Pelle Cass, indeed, is not your average sports photographer. In fact, people have called him a trick photographer even - a moniker he openly embraces! He is a thoughtful and articulate artist and believes that death is the mother of beauty. Learn more here and now! Pelle Cass is not your average sports photographer. In fact, people have called him a trick.
You live in Massachusetts right? What’s it like as an artist there? Do you find you have a supportive community in the arts there?
I live in Brookline, which is a medium-sized town that abuts Boston. It’s a pretty town but kind of fancy and homogenous. I’ve lived here a long time, since before it was so wealthy. It just takes a few minutes to go downtown, where I often take pictures. There are five large universities that are easy to get to and have large sports programs. Harvard, Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern University, and MIT. So for my sports photos, Boston is absolute heaven.
To confess, I always wanted to live in New York. Over the years, I’ve visited a lot and it’s always seemed like the real place and other places were just places. I think it’s the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen. I desperately miss being able to see all the shows in galleries and museums. I was born in Brooklyn and my parents were from New York. I only lived there till I was three, but I guess it got in my blood.
Boston is very nice but very small. The art community here is not exactly small since we have so many colleges here. But because of that, it’s kind of transient. Artists tend to move on if they’re successful--to NY--and they move on if there not--to teaching jobs around the country. It’s very expensive to live here, so it’s hard for an artist to stay. It’s a bit conservative culturally, so there aren’t a lot of wacky alternative spaces for art or adventurous collectors. I once overheard a a college student, maybe new to the city, on the the subway telling her friend, “I like Boston, but it’s such a grandma city.”
With all that said, I love it here and can’t imagine life without old brick buildings and narrow, twisty streets.
What is your relationship to chaos? And order? Is it a push/pull thing or does it just happen on its own? How contrived are these elements in your work?
When my daughter was little I used to like to build sand castles with her. Sometimes I’d make my own while she made hers. And sometimes I’d put the finishing touches on it, pause for effect, then smash it -- just to hear her gasp then laugh. I’m drawn to order and it’s always a huge temptation to destroy it. There’s a joy I feel in chaos that I’m quite sure wouldn’t exist without the order. Death is the mother of beauty, after all.
My work is entirely contrived. At least in the sense that every single thing in the frame that is moveable (people, especially) is where it is intentionally. And I have been called a trick photographer and proudly embrace the moniker. Sports is pretty orderly to begin with, with it’s rules, grids, uniforms, stadiums and the rest. And I like to make a mess out of it! So while my work might be contrived looked at one way, I like to invite the chaos of the real world in.
What’s your favorite sport to watch? To play? To photograph? Did you grow up playing sports?
I’m not really a big spectator sports fan, believe it or not, although there were periods in my life when I watched a lot of basketball and baseball. I watch tennis because that’s what I play these days. I guess I think my work tends to jumble the normal order of sports--to continue answering the previous question. And so I think my work is a little anti-sports or at least pro-absurdity.
If someone were to fly you to their “match”, “meet” or “game”.....what would be the ideal set up? Do you like to be close to the sidelines or are you a vip room kinda guy?
I think I’d like to photograph the Olympics (summer, please! I hate the cold), since there are a million weird sports. I’d also like one of those neck lanyards with a card on it that says, “Press: Coeval Magazine.” And, yes, I hope it would get me into the VIP room where I’d have a celebrity to talk to, since, for me, taking pictures at events is mostly a little stressful and a little boring, both.
Tell us about your history as a photographer...and tell us about your future as a fine artist...what got you here and where will you go next?
I’ve been taking pictures for a long time, since high school. I’ve done a lot of studio work, where I make things and then photograph them. I think most of my work--however divergent it is visually--has an attitude in common. I guess I feel like there’s something naive about most photography--please forgive me, most photographers!--that believes it is saying something about the real world. Something in me recoils. I’m much more drawn to more subjective kinds of photography, where the artist is an introvert. I’m drawn to making things with my hands, too. Photoshop may not qualify in most people’s minds, but for me, it really is practically like needlepoint or woodworking. I spend a lot of time on the craft of what I do. Even though it’s just moving a cursor around with a mouse, I’m making things. But the other important thing for me in all my work is that I love photography’s transcriptional power, even if I distrust it. My work looks only like a photograph, no matter how much I “manipulate” it (I hate that phrase). And I tend to only like photographs that look like photographs, even though it’s difficult to say exactly what that is.
One of the worst (and best) things about being an artist is finishing working on one kind of work and moving on to the next. It’s sheer terror. The more people like what you’ve done, the harder it is to do something new. I’m still working on sports imagery, but I’d like to expand the category of bodies moving around in a space to performing arts, maybe dance. I’d like to get a contemporary dance company, set them out on a large stage and ask them to express with their bodies every human emotion.
courtesy PELLE CASS
interview ASHLEY MUNNS
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