In a day and age where we are constantly faced with a barrage of images on our phone screens, LA-based photographer Patrick Gookin has done something unconventional: he’s published a book of photos he took on his iPhone. We got to chat with Patrick about this project, Surface Relations, his favorite restaurants and exhibition spaces in LA, and the side of the City of Angels that outsiders don’t see.
AZ: Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and what’s your artistic background?
PG: I was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1983 and grew up in a small town in New Hampshire called Salem—a typical American suburb.
My grandfather was a painter, and I studied graphic design and photography in college. I wasn’t fully taken by it until Japan, where I was introduced to photographers and photobooks that opened my mind and gave me a sense of what was possible within the medium.
AZ: Would you agree that you can tell a lot about a person by looking at the Camera Roll on their phone? If so, what does yours say about you?
PG: Perhaps. From my camera roll, one might gather that I’m obsessed with my dogs, eat a lot of Korean food, and spend too much time in my car and in the kitchen.
AZ: What inspired you to start shooting photos with your phone out the car window during your commute?
PG: When I started taking these photos, in 2012, I was working full-time as a photo editor. It was boredom and the dullness of the daily commute that inspired me.
Sitting in traffic I started noticing improbable scenes where lone figures seemed to defy a stark landscape simply by walking through it, below the relentless LA sun. This was something I felt I hadn’t seen in photographs before.
AZ: Why publish these photos in a book format? What do you want people to get out of viewing them in this way?
PG: I’m interested in the ways in which pictures work without words, and in creating purely visual and aesthetic experiences. In Surface Relations, there is no text aside from what’s on the cover. The realized book becomes the work, a unique way of experiencing images that is separate from the pictures as works of their own, and in opposition to how most of us view images on a daily basis, which is primarily on screens.
AZ: Tell us about how you chose the title Surface Relations.
PG: These pictures are about the surface-level relationships that one has with people and the landscape in Los Angeles as one is passing through it in a car. That’s what I was photographing in making this body of work.
“Surface” also references “surface streets,” a uniquely LA phrase that refers to the network of city streets outside of the freeway system, from which most of these pictures were made. It’s a callback to American Surfaces, as I’ve embraced the iPhone as a picture making device much like Stephen Shore embraced 35mm color photography in making that work, long before such approach was allowed to be considered art.
AZ: A significant amount of the included images feature isolated pedestrians—was this purposeful? What about them caught your eye?
PG: My photos of pedestrians are inspired, in part, by a curiosity towards people on the streets in a city where chance encounters are rare.
AZ: If someone who had never been to Los Angeles before were to pick up a copy of Surface Relations, what impression would they get of the city based on your photos?
PG: Well, I think they’d see a version of the city that’s not often represented in popular media or even more dystopian versions set in place by the likes of Didion, West, or Chandler. They might get the impression that Los Angeles is more crowded by cars and billboards than people, and that there’s a unique banality to a place where “everyone” drives a Prius, fires erupt in manmade concrete rivers, and the 1970s continue to be a cultural cornerstone.
AZ: What are some of your go-to spots for eating and seeing art in L.A.?
PG: Ma Dang Gook Soo for hand cut or cold Korean noodles in a very large stripmall. Noshi Sushi for sushi in what feels like an old Denny’s. Sapp Coffee Shop for Thai breakfast.
The Underground Museum and Norton Simon are my favorite museums in Los Angeles, and both lovely places to spend time at. Little Big Man Gallery’s programming includes wonderful work by new and old Japanese and American photographers and publishes some of the most impressive photobooks out there right now.
AZ: How can we keep up with you?
Patrick’s book Surface Relations and a special edition print are available for purchase here.
photo // Gaea Woods