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Interview: Walt Cessna on photography, substance abuse and New York City, Part 2

...previous reading.

By Walt Cessna-slide0
Walt Cessna
photographer, writer, creator
Walt Cessna

You are currently based in NYC, was that always the case?

I was born in Bayside, Queens and ran away from home at fourteen first to Hollywood, later on to San Francisco. I moved into The Chelsea Hotel when I was sixteen and lived all over NYC until I was thirty. That was when I moved back to San Francisco, then L.A. and back to SF. I lasted there until 2002 and finally moved back to NYC to reinvent myself before I turned fifty.

I have read and seen your fashion work from the eighties/nineties. How would you describe that period of your life as a photographer?

Well I was constantly on cocaine fueled by alcohol, with the addition of much ecstasy and an insane amount of weed. Most of my work during this period was for The Village Voice, Interview, Details, NYTalk, I.D. , Elle, Mirabella, Italian Vogue, Lei, Per Lui, Vanity, Blitz, Seventeen and then the rock & pop stars ; Nine Inch Nails, Beastie Boys, Milla Jovovich, Crystal Method, & Ann Magnuson. I was a f**king fashion freak and a teenage fashion nightmare. But I worked with everyone from Avedon to Sprouse to Marc to Penn and I’m not bragging. I was just an incredibly cocky & lucky kid who could charm anyone out of anything.

What was the turning point into your current, mostly homoerotic photographic pieces?

My ex-boyfriend Will who re-inspired me completely and led me on a five year visual journey not unlike Nan Goldin but more like Richard Kern meets Roger Corman. He was as narcissistic and vain as I was visually driven and obsessed with him. The photographs of Will resonate more so than others because you can see the love between us, but also the hate. Our whole thing was both beautiful and twisted and we were each others lovers and muses and I had never and will never again share such an intoxicating and creatively fulfilling relationship/collaboration. It took us two years to be friends again after we broke up, but ironically we have. And for that I’m very grateful. Will changed everything.

You have discussed publicly, through your tumblr, facebook, etc, that you have dealt with substance abuse-- where do you find yourself on your life's path?

Honestly it’s the biggest and most mind boggling thing I have to deal with every minute of the day. I’ve almost drowned after getting mugged and thrown head first into the Hudson River, three comas in two years, four psyche wards, two pneumonia battles, seven broken bones, eight rehabs and a partridge in a f**king pear tree. I’m bored with it and the drama yet occasional relapses do plague me and recently I have had to reevaluate my approach to sobriety. For the past year I have been on an intense mix of head meds and self medicating with pot but not doing Alcoholic Anonymous which everybody kinda judges me on. What I’ve decided to do is lessen everything and eventually get to where the occasional joint is just as satisfying as the several a day one.

In your NYC life, you usually work with artists like Scooter LaForge and Chad Ferro. Do you feel like you have all created a closely knit group which represents the current flow of creativity of the city?

Yes but I’m more careful now with who I collaborate. For the first few years it was pretty much everyone doing something interesting on the scene and 50% of the time the results were correct. But after getting burned by a few people in my close circle I kind of keep it to my best collaborator of all time Scooter LaForge. But my daily collaboration will always be with my models, especially ones like Chad Ferro, Jake Ryan, Scooter, Brett Gleason, Robert Anderson, Kelly Bush, Chick Byrne, Honey McMoney & Macklin Kowall, Rikki Crowley, Dominic Vine and way too many more to mention. They make my job so easy just by being their beautifully unique and non-censored selves. They have become my family along with a few special friends in the arts community and have stood by me in thick thru thin. This year I have been shooting more fashion related portrait sets and have been working closely with Scooter, Ben Copperwheat & Claire Fleury, ironically all designers at Patricia Field where I sold my own Dom Casual line back in the mid 90’s. I like styling again, but what I really like is taking my friends highly personal and pop influenced pieces, especially Scooters and mixing them with the models real clothes. That seems to be the most modern and correct thing to me in my old age.

In NYC, Walt is showing and curating at The Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay & Lesbian Art. His show there tiled SHARP OBJECTS will be in the gallery from July 25-27 2014. The first show he is curating is called VACZINE : The Inoculation Of NYC and will run from May 1 - July 7th 2015

Read PART 1 of this interview.

More on Walt:

Full name: Walter Cessna Schumacher. Cessna is my mother’s maiden name and yes I am a distant relative of the Cessna plane founder. As a fashion fanzine publisher and sixteen year old I called myself Walter S. So no one would know who was writing the scandalous style zine. When I turned eighteen I dropped Schumacher to my fathers family horror and began by then burgeoning career as a writer and fashion stylist as Walter Cessna. Ten years ago when I moved back to NYC from San Francisco and reinvented myself as an author and artist I started going by Walt Cessna. In a perfect futuristic world, I will simply be known as the gmail abbreviation of my name waltcsna.

Nicknames: My family calls me Skip now. When I was little I was Skipper. I hated it. My friends who know this like to call me Skippy. I am also known as The Evil Monkey. I have been referred to by those not in like or favor of my work and persona as a kunt, snob, bitch and loner. I will cop to all four of those at various times.

Height: 6 ft 2

Zodiac sign: Leo

Tattoos: 24. I have the Mustang logo on my chest & Felix The Cat on my right calf. The rest are all characters by my favorite illustrator and long time friend and collaborator Michael Economy. Most of them are bug eyed neon creatures from the daze of Rave.

Piercings: I have 3 plugs that I like to wear neon jewelry in and a silver hoop in my top left ear. Both my nipples, which were pierced while I was doing a spoken word reading on stage by one of my best friends and long-time muses Mouse.

Favorite colors: Orange, rust, mustard, violet, red, sky blue

If you were not human, you would be: I’m already not human. I must be a cat because I have literally come close to dying almost a full nine times. Three comas, one mugging and subsequent toss head first into the Hudson River where I almost drowned, rehab eight times in 14 years, full blown AIDS, AIDS related bone disease, pneumonia and pleurisy, and over ten broken bones.

Person responsible for driving you into photography: Stephen Sprouse

Best thing about being a photographer: I get to share a series of moments with my subjects where hopefully they become comfortable enough to let their guard down and become a bit vulnerable yet free. The way the light changes all through the day and the endless way I can manipulate it. Taking pictures with my brain even more often than those I shoot with a camera. Having my work collected in books, either my own or the many I am featured in by the gay German publishing house Bruno Gmunder.

Sum up yourself in ONE word: BEYONDER

More interviews:Mark David Gerson (second interview), Emerson Collins with Del Shores, Joey DeRuy, Ryan Lill, Laura Pausini, Vanessa Carlton, KENN, Mary Lambert, SATURN, Stephen Dittmer, Stephan Nance, Mark David Gerson, Eric Himan, Kevin J Thornton, Sammy Crawford, Eddie Christie, John Carrasco, YogaBear, Bryan Nevin with Christopher Van Etten.

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