Viva Van Story, legendary modern pin-up photographer hailing from the North East Coast, talks about her new book due out this month, grainy black and white photographs, the swell in pin-up photographers, being seen, and making your own path.
Interview: Shoshana, Photographs: Viva Van Story
Q: Are you a “classical trained” formally educated photographer, or are to self-taught, trial by fire? What are your views on the two different “types”?
I have taken college classes for photography in my younger years. Some of my first works were Black and White film and I developed my own prints in a darkroom the old fashion way. Heavy grain was my love. I think it’s very important to understand the art of photography, without learning it as a whole how can you use that to make your own style. I still enjoy black and white photography and especially desire to one day shoot with a medium format camera. I am however self-taught with my lighting.
Q: Tell us about the early days. What was your very first pin-up shoot?
My first love was Sundae Saint Laurent. I say love because I truly fall in love with my muses. These are the women who I share my most intimate fantasies with in order to bring them to an image or get the women I’ve let in on my joke to show my humor. Sundae was exactly what you would imagine Marilyn Monroe would be like. I shot her topless in my back yard and my neighbors peeped in then threatened to call the police. How exciting!
Q: You’ve been shooting longer than most modern pin-up photographers. Have you noticed changes in the culture and scene since you began? Has it evolved?
Yes since 1997. It’s been a long hard path but filled with adventures and characters. The east coast is pretty chilled out. Our scene is very small and everyone is very down to earth and more interested in the bands then being a pin-up model. It’s based more on music and low-key car shows. I’ve only noticed it’s growing quite fast. Evolved? I wish more.
It’s interesting to travel to other parts of the world and see their take on it. Berlin was the most outstanding Rockabilly scene for me, so true to the authentic style wearing so much vintage clothing. I’ll be going back again this year for another dose.
The pin-up photographers have increased by the hundreds, as for the pin-up models- I don’t really follow the scene all too closely since I’m hoping to reach a wider audience with my work. While I do love pin-up and the whole styling of it, I also have a greater interest in being an artist and respected as an artist not just a pinup photographer. My hope is to make my mark taking this to the next level in pinup; after all we do live in the 21st century not the 50s so it’s important to make that connection. Without change or artists having the balls to push it further where would we be now with music, movies, fashion, etc. We are the innovators of our future. Without this we would have never changed at all. I still love the early shooters that inspired me the most like Chas Ray Krider and Octavio of Winky Tiki. They really made their mark with their style. I’m hoping for the same result but with my own noticeable style.
Q: Do you feel you have an advantage in the world of pin-up as a female photographer?
I really don’t think it matters. I see models falling all crazy for the male photographers as well. Women tend to feel very comfortable around me.
Q: On your website you have a quote from a fellow artist.
Pablo Picaso said, “A good artist borrows and a great artist steals.”
Therefore, in my attempt at greatness, there’s no one I’ve victimized more than Viva Van Story. Viva is truly my most favorite photographer. Her kick-ass attitude, dirty mind, Punk Rock approach to lighting and raw eye all add up to the most jaw-dropping, sexiest photos I’ve ever seen. Miss Story has gone light years past the typical “cheesecake” pin-up aesthetic and is fearlessly creating new levels of erotic photography. Viva’s work would make Betty Page blush. It has been awesome watching Viva’s work evolve over the last 7 years and I cannot wait to see where her art goes from here. However, one thing is for sure, no matter where Viva’s creativity takes her, I’ll be there to steal from her.
With much love and respect,
~Tyson McAdoo, Artist
Certainly you have been emulated often, and even downright ripped off on your concepts, sets, poses, and techniques. Does this leave you flattered or pissed? Who do you emulate?
With new pinup photographers growing daily, you have to work harder to be one step ahead. It’s not easy but when you find something special and so creative and unique, you will gain more respect then just redoing someone else’s idea or trying to copy another’s style. Well unless you just want to recreate the exact same old pieces like Vargas. It’s important to know how to do a good pinup old fashion shot but how many more of these do we need to see? It depends on what you really want from being an artist or if you are just in it to get attention or make money. As far as what I look for, for my inspirations, everywhere but the obvious. *wink*
Q: Viva’s Pin Ups: Bullet Bras and Back Seat Betties, your first solo book is due out this month from London’s Korero Books. Can you tell us about the process? How did it come to be, was it a collaborative effort on what would be included? What was the culling process like?
Doing this book is seriously my dream come true. I left a small town in Wisconsin when I was 18 saying I’m going to NYC to be an artist. I left with a portfolio of art and a hundred bucks. The book makes me feel like I’ve done it.
Korero Books is wonderful. They truly understand my direction and my desire to be unique and see me not only as a pin-up photographer but someone who is pushing her art into new directions.
The book is a hard cover large book filled with 208 pages of 11 years of my favorite artwork. This is my very first available opportunity to have my work is bulk and at the best quality I could find for it. There are also never seen images in the book.
You can get information about getting a book from Korero here http://www.korerobooks.co.uk/vivaspinups.html
Q: Have you seen the final result? What should fans expect?
My advanced copy is due any day. I’m very excited. I’ll be selling signed books directly and doing limited book signings. I’m excited to be apart of the Brooklyn’s Psychobilly Luau for my first book signing. My favorite bands are playing like the Goddam Gallows and other great bands that play NYC often. I’ll also will be doing VLV with a book signing booth. I was happy to see the book sold out preorders in UK Amazon but I’m sure they will have to restock their shelves.
Q: A recent blog you posted on MySpace is titled “My team has gotten a lot more creative”. The new work is very different. And boasts boald colors and patterns, more contrast, and pop. Is this a conscious shift in style, and if so what prompted it?
I wouldn’t say that those photos in that blog are my focus for a new style or direction just a more open style. I work with a team of stylists so I have to give up some control and trust they will help me advance in my work and experiment from my norm which is important as an artist. I started by doing all the hair myself so when I do let someone else take that role it’s not easy but I’ve gotten much better at it and I’ve worked with amazing stylists in NYC and throughout the US.
Q: You have certain models that you seem to have developed a strong repoire with, working with them often. What are the traits of a successful model?
I do have models I am very comfortable working with and will work with them often if we get the same result each time. My ideas are personal and emotional sometimes for me and I don’t like sharing those intimate feelings with just anyone but with someone who can bring them out in a beautiful way the way I want them revealed. I also don’t believe in just shooting to shoot. It wouldn’t be special if I gave it away so often and I need time to fantasize about the idea.
Not sure about traits for a successful model. Some think it’s all about being published. I think it’s all about making an artistic photo and having interest in trying to be unique. I work with ladies who are more interested in being a part of art then being a rock star. I have no interest in that though, but I have set many on a good path.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring pin-up models?
Be the most welcoming person you can be. Keep away from all things negative and always stay neutral. Be passionate about your work, it will show.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring pin-up photographers?
The best advice I got in the beginning of my career was from Floria Sigismondi’s manager, she said, “show everyone who will look at it” put your work everywhere you can put it” “Some will hate it, some will love it but hey at least they are seeing it.”
From me, “Try to make your own path for your work and not just follow the steps of others, it’s the things you find that are unique that will make you special.”
Q: If the Viva Van Story legacy had to be summed up in a sentence, what would you hope it would be?
I like how Tyson McAdoo explains me in my foreword in my book:
Viva Van Story has gone light years past the typical “cheesecake” pin-up aesthetic and is fearlessly creating new levels of erotic photography.