Remember chat rooms? For those of you too young to know what I’m talking about, back in the early 90s when AOL actually WAS the internet and there was no such thing as Facebook, Myspace, or even Wikipedia, people used to “log-on” and “log-in” to these things called chat rooms. They were basically iChat, but with a whole bunch of strangers. You know how X-box live allows you to talk to people while you’re playing? It was kind of like that, except aside from sheer boredom, you had no real reason to talk to anyone.
Chat rooms were the beginning of the internet predator. These creeps would prowl chat rooms looking to prey on young children. They’d befriend them, win them over by offering them something (typically salt-water taffy), and eventually invite them to meet up somewhere. Upon meeting the child, the predator would then take advantage him. At the height of chat rooms, it was a real problem. Every week you’d hear a story on the local news about someone being abducted or taken advantage of by someone they met in a chat room. It was a scary time to be on the internet.
These days, like so many arcades, the chat rooms have all been boarded up. Social Networks and Forums, have rendered them virtually obsolete. Nowadays, if you want to meet a stranger on the internet, you can’t just run into a crowded room and start yelling. The social landscape of today’s internet can be compared to South Florida. It’s essentially made up of gated communities where everyone is welcomed, but to actually meet anyone you have to contribute to the community. Sometimes that contribution is as simple as leaving comments. Other times, as in the case of sites like match.com, you actually have to pay money to meet strangers. There’s very little room for the internet predator in today’s internet model, because no internet predator is going to spend weeks building up his credibility on a World of Warcraft fan fiction message board only to have it destroyed by a single trip to the wishing fountain at the local shopping mall. Moreover, it is a widely known fact that all kids today have cell phones and know Karate.
A child unleashing fury on a slab of board.
So, you see, I had no reservations about meeting up with Lou O’ Bedlam, an amazing photographer whose work I came across on Flickr, one of the internet’s largest gated communities. His portraits typically feature an attractive young woman, bestrewn with light, in varying landscapes all perfectly captured and considered. He has a way of photographing his subjects that make you feel as though you’re finally getting to meet that person who, for years, you’d been eyeing from afar.
Since Lou lives in LA, we had to arrange a meet-up in Lincoln, Nebraska, roughly the halfway point between NYC and LA. It was a long journey, and I actually started on foot sometime last year (I’ve been updating from the various internet cafes along the way) but I finally made it to Lincoln, where Lou had been waiting for about a day or so. He agreed to meet me at Ali Baba Gyros, which had gotten lackluster reviews on Yelp, but apparently has the best Tandoori Chicken in all of Nebraska. After exchanging the customary fist-bump, Lou and I settled into our booth.
Having walked nearly 1200 miles, I was completely wiped out so I handed Lou the sheet of questions I had prepared and promptly fell asleep. When I had awoken some forty-five minutes later, Lou was gone but he was nice enough to answer all the questions. For your enjoyment, I’ve taken the liberty of making it seem like an actual conversation.
Me: So, what’s your real name and what exactly are you? I mean, if you were to give yourself a title, what would that be? Also, where did the name Lou O Bedlam come from?
LOB: My full name is Luciano Augusto Noble II. I have no titles, I am just a man trying to get along in the world. The O’ Bedlam handle was something I thought up to use as a Flickr name. They use to call the asylum inmates in England Tom O’ Bedlams, sounded catchy.
Me: When did you start taking pictures?
LOB: I started taking pictures back in 1996, with a Polaroid sun600. I used that until 1999, when I bought a Polaroid Propack. I began getting into photography seriously in 2005, when I bought a Polaroid 680, which was perfectly suited to the kind of shots I liked taking.
Me: I noticed pretty much all your photos are of attractive young women, where exactly are you meeting these women, and how do you convince them to let you take their picture?
LOB: At first, my models were all friends, or friends of friends. The more I shot, the further out that circle became, and eventually I started asking people I didn’t know, on the internet, Flickr, mainly. I don’t really do much in the way of “convincing.” I usually just ask, show ’em my photos, and that does the trick.
Me: When selecting a subject, are you looking for anything specific?
LOB: Not really. Someone I find attractive, or interesting in the face.
Me: You know how some artists are primarily concerned with doing what hasn’t been done before – what are you trying to do with your work?
LOB: There’s no big Grand Intent behind my photos. It really depends on the situation. Sometimes I’m just trying to take a very aesthetically pleasing photo, sometimes I’m trying to show something authentic about my subjects. Often I’m trying to capture a beautiful aspect to my subject that perhaps they’re unaware of. I would never say I’m trying to accomplish something that’s never been done before, I think there’s an excellent case to be made that such a thing is impossible. I think the through-line in my work is that I’m trying to achieve a degree of truth in each shot.
Me: So, what’s LA like? Everyone seems to always have something bad to say about it. It’s kind of like the New Jersey of The West, or maybe Long Island (not that there’s any difference between the two).
LOB: What’s LA like? It’s an enormous sprawl of a city, with too much traffic. Other than that, it’s perfect. A multitude of cultures, easy weather, quick access to several other climates (the beach, the mountains, the desert, the forest), food made by most of the peoples of the earth, pretty faces, laid back people. No hurricanes. No tornadoes. Every once in awhile you see someone famous walking down the street. Roving Korean BBQ taco trucks.
I think you can find someone to say something bad about any city, frankly. Never put much stock in that sort of thing.
Me: You ever been to Jersey? If so, what do you think of Jersey? If not, what have you got against Jersey?
LOB: Never been to Jersey. But I will say this: I’ve met a lot of people who like LA, a lot of people with bad things to say about LA, but I’ve never heard anyone ever say anything nice about Jersey. Not even from the folks who live there.
Me: So what’s a day in the life of Lou O’ Bedlam like?
LOB: A day in the life of Lou O’ Bedlam? There really isn’t a typical day for me, at this point. I work part time, so some days I work, some days I don’t. Some days I go and take pictures, some days I go eat with friends. I try not to pack too much into any particular day, like taking my time getting out of the house. Some days I’ll stay in and watch movies. Some day I’ll just chat up folks on the internet. Leisurely pace, that’s the aim.
Me: There’s a great community of super talented photographers on Flickr. Do you find your work being influenced by what you see on Flickr? If so, do you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing?
LOB: I don’t really think I’m much influenced by the work on Flickr. I think most of the work on Flickr, like anywhere else, isn’t very good. I’ve tried and succeeded in finding a collection of photographers I like, and while I have seen photos that really blow me away, I can’t say as I remember the last time I saw a shot on Flickr that I went out and tried to take. Nothing to do with Flickr, I just have a very clear idea of what I want from a photo I take, have for several years. I’m not very experimental, not looking to break down any boundaries, revolutionize anything. I like taking photos of people, I like getting close, I like having people not smile.
I’ve definitely learned things from Flickr, on the technical side, especially now that I’m using digital. Lots of folks more than happy to give advice, lend a hand.
Me: Any word of advice for designer folks, like myself, on taking a good portrait?
LOB: Shoot often. What’s “good” is subjective, but the more you shoot, the more you’ll see what it is you like. What kind of shot you want to take more than anything else.
Lou O’ Bedlam’s Theme Music, as chosen by Lou O’ Bedlam