Lynnette Astaire

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“I’ll do anything – I mean, with the exception of hard drugs. I won’t touch hard drugs. Hard drugs and like murder, and prostitution or something,” jokes photographer Lynnette Astaire (no relation to Fred Astaire). Astaire, originally from Chicago, now sets up shop in New York (South Bronx to be exact). “In a way, we’re all prostitutes. Artists are prostitutes, we’re constantly whoring ourselves out. Buy me, buy me, hire me, hire me, look at me, look at what I’m doing. I’m a ho. We’re all hos, doesn’t matter. We’re selling a part of our self – we’re selling our vision,” says Astaire of fellow artists limiting themselves.

Astaire credits this claim to the state of artistry today – mediocrity. But for Astaire, having to distinguish herself from the pack is nothing new. She does her own styling, only uses film, doesn’t just shoot rappers up against brick walls, and finds time to kick it with the family. Even so, for Astaire, in an industry that prides itself on artistic expression, the game just ain’t the same for gangstas anymore.

“I’m a photographer, but I’m more so an artist. I didn’t pay $100, 000 for a degree in photography to shoot a motherfucker up against a car or to shoot a motherfucker up against a backdrop with nothing going on.”

Format: In your bio you wrote, “I love every opportunity to release ideas and shoot subjects like they’ve never been shot before.” Is it difficult trying to be constantly innovative?
Astaire: No it’s not. The thing about it is, yes, I’m a photographer, but I’m more so an artist. I didn’t pay $100, 000 for a degree in photography to shoot a motherfucker up against a car or to shoot a motherfucker up against a backdrop with nothing going on. You understand what I mean? It’s not hard at all. The hard part is getting people to understand where you’re coming from and getting clients to trust you; to hire you and do exactly what you want to do. Getting clients to push their thoughts and push their ideas a little farther, because photography is a lot like music, and a lot like other types of art, where people are just okay with mediocrity. Right now, it seems like its okay to be a mediocre photographer, or mediocre artists, in general. It’s okay to be half ass about everything and I just think that’s wack. I’m trying to create something that you’re not just going to flip past; you’re going to be like that’s really really cool.

Format: Do you feel any kind of moral responsibility for the images you produce, especially in regard to women?
Astaire: No, not really. I don’t feel as if I’m selling sex per say – I know I’m not selling sex. I’m not selling anything. I’m just creating a good image. Honestly, the images that I have are just things that come out of my head and I’m inspired by what’s around me and, unfortunately, American society and American media, right now, is like we want to put our women out – we got Britney Spears you even got Beyonce, you got all these chicks who are half naked. And, then two seconds later you have someone saying oh it’s wrong. Then you put them out one minute, you take them away, you put `em out, you talk about them, it’s like whatever. And, then you go to France and people are fucking on TV. It’s true. You go to France, you to Italy; I’ve seen it, I’ve been there. They’re more open-minded, and the whole idea of sex or sexuality or the human body is celebrated. You know, I don’t think that anyone that I shoot is not exploited at all. I don’t feel like anyone is being exploited. It’s just like, hey you’re hot, let’s do this.

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Format: What type of client won’t you shoot? Is there anybody that you’ve come across in your career that you didn’t want to shoot?
Astaire: I would prefer not to work with clients who just want to ‘get it done.’ Some people like to do things just to say they did it regardless what it looks like. Its like this mentality of fill the pages and move on. But I guess that’s our culture right now? Everyone is afraid of losing their jobs so people want the easiest, fastest, and cheapest way. Or the exact opposite, they know that everyone is overpaid so it turns into a 15 hour production to justify the day rates and, also, because the paranoia of losing your job because you got Coke instead of Diet Coke always looms overhead. I’m a Libra I like balance! This is way more than a check to me, I want it to be awesome too, but fuck money, if you stand behind what you do and do it 100 per cent, you’ll be paid as well as artistically content. Not to say that everything has to be a production, but at the end of the day I want a client who cares about their projects and is willing to jump out the box a little. A client that doesn’t know what they want but dismisses all of your ideas is absolutely the worst. In terms of shooting someone that I didn’t want to shoot in my career…I don’t plan on it actually. No one is putting a gun to your head to take a job, it’s OK to say no, because if you’re hearts not in it then it’ll end up being a real shitshow and then you’ll have to wait until the whole art department leaves to be able to send your book over again.

Format: Is there anyone you haven’t shot, or worked with, that you would love to work with?
Astaire: Yeah, tons of people. I’m at the beginning of my career. There are tons of people, fellow artists, musicians, actors, actresses. I think of different ideas and different things I could see them in all the time, it’s just about access and shooting people that I’ve never met, that I don’t even know yet. There are tons of people that I haven’t really worked with yet. Some are famous and some are not. The whole fame game to me is just pretty relative. I don’t feel like someone has to be famous in order for me to shoot them or someone has to be such in such for me to shoot them. I’ve shot a waitress that waited on me at a fucking restaurant, before. It’s not about celebrity per say; it’s just about the energy. You know, if you’re willing to bring something to the table. My work is very particular and I’m not saying it’s for everyone, I know it’s not for everyone. I’m not a generalist at all, I’m quite specific and the more I get into what I’m trying to do the more specific it’s going to get. If you look and think about some of the more extraordinary artists across the board, in music, fashion, art, photography, even architecture, it takes a lot for someone that has a different voice to get out there. Like Timbaland, I think Timbaland is amazing. I would love to shoot Timbaland. I would make up some crazy shit. I really, really really would. And, sometimes, I feel like I harbor ideas for people in hopes of shooting them.

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Format: Leah McSweeney, from Married to the MOB, in one of our previous interviews, said men in the street wear community are “feminine.” What’s your take on that?
Astaire: Definitely. I went to MAGIC this past February. I think I might have thrown up in my mouth just a little bit. It’s really weird. I really think it’s cool that guys are taking a more active roll in what they’re wearing. For a while it was like, they would wear whatever. It’s really cool for men to have a bigger choice with what they wear. But, once again, the majority of men don’t give a shit. But there’s this little pocket, this little niche that give a shit. I’m not going to knock it. Not to be superficial, but we’re judged all the time and we want to act like we’re not judging people but we cant help but do it. You just make assumptions and you judge and you say things. There’re totally other things that you could be putting energy into and, for whatever reason, people feel like putting energy into how they look and pushing outward appearances is really a big thing right now.

Format: As a photographer, do you think you’re adding to the problem that we have with superficiality?
Astaire: Sure, I don’t see why not. But I think that with that I try to put some type of meaning into it. And if you don’t, you don’t; its art. And the art that I’ve chosen to make does have a piece of superficiality to it. I try to get into religion; I try to get into politics. With the type of industry that I’m getting into where it’s more commercial it’s hard to do that and I’m dealing with that right now. I’ve been trying to figure out how I successfully get my rocks off. But going back to men are the new women, I just think people need to chill out for a second. There’s a big scene right now. And the same people that claim they’re o-so-different, sometimes you’re really not. It’s a bunch of pomp and circumstance.

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Format: With male streetwear being so popular, do you think female streetwear will ever be as popular as male streetwear?
Astaire: No, because we have better clothes to deal with. We have shirts, we have nice shoes, we have Chanel. I don’t have time for that, it’s weird. I’m not going to spend $400 on sneakers, I spend $400 on Chanel shoes, on good quality shoes, or good quality bags. Not to say that I don’t wear sneakers anymore, I wear Vans and Chucks, but that’s just my own personal preference. I really don’t think women’s streetwear will explode in the sense that mens street wear did. We have more options. We’re more geared toward things that appeal to the body. I don’t want to dress like a boy, I don’t want to dress like a slut, but I don’t want to dress like a boy. It’s like a gang mentality, streetwear in a lot of ways. To me, it’s another version of Crips and Bloods. People want to belong; it’s human nature. People have that fear of being alone.

Format: You recently did Married to the MOB’s look book and have shot for Franco Shade. Is there anything in particular that draws you into streetwear?
Astaire: Nothing at all, actually. Leah has been a friend of mine before Married to the MOB even existed, before she even thought of it. We met, she was a stylist for one of my first editorial shoots when I was still in school, and we just kind of linked on that and just like kept in touch. She’s a friend of mine, but she is a client at the end of the day and she’s a great client! She understands where I’m coming from; we have a lot of very similar visions. We want to make provocative work, we don’t want to be tacky or tasteless, but we want something provocative, we want something fun, we want something memorable. She really wants that and I really want that, too. I have a little personal stake in it, you know. So, in a way it’s my baby too, I really want it to win, and sometimes when you’re hired by companies, you know, if you get hired by Polo or something its not your baby, it’s only your baby for that one second – you don’t know Ralph Lauren. You barely know the art director that’s hired you, but I know her and I want her to win, and that’s the same way I feel about Joe with Franco Shade. I knew him before he started Franco Shade. His heart’s in it, I know what he’s trying to do. It’s the same case with Leah; it’s very personal. And when the shoot is over and the film is in, it’s not over with me. It’s a constant follow up, because that’s family. And I love them to death, so it’s like I want to do the best I can for them. I did a little collaboration T-shirt with Leah this past season. One of our shoots came out exceptionally well and she wanted to use one of the photos for a T-shirt. It came together – it’s really cool to see my work in a different medium. I don’t really see myself working for anymore streetwear companies. Not to say to everyone out there in streetwear land, oh OK we can’t fuck with Lynette, or we can’t call Lynette, because she’s not going to do it – it’s not that, it’s just like bring something to the table. Be ready for me to want to be able to push the envelope, because there is so much mediocrity in streetwear.

More Info: http://www.lynnetteastaire.com/

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Jason Parham

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12 comments

  1. dude. this shit is fuckin awesome! you DO sound like a maniac… but i think it’s safe to say that you ARE one so whatever. uh… if i were somewhat less thug, i’d say i was proud. yeszirrr

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