Patrick O’Dell interview – UKULA (1.28.09)

When I show up at Studio Gallery, a few people are still cleaning up after an apparent mad rush to hang Patrick O’Dell’s photographs for his solo show, To All My Friends. The painfully white room on the second floor of this College Street space contains a single strip of framed photos stretching the full length of opposite walls, with a massive photo collage at the near end and an untended bar at the other. Most of the photos are easily recognizable from O’Dell’s Vice Magazine work and his Epicly Later’d photo blog. But photos of other photographers (presumable photo-bloggers) in the midst of shooting subjects and a number of desert landscape shots break up the customary pukers and potential injuries.

I’m told that Patrick has gone out for a smoke; that he forgot his passport and had to rush back to his apartment before boarding the plane from NYC, so he’s a little frazzled from barely making it to Toronto. After waiting around for a while I get a call from a friend who just happened to run into Patrick on the street. I decide to split and come back in a little while.

When I do finally meet up with Patrick he’s polite and friendly, but super shy. We step out onto the fire escape overlooking the alley and scope out the schoolyard basketball scene. Since he doesn’t seem all that comfortable with being interviewed, I ask him what it’s like being on the other end of the questions when he’s talking up skateboarders for VBS. “I’ve been doing it a long time now,” he says. “I’m older than a lot of them … I have seniority.”

One of my favourite Epicly Later’d episodes is the Jerry Hsu outtake reel. Though I’m curious whether O’Dell feels any obligation to intervene when he’s watching stiff like that, he explains that he wasn’t actually there for it. “Those outtakes were filmed by the Enjoi crew,” he says. “I asked for them to send a take of him slamming really hard and they sent all of it. So we just ran the whole thing.” As for intervening, O’Dell understands that Hsu’s penchant for pain is just part of the job: “Jerry’s so good humoured and smart and he makes skating look really fun, but he’s really hard working.”

When it comes to capturing the photographic action, O’Dell maintains an equal remove. Despite the fact that he often appears in his photos, and always seems to get close enough to be involved, he’s pretty clear about his role as gonzo photojournalist. “It’s funny, last week everyone from the tour was in town and they all wanted me to hang,” he explains. “But at like 2am I was ready to go. People think that just because there are all these fucked up photos of me with them that I live that way. But I don’t. I live vicariously through them.”

“It’s like when I hang out with Neck Face, he can’t walk into a store without stealing something. But I like them doing it for me. To look at all the photos you get a very wrong idea of me.”

But when the collage at the far end of the gallery is essentially his photo album exploded, it’s hard to separate the man from the work. Even commissioned shots of Chan Marshall have the same casual feel as his Polaroids of kids shotgunning beers. With such personal-seeming work, O’Dell explains that it’s more about the context of the showing than the photos themselves.

“With the blog you just send it off into the world. It looks personal, but I can keep things pretty vague. It’s way different than a show where I have to sit in front of it. I feel like I’m being narcissistic by looking at it and spend a lot of time double thinking everything. How do I interact? Am I being a snob if I go outside? If I stand in the middle of the show do I look like: Here I am? It’s lose-lose.”

As we come back in to the gallery space, Patrick notices that some of the frames are crooked. I can’t help but wonder how it will look if he goes around correcting everything.

Originally published at Uklula.com.

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