better I am at understanding the way things are formed, and I can better draw things that I see. And then the same goes vice versa where, you know, if I'm going really intricate in a drawing I can see certain things and that means that if I go into a camera I can look and I can see certain things from what I'm seeing via lens. So I'm trying to find a balance in between them because I want them both to stand on their own. 

How did you get into casting and modeling?  I got into casting just through friends through the scene. I was going to parties with my current boss, and we would just hang out, and then someone just hit me up and was like "yo, Walter needs an assistant for the day, you wanna do it?" And I wasn't really into going to school, so I was trying to find a good reason not to. So I skipped school to go help him, and it was his first casting job too which is really weird. But I skipped school to go help him and then I just started helping him ever since then. So that was really how I got into casting, it wasn't like I was searching for that job, it just kinda fell on me. And it was pretty natural 'cause being a photographer you look at people's faces and you can analyze what looks good and what doesn't, and what goes with what. So it was pretty natural.  Modeling, I don't really consider myself a model -- I mean I know I'm fine, but I don't really consider myself a model. Like I'll model if you're paying me a good amount or if you're my friend, but other than that I'm not really one to stand in front of a camera. I'm kind of awkward in front of a camera...which makes for good pictures, but makes me feel weird. 

Similarly, do you feel like casting or modeling has helped you to become a better photographer or changed the way that you shoot?  I guess casting changed the way that I see people. Because there's lots of different kinds of faces and different kinds of people. If you really wanted to, you could find something beautiful in just about everything and everyone. So it's all about focusing on what the client wants, and what you want your imprint to be on that job and that client's work. Or what type of people you want to put into a job, or what type of people you want to shoot for your own projects. It kind of helps you narrow down your subjects and what you're shooting. And on both ends, like photography helps me narrow down casting, and casting helps me narrow down the people I want to shoot. 

I saw you posted on Instagram about a printer not wanting to create a sample of your book because of its explicit content, and I notice that your posts get reported and taken down frequently, so obviously censorship is frustrating. But do you have any thoughts on the detriment that censorship has on society? What do you make of it when people or institutions reject your art?  Just charge it to the game, honestly. Because there's always been a level of censorship. And it's slowly coming down but it's slowly increasing at the same time, which is like, weird, but there's nothing you can really do about it except like stay gung-ho to what you want, you know. I don't see bodies or skin as something to be censored, or diminished, or even looked at sexually, all the time at least. But like, society does, and society blocks it. So it's just all about going at it a certain way where you can go around society's cues as to what they want and still have what you want out there. That's why I don't really post that much anymore. 'Cause I'm just like, fuck it, it might just get taken down anyway. And plus, I want to start having collections and actual projects so it's helping me refine things to not post and deal with that shit. But the fact that they wouldn't print my book was kind of ridiculous because like, you're a printer. 

You shoot film and digital right? What do you prefer?  I did shoot digital when I first started, and then I just fell off of it, I slowly got out of it. I was doing both for a number of years. But now I'm just strictly film. It's raw, and it's organic. Someone told me that a digital camera is just technology trying to do what a real camera does. A real camera, it just collects light, and prints it on a sheet of negative. A digital camera, you know, collects light and can do all the digital stuff, but it's just mimicking a film camera, you know. So I guess that drew me more to film because film is just like, its raw, you can't really tweak it too much when it comes out the way it comes out. You have to go through digitally to do all that, or you have to have a certain process in your shooting to tweak it in certain ways. Which makes it more fun for me because then you find out different processes, and different ways to shoot things and different ways to process your film. I don't know I think it just comes out better, and you get more of a feeling with it. Like there are some digital pictures that I can feel and that I can really resonate with, but most I don't. 

It's a new year, so what are your major goals that you're trying to tackle to level up as a photographer and visual artist?  I'm trying to bring back this platform that got me into shooting film, but I'm bringing it back under my own jurisdiction. So I'm working with that right now. I was just emailing this guy to make stickers of the logos, and all the stuff. But that's my main focus for the year, getting that platform up and starting to create an audience for it, and a profit from it. I'm almost done with this six part book series I've been working on for like three years. I finished five books, and I just got a scanner so I'm about to finish the last book when I get back [to New York]. And then I finished a couple zines recently; I'm getting patches made for some other zine projects. And I'm just gonna drop it all under this platform. So that's the goal for the year. But I don't want it to just be something on the internet. So I'm trying to make it physical before I drop it online, because I don't think that anything can sustain online if it's not physical first. Like it'll just eventually fall back into the rest of the internet and no one will know what it is. But if people have it in their hands and in their house, then they can always refer back to it even if they don't have internet. 

Cameron Kirkland