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Featured Artist Interview - Anthony Kurtz

With a good hand for all aspects of design from print to fine art, Anthony Kurtz has a portfolio of designs that spills across a range of lyrical simplicity and the politically anti-war tuned protests.

Over the course of his creative endeavors, he has garnered over a dozen photographic awards, exhibited his work in numerous galleries in the Bay Area; and gained respect as a talented artist to learn from and be inspired by.

Distinct beauty can be seen in the photography works he has from the ghettos of Thailand and India, with wonderful imagery that tug on the human heart and gnaw on the human conscious, calling for awareness of one's own existence, thoughts, and surroundings.

Anthony Kurtz admits to looking up to people who resist oppression, who speak up, question things; and clearly his works draw inspiration from them, and in turn -inspiring others in the process.

TAXI>> Hi Anthony! Your works portray an enhanced world, where the colours and subjects seem to engage viewers. How would you want your works to touch your audience?

Anthony Kurtz>> I started taking pictures as a hobby and had no audience in mind. I created images to document my generation and externalize the way I saw the world­, and that basic idea hasn’t changed. When people started responding to my images, I realized that I might be able to use my photographs to make a tangible difference.

Magnum, VII and VU would be great cooperatives to work with, but that’s further down the line. For now I would love to volunteer for Operation Smile (a worldwide organization that helps children with facial deformities). I’m also looking into collaborating with non-profits like the Ad Council, the Robertson Foundation and FightGlobalWarming.com to create some powerful campaigns that could influence people to change their ways. It’s just about finding the right perspective and juxtaposition to make that happen. 

TAXI>> Share with us your underlining message behind your recent work, titled "The World of Tomorrow" ?

Anthony Kurtz>> “The World of Tomorrow” raises questions about the environment and privatization by showing scenes of a post-apocalypitc future in which we let both get out of hand. I want to portray a sense of silence and beauty in these landscapes, and create a feeling that maybe things are better that way, that perhaps this is a new cycle for our planet.

What if we lived in a world where oxygen were no longer safe to breathe? What if oxygen filters were privatized by corporations, the same way clean water sources are controlled today.

The idea of privatizing clean oxygen is not that far-fetched because it’s already happening. It’s very common in Asia to see people wearing masks to protect themselves from pollution and germs. In soot-blackened cities in China and India, millions of people are dying from chemicals, lead and heavy metals in the air and children are born deformed .

I don’t believe in the Armageddon, that we are doomed, and that God has forsaken us. I believe that we are not living in harmony with the world, and therefore­–if we don't change our ways­– we will eventually fail.

TAXI>> On a personal level, what are your views on mass-consumerism and the impact we face with each progressing year?

Anthony Kurtz>> Personally, I shop at Goodwill and Craigslist, I don’t buy bottled-water, I try to use my backpack for groceries and I ride a bike. I know I can do more but it’s a beginning.

Back in 2003 I was shooting footage for a project about mass-consumerism called “As long as we can look away.” My time was divided between the shopping districts of downtown and the industrial areas of San Francisco. It was such a contrast to see all these frantic faces on a Christmas shopping-spree at Union Square, then ride my bike to the deserted industrial part of town and see what comes out the other end.

I seriously believe that’s where the problem lies. If we don’t see it, it doesn’t exist. Out of sight, out of mind.

If our trash weren’t picked up anymore and we saw it piling up in our backyard, we would soon reduce our waste. If trees were being cut down in our parks, we would stop buying new furniture and paper; if we had family working in a sweatshop, we would think twice about buying new sneakers every two months. If we knew what companies do to manipulate our urge to shop we would probably realize that the urge itself is manufactured and therefore stop being their victims. I don’t pretend to have the answers and I know I’m part of the problem, but I think it starts by exposing it and then slowing down the machine and taking it back to the basics.

TAXI>> What is the story behind the process of screening and ultimately selecting Skeeter Davis's "The End of the World" as the background music, for the "The World of Tomorrow"?

Anthony Kurtz>> I have a background in design, video and audio, which allows me to combine different mediums with photography. I wanted to create a sort of trailer as part of a self-promotion piece mixing photography, video, audio and some typography. The video footage is from an older project, which I then sliced up with my images to create a jittery rhythm, alternating from fast-cut footage to slow panning photographs that draw you into the story. The soundtrack was a bit too sinister and lacked a concept. I remembered the song by Skeeter Davis called “The End of the World” and layered it with the other track. The juxtaposition worked perfectly: It added a nostalgic feeling and sensibility into the story, which makes it even more haunting for me.

Part of the song goes: Why does my heart go on beating? / Why do these eyes of mine cry? / Don't they know it's the end of the world. / It ended when you said goodbye.

The video is on the main page of my website .

TAXI>> With your photographic portrayals of Thailand and India, what was the experience like working with subjects of a different geographical and cultural background?

Anthony Kurtz>> It was amazing, especially in India where I backpacked for two months and crossed 3/4 of the country by train. Photography gives me an excuse to get closer and to shake someone’s hand. The people I met along this journey were fascinating. We have very different lives and live in different realities, but if we let go of that we can find a way to relate to each other and gain a better understanding of the world. I believe if more people traveled (those who can afford that luxury), there would be less prejudice and more compassion and understanding of different cultures. I know people who actually think that all Muslims are scary, evil people. We fear what we don’t understand.

The world seems a lot more familiar after you’ve traveled. I know! It’s self-evident.

TAXI>> Which is the most satisfying stage of your working process? The production or the post-production?

Anthony Kurtz>> I would say the combination of both makes it so satisfying to me. You cannot beat the experience of being on a Mumbai train with thousands of bodies stuck together, staring at you while you’re trying to justify to yourself why you should take out your camera. You cannot recreate the feeling you get when you’re ready to photograph a protest or standing behind your tripod at 2am overlooking a haunting industrial landscape with no man in sight.

With post-production it’s a different kind of gratification. You get a feeling of completion when you see the picture come to life. My favorite moments are when you discover the little intricate details in a photograph. For instance, in 2003, I was in the streets of San Francisco documenting and protesting the war in Iraq. I took a shot of a lady holding her boy while yelling at two cops. She was frustrated because the police were arresting peaceful protesters yet they are not stopping the drug-dealers in her neighborhood. I knew I had captured an important moment, but when I saw the image on my screen I couldn’t believe it. The number on one of the cop’s helmets said 666. Above him was a “war monger” sign with Bush’s head contrasting the sign behind it that had a peace symbol on it.

The furious mother contrasted with her son who was oblivious and calm. To tie things together, there was a man filming in my direction in the middle of the picture, creating a sort of divide yet tying it all together. I captured him and maybe he captured me on film. Maybe the cameraman has a mirrored image of the same moment.

TAXI>> Having developed your own unique style of photography, retouching techniques, as well as themes and subjects, do you foresee yourself experimenting into other genres of photography, such as fashion or abstract photography, etc ?

Anthony Kurtz>> I’ve shot weddings, events, portraits, food and architecture. Most likely I’ll be doing something different tomorrow.

It’s good to be versatile in the job market. I will most likely shoot more fashion and abstracts, and maybe someone will hire me to add a different perspective, like Olaf Veltman did to the Stella Artois campaign (pact with the devil).

My hopes are to work for an agency such as Magnum, VII or VU but for now I will be shooting some commercial work to make a living and be able to take time off to travel. It is ironic to think that I’m doing commercial work and helping advertising companies to push a product or idea, but that’s the kind of reality a photographer like me has to live with until I have the luxury to chose.`

It’s not all black and white though: In the last few months I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing people. In December, I worked with an advertising firm (R&R Partners) for the new national Las Vegas campaign, and I had a great time. Their concept took a documentary approach—they wanted me to use my style of retouching to capture real-life people in a small town in Texas, who they then flew to Las Vegas where the campaign continued. Now I can take some time off to travel and do more personal work until the next project.

TAXI>> Okay, before we end, where would you like a TAXI to take you to now?

Anthony Kurtz>> To my sister’s place for dinner. Then add some wings to that Taxi and take me to Cuba and China.

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