Since 1999, Tod Seelie a.k.a. Sucka Pants has been shooting iconic New York — not your shiny postcard tourist New York, not your banal work-a-day New York. Seelie shoots sweaty basement DIY shows, firey tall-bike jousting Bike Kill, Swoon’s Swimming Cities trash-art-rafts on the Hudson River, lawless block parties, artists, train-hoppers, anti-heroes — our heroes. He’s kayaked to abandoned hospitals on New York’s lesser known islands, crawled down subway tunnels and climbed bridges. Name a place. He knows how to get there. I’ve asked him, “How?”
“If you see an island and there’s water in the way, get a boat,” he says, smiling. “Figure it out.”
Seelie’s combination of access and solid aesthetic has many long-time followers. He’s been profiled by The Times, appeared in Art Forum and Rolling Stone, shot everywhere from the fringes of New Orleans to the radioactive basements of Chernobyl and in October, he will finally release a photography book — Bright Nights: Photographs of Another New York with the legit PRESTEL publishing.
Damn, Seelie. It’s about time.
For two months, Seelie sifted through 14 years of New York photographs, film rolls and negative stacks, mating deliberate diptychs for the book. “That’s at my ex-girlfriend at my old apartment in Bed-Stuy in 2003… That’s my friend Porkchop in Staten Island on the train tracks in mid-2000s. It was like a playground out there.”
Why now? “I’m trying not be an art handler anymore. I have to start having a career,” he says. “There’re all these hacks doing boring photography. I’m doing something wrong.”
Understandably, there’s been a lot of Bright Nights anticipation among his friends. He also lost a few after a long, long debate on whether or not he should use one particular diptych — “Igor” in rapture and a gnarled cat corpse. (NSFW link to diptych here.) Some were repulsed. Some angry. Seelie deliberated for days and decided, “It’s a worthwhile risk.” It’s a compelling, damn solid pair.
“I should title the post, ‘Tod Seelie Does Not Hate Cats,'” I tell him, as he’s petting Bug — his cat since 1998, when some lazy owners were going to ditch her in the street.
“I got the cat because I was tired of mice running over my face while I was sleeping. The kitty works. Well, she doesn’t work anymore. She’s too old.” The other day, Bug exploded — sneezed, puked and shit simultaneously. On Seelie’s lap, she meows like a senile baby. “She doesn’t realize that she’s a cat. She thinks she’s talking to you.” He really loves that cat. He’s a really nice guy.
Too bad for Bug, Seelie travels every summer. He hates the heat. And, “It’s cheaper to travel and sublet than pay the rent. Keeps my expenses down. People always forget that.” He’s got it all figured out, huh? “Well, I’ve been doing it for 15 years.”
So now, the book. Finally. Let’s do this — 192 pages from the photographer who can make an ethically acceptable roadkill portrait and “New York” is always worth it.
Bright Nights: Photographs of Another New York features essays by Joe Ahearn (Clocktower Gallery/Showpaper), Conrad Carlson (Black Label Bike Club), Caledonia Curry (Swoon), Sto Len (Cinders Gallery), Carlo McCormick (Paper), Carolina Miranda (C-Monster.net), Colin Moynihan (New York Times), Evan Pricco (Juxtapoz), Jeff Stark (Nonsense NYC), and Ian Vanek (Japanther).
Come hang out at the Tender Trap tonight (May 2) at 7pm-11pm for a preview. (All images courtesy of Tod Seelie.)