New York City photographer Wes Knoll's "Fading Smile" documents Knoll and his friends & associates as they write graffiti, take risky road trips, and become adults in the city, during the roughly 9 year time period stretching from Ratking to Evilgiane. It's amazing and you should buy it.
Knoll got turned onto photography in high school, inspired by Jim Goldberg's "Raised By Wolves," which made him start to see his own life as full of "movie-like characters who needed to be documented." He's been shooting ever since, for all kinds of publications, brands, and most crucially for himself.
I selected 10 of my fav flicks from "Fading Smile" and we talked about them on the phone for a cool half hour. Enjoy. The following has been edited for clarity, with my part of the interview removed.
This is a model I met at a casting call for this fashion brand Tia Adeola. The reason I wanted to include it is because, part of the book is that it encapsulates what I consider to be an authentic New York upbringing, and part of that is hustling. Sometimes legal sometimes illegal. This is on the legal side of things. Modeling. She had this look that was calling to me, and I think I captured this slight hesitancy or pause in a fast-paced environment. I love the colors, it feels very poignant to me.
Similar story with Evilgiane. This was several years back, before he became who he is, now. I was actually not hip to him at the time. I was working with some friends, we had started a production company to shoot music videos in order to fund larger projects. We were shooting this video for Bobainee and ppg casper, when Surf Gang was just getting its footing and solidifying its members. Giane was on the set, just keeping to himself, which was in stark contrast to everyone else who was like, showing off money, and getting tattoos on set. Similar to the first photo, something about his presence felt like a standstill moment in an otherwise chaotic environment.
This was a portrait of someone named Matt who I met at a party. Captured him in his element, letting loose. He had a ballet-esque movement to his body, that again, in a chaotic environment, stood out as isolated. The light is an overhead, flashing strobe. It was just luck of the moment that it hit Matt that way.
This is a scan from one of my old blackbooks. Graffiti is an important element to me, an unspoken rite of passage that everyone finds themselves going through. This is a sticker composed of an image from BAT, and ones I used to peel off of surfaces on some fan shit, before I knew that wasn't really kosher. At the time I was a huge fan of Ratking, I thought they epitomized the culture of downtown New York. I wanted to pay homage to what they did. In my generation, they were the ones who showed what you can do if you set your mind to something. In the bottom right there's an image I added, to make it more of a collage, of REBOE, getting a boost, to climb up to this rooftop in Paris, by JEE BTC, while he had to take care of some beef at the time. I think the Ratking letters were done by Arvid, but the Wiki 93 might have been done by Wiki himself.
Money getting washed. This focuses on the illegal side of what you have to do when you're following your dreams and you don't come from a rich family. This image represents to me the desire to win. This is $50,000 of drug money that had to be brought over to the west coast, where the plug lived. The toothbrush and beer can were naturally there, not staged, and I liked the informalness they offered. This humane aspect. A mysterious narrative begins to form.
This was taken on a road trip, road tripping being a motif throughout the book. This was one of the stops in the Northeast, at a Bates Motel-like establishment where my girlfriend at the time agreed to be a model. This one has an enigmatic feeling to itself that has kind of taken on its own life.
I love that one. I love the mystery of this, and I'll say, it's not done in Photoshop. It's a real knife. And it is not related to the other image in the book of the man with a question mark scar on his hand. No one got hurt for this photograph. It's magical realism. It looks staged, looks impossible, gravity, knife, hand, but it's not the case. Magic is, to me, the only thing that's real in life.
This was taken during a drifting event in New Jersey, where people go, and they have teams of cars and they drift, in tandem, and winners are judged on style, control, and synchronicity. It's super loud, super energetic. This shot is from under the bleachers, and you see the smoke from the car exhaust and the tires burning. This was one moment of peace and solitude, with light cascading through. It reminds me of high schoolers sneaking away to find love under the bleachers. The light, captured by the smoke, is encaspulating the desire to reclaim a space as your own, even if it's temporary.
This is a portrait of Neon, who also is a model I met on the street. I thought she looked super badass, super tough. There was something about this one in particular that has so much attitude, personality, beauty, grit, it's like the visual accompaniment of a New York accent.
I can't complete this sentence. This sentence needs to be completed for each person. This forces viewers to form their own conclusions, own narratives. I found this in a subway tunnel, and I loved that someone risked their life, their freedom, their safety, their job, to go and write this message. It forces you to ask yourself what you're doing in your life and why. Standing beneath these crazy streets as trains rush past, third rail electricity, workers, whatever you might find, you might not know the reason why, but the feeling that you get is all you need to know you're on the right path. But if I had to answer the question for myself? It's not about fame, or acceptance, it's about the truth. And finding what that truth is for yourself.