Vice is spoiling us with a return of the behind-the-scenes docu series Shot By Kern. The new series follows Kern on a whistle-stop, six country tour of Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. Richard Kern is a renowned New York underground film maker, writer and photographer. He is married to the artist Martynka Wawrzyniak. As a long time fan of Kern’s work I was very pleased that he agreed to answer a few questions from Volt Café.
Volt Café: You come across as this incredible wholesome guy who just happens to take pictures of young, naked girls. Is it a cover to put your models at ease or are you really like that?
Richard Kern: Yes I’m like that. But, I have dark thoughts just like everyone. At least i think everyone has dark thoughts.
VC: Do you feel that as someone who by all accounts have had a wild youth that you almost veer in the opposite direction as you’ve become older?
RK: Yes. I find myself trying to get my kid not to do things that I remember doing myself but it’s a losing battle. When you get older, you figure out how to get your kicks in more refined, safe, and anonymous ways.
VC: The girls you cast usually have this natural girls-next-door allure. Hugh Hefner was very in to that when he started Playboy. Do you think most men prefer this vibe? Women are told by fashion magazines they should try to look like glamour goddesses to attract men – are we just wasting our time and money?
RK: I like girls that aren’t trying to be sexy. It’s cool to see someone in a nice dress at some event but for me the less I feel someone is trying to fool me, the more I like them
VC: Your work is interesting in that it has many layers of meaning. It can be enjoyed straight up as arousing and erotic images of young girls but also as a commentary on what you can get humans to do by putting them in front of a camera… And a proof that women have sexual urges – ones that we’re told by society to keep repressed to keep our reputation intact. Your series Medicated is a somewhat chilling commentary on the amount of drugs some doctors will apparently happily prescribe just to get a young person through the day. Why did you decide to include this in the shoot?
RK: That series is my favorite series in a long time. I wish i could think of some others that are that creepy without me having to add the creep factor from my end. I like photos that have a lot of info in them. Most magazines want no info in photographs.
VC: I’m always fascinated by what is happening in the background in porn, maybe it’s a female thing, you start losing interest in the action but then notice a pair of killer boots or the most revolting wall paper. The things we surround ourselves with tell such a story. Is it tempting to manipulate the viewer by deliberately including supposed clues in the background of a shot?
RK: Yes, for a long time i was shooting in front of windows so you could see what’s going on outside the photo. I haven’t had the experience you had with porn though. When I’m watching porn I’m thinking about one thing.
VC: Porn has escalated a lot during your career – what was deemed unacceptable 30 years ago is now seen as pretty tame. You’re quoted as saying ‘you like to up the excitement in your work to fuck with people’s heads’. We can pretty much see any permutation of deviant sex on the internet now. Will there come a time where you’re going to run out of ways to increase the excitement?
VC: As you’re getting older does people’s desire to ‘do just about anything’ to be famous or get noticed ever shock you or make you feel weary?
VC: Do you ever feel like giving them a lecture about the repercussions this might have for them in later life?
RK: I have given this speech to people that decide to do sexually orientated work and or to work in the sex biz and we always tell models for Shot By Kern to use a fake name cause video never goes away.
VC: Is there a temptation to push the image as far as it can go or do you feel responsible for your models?
RK: I asked a girl to put panties on the other day cause she looked underage naked. She was tiny. But the day before I shot something that looks just like a porn shoot but it was all fake. So I go both ways.
VC: You’ve made a career out of taking nude pictures of girls – yet your wife is an editor at Rizzoli and an artist in her own right. What does she feel about her husband being surrounded by young naked girls every day? Is it ever an issue? You’ve taken pictures of her, would you mind if she sat for another photographer?
RK: She still models for tons of people. I don’t care – well there’s a quite a few people I wouldn’t want her to model for. She doesn’t care about me shooting girls. She hopes I’m getting some kicks out of it.
VC: Would you ever shoot older women? The shot of Kim Gordon looked great in the interview you did with her for Dossier. If so, would it be in a different way to how you shoot younger women?
RK: I shoot older women all the time. The only request they sometimes have is for me to do a bit of retouching. I shoot them almost the same way if possible.
VC: What’s up next for Richard Kern after this series for Vice?
RK: We just went to LA where we shot some porn girls in the way I used to shoot them. These shoots are put in with the regular girl next door shoots for contrast.
Images © Richard Kern
Words by Anna Bang
Tagsanna bang, Kim Gordon, Martynka Wawrzyniak, Richard Kern, Shot By Kern, VICE,