25 minutes with Neave Bozorgi
& Mo Mfinanga
- Published January 8, 2016
- Portrait provided by Neave Bozorgi
Neave Bozorgi’s subjects are captured with his admiration of empowerment, intimacy, and light. The pulse of intimacy through Neave’s work is mainly attributed towards the chemistry between him and his subjects. Combined, these factors illuminate the underlying tone behind the imagery he’s been able to create for clients such as Cotton Citizen and Playboy. In this interview, Neave shares with us a different side of social media that we’ve either ignored or forgotten.
Interview contains nudity
Mo: Excuse the morning voice, Neave. I'm not staying up until 6 a.m. again.
Neave: [Laughing] Oh my God, man.
Mo: So, Neave, how are you?
Neave: Good. I'm more interested in your morning routine now. What do you do?
Mo: Wake up, eat breakfast, and try to cycle 15 miles.
Neave: Wow. That's awesome.
Mo: How do you like the F-Type? Let's talk about that for a bit.
Neave: I love the car. I was in the market to get a new car so I went and test drove the A7, Q5, and 6 Series with the M package. Test drove all of those and then I drove the F-Type. It's one of those things that I was first looking at practicality, trunk space, seating, and then I was like fuck it, when else am I going to have a two seater sports car? It's fun. You kind of sacrifice some of the practicality of having space and room but it's fine.
Mo: Do you have the V-6 S?
Neave: Yes. I drove the V-8 for a week and it is so loud and insane and fun and fast. It was too much. I was going to hurt myself. It was way too much power and way too much fucking fun. It's funny because [in LA] you don't see the car so much. I've seen the F-Type four times. Everyone goes and buys a Porsche, that's the problem.
Mo: How do you deal with transporting gear in the F-Type?
Neave: The gear that I have is really just a camera bag. I don't have lights or stands. Since I got the Fujifilm, I'm trying to just carry that with me. I'm trying to make the Fuji my main camera, because I'm over the Canon. It's so clunky and big and overwhelming. I think the clients like to see a camera like that on set.
Mo: Everyone wants to see you with a camera like that. The lens hood, 24-70mm, and a Mark III.
Neave: Exactly. It's more like a show for the clients because they don't know cameras.
Mo: I'll go somewhere with my Leica T and no one is eyeing me or the camera. People get so bent over about gear. I remember seeing a tweet you made about how someone just has to use what they already have and take advantage of that challenge.
Neave: I agree. I had an old Canon, and any time you'd try to push the ISO above 400, it would get super grainy so I could never really shoot in low lighting. So that became a part of my style with black and white images. One side would be light while the other would be dark. As I got better gear, I moved away from that.
Mo: I'm still thinking about the F-Type. Didn’t Jaguar send you one for a while?
Neave: So, I went into a Jaguar dealership in Pasadena and I test drove the car, and somehow they figured out that I was at that dealership, so the conversation started between me and the company that handles their marketing. So, we went back and forth, and all of sudden I'm telling them that I'm buying a car in June, so if you want to give me a car a week and half before that then let's do it. My cousin and I went to San Diego to get my car and we drove back with two F-Type's which was really fun. So, that's how it happened. We started with a test drive, we got in touch, I had that car for 11 days, the whole neighbourhood was frightened, and then I returned it.
Mo: Did you watch the Top Gear DVD special where Richard Hammond crashed the F-Type because it was too powerful?
Neave: No. [But the F-Type] is like the sexy animal that just wants to eat the road. And at first when I got the V-6 S I was kind of disappointed with the sound of it because it was a brand new car. I'm like, "Fuck, it's not making the noise!" Now that it has 3,000 miles on it, it's making such a beautiful noise. It's a fantastic car, though. You enjoy it for the time you have it and then figure out what to get next.
Neave: What do [you think] photographers drive?
Mo: A friend of mine drives a Q5. I think a lot of photographers drive Audi's [and Pruis’].
Neave: I was about to get the A7. But the F-Type ruined it for everyone.
Mo: When I'm [back] in LA, I'm not saying that you should take me for a ride, but…
Neave: Not saying you should pick me up from the airport, but... [both laughing] The good thing is that you know how much trunk space it has so you can pack accordingly. [both laughing]
Neave: You know, what I like about France was that I didn't see one Pruis.
Mo: What did you see in France?
Neave: I saw a lot of Peugeot's and a lot of Citroën’s and smaller Ford’s.
Mo: What did you do in France?
Neave: It was two days of shooting for a client and the rest was a vacation that I took for myself.
Mo: What did you take from the experience in being in France?
Neave: So, it's interesting because you have one side that's very bougie and rich that likes to show off, and that's something you can get used to seeing, especially if you're in LA. But I didn't want to be around that so the second half I was in a village of 200 people and isolated myself in that.
Mo: I remember seeing that huge hotel on your Snapchat.
Neave: The Hôtel du Cap—the big white one?
Neave: [Laughing] Yeah, that was really bougie.
Mo: But I like that you exposed yourself to both sides of the cultural spectrum.
Neave: It's funny because I feel like there's a side of me that likes the finer things, I like to see it and be around it once in awhile, but I don't like to live in it. And, with photography, too, I've always liked to make my photos look more expensive. I feel like, for me, it's good to see that [glamorous] side of the world and see what they expect to see and just go back to my village.
Mo: I think with all photographers whatever happens in our life goes into our art. Subconsciously, that affects what we create. Our biggest enemy is ourselves because we have to really push ourselves to go somewhere different. I know you've probably answered this before, but what are you trying to do with your work, right now, in your life?
Neave: For me, I've always thought I'm going to do photography and see where it goes, but I'm not in control of it. Something could happen tomorrow and all of a sudden I can't be a photographer anymore. So lately I've been more open to seeing where else I can go, and it's not really photography.
Neave: I don't know if I'm going to be doing photography for the rest of my life as something that I make a living off of, but as far as it being a passion and hobby goes, yeah, forever I'll take pictures—I love light. I love the interaction between lights and shadows and everything so I always nerd out on that, but I don't know if it'll be at the scope that it is now. One of the things I can see myself doing, and there might be a chance to do, is directing. We'll see in the next few months.
Mo: I trust that it can happen.
Neave: I think it'll be cool, but I have no idea how it works—I have no knowledge about it. But then again, I didn't know anything about photography either. I kind of just throw myself into things and figure it out as I go.
Mo: I mean, you have photography as this framework to get into other things.
Neave: Yeah, at this point I'm building a team around me just so things run smooth. Right now I'm a one-person show. I haven't sought an agent out, and I don't really involve my assistants too much in my everyday life as far as tasks go, but I'm bringing in a team to handle out different aspects. I really want to start collaborating with artists. I used to do that a lot more on my own but I don't have the mental capacity to stay on top of everything that I need to do while working on side projects. My background is in design so I always have that appreciation for good design and artists that do things by hand, that if I could provide them with resources to do something artistic then I would be more than happy to.
Mo: One thing you touched on is that you don't have an agent, right? What's been the main reason why? I know you don't have to have one but I'm curious about your decision.
Neave: It's one of those things that I know deep down that if I get an agent that it might speed up the process of me shooting certain things that I would want to shoot, but I know, from experience already, that if I do my thing, it'll come eventually. I don't have to rush it. When I'm ready, it'll happen. If it doesn't happen then it doesn't happen. It's like, I'm comfortable where I am in life where I can have enough time to myself to have my own life and enjoy it, and also work. I kind of don't even want to rock the boat right now and bring on an agent where all of a sudden, I have all these editorials to shoot for magazines, and I never give a fuck about magazines. Because I've spoken to a couple of photographers in LA that are represented, I've asked them, "How do you like it?" and they're like, "It's cool. It's mostly fashion editorials and, like, working with agencies." And I don't want to do that, you know? I'm pretty good at negotiating my own terms; I've built it this far.
Mo: What some people might not realise is that photography is five percent shooting and 95 percent behind the computer.
Neave: Absolutely! Sitting in my underwear and making selects.
Mo: It's just us googling how to not fuck up a contract. But in regards to your team, it just depends on who's touching what.
Neave: Exactly! I've always been a firm believer that you should always be able to give people a job that they're good at and not try to do it yourself. To think that you can do everything and that you know everything is the worst thing you can do to yourself. Bring on the people that are good at something, pay them the right amount, and grow. It's simple.
Mo: Yeah. It's simple but then it's not. [laughing]
Neave: Yeah, you’re right, it's not. I think it's about having a good eye for people, judging them correctly, and you knowing what you want from them.
Mo: Training your intuition.
Neave: Exactly, yeah! The people that I'm bringing on are people that I've known for, like, 10 years. It's not like I'm going on Craigslist and trying to find a bunch of people. It's interesting because I feel like photographers, when we start, we have goals and they're really pointless, because when I started I was like, I can't wait to have a studio. Like, why do I need a studio? I don't even shoot studio work.
Mo: I was just thinking of things I wanted a year ago and in hindsight, looking at my life right now, I realised that I don't need most of those things. I may want them, but need? Nah. I believe you need what you already have.
Neave: I agree with you. The goal in life shouldn't be to always acquire more. It's funny 'cause now with social media and everything, as soon as you do something or you go somewhere or you acquire something, there's this stigma about you. For me, as a photographer, there's a stigma about me, I'm sure. People will just watch you and make up their own story about who you are and what you're about. Whatever you think you need and have, someone will interpret it differently. It's very interesting.
Mo: As long as you enjoy it then it doesn't really matter.
Mo: I know we talked about what I do in the morning, but what's your morning ritual?
Neave: I wake up, clean my house, shower, eat, and then I look at my phone to see who I need to reply to. I used to wake up and immediately look at my phone, but I recently decided that I should wait an hour before I do that. I'm mostly doing house stuff in the morning.
Mo: I think it's good to unplug and not get caught up. Speaking of getting caught up, I recently read this article about how everyone is showing their "highlight reel". People's lives aren't that interesting. These reels are usually five percent of their day.
Neave: [Laughing] Yes! Absolutely. This guy messaged me on Snapchat this morning saying, "How do you make money if these chicks are always naked at your house? How are you living this baller lifestyle?" It's like, okay, you see my shoots, the times that I've chosen to show a part of my life, but you don't see everything else; you don't see the struggling. You don't see the rough part of people's life on social media, so everyone looks ballin', everybody looks happy, and it's so misleading because you just have this weird perception of what people's lives are. So I feel like, with me, people think I'm some guy who wakes up with three models and goes to the bangin' coffee spots. It's, like, no, dude. It's the opposite of that. I wake up with three pillows and... [both laughing]
Mo: Looks at the F-Type.
Neave: I cuddle the F-Type in my bed and then I go get my coffee. [both laughing]
Mo: So, what are a few common things that people ask you that you haven't had the chance to answer, or something that you want to tell a lot of people?
Neave: I was talking to Bobby Hundreds about doing a panel about the whole social media thing, because we see eye-to-eye about this thing. It's this notion that brands and people are forgetting what Instagram is about, and social media in general. People are forgetting that it's just a tool and not a lifestyle. It shouldn't change your psychology because you have a higher number [following]. It doesn't make you a better person at all. It doesn't add value to you, because if you think about it, if Instagram crashed tomorrow then it doesn't matter. All the things that I've posted, all of the things that I've said, all the interactions… Nothing matters. I think people forget that and let it get to their head and they act upon it. A lot of people that used to be "cool" now think they're celebrities. And it's like, no, you're on an app and people look at you through a phone, and once they're done looking at you on a phone, they don't care about you. Keep that in mind, be level-headed, and keep working hard. I don't understand why that when people are talented or get a following or some kind of attention, all of a sudden they have this different mentality and they have to act upon it. It's so interesting, especially in LA. It maybe has to do with the age, too.
Mo: I agree with you and I read Bobby's blog post about Snapchat, which I wholeheartedly agree with. One thing I was reading about that parlays with this notion behind social media, was an article about Tinder.
Neave: The article on Vanity Fair, right?
Mo: Yeah, that one. The psychology behind Tinder is interesting because of the underlying promise that there's always something and someone better out there.
Neave: Oh, yeah! It's definitely changing. I feel like there needs to be an awareness. This is all very new. If you think about it, the iPhone came out in 2007. The older generation is having a really hard time understanding it because they can't really monetise on it and they're relying on people with a lot of social media followers to tell them what's going on. And I think that the people that are in it like me and the people younger than me that are being raised with it, they don't think about the repercussions it has to your psychology when you make it about your world so hard. And, again, brands don't understand that some people have a lot of social media following because they shot a few "Insta-celebrities" with tits and ass. It's not their talent, it's just who they shot. So there's a difference between the quality of followers and brands don't understand that and people that are gaining these followers forget that. It's like, no, you shot a few people that have a lot of followers and now you're famous.
Mo: Hmm, I haven't thought about that in that way. I've known people who did that. They shot a few internet celebrities and now they shoot the same thing and pander to the million followers they have.
Neave: I call it documenting tits and ass. They document those things that people like to see, they post it, and all of a sudden they have followers, and now they have "talent". You don't have that, you have followers. It's important for brands to understand the quality of followers, too, and the kind of people you want to attract.
Mo: But brands are going to be oblivious about these facts, Neave, because they're all about numbers. At the end of the day, whoever has the highest number wins.
Neave: And I think that's where we're going wrong. Now we're starting to pay attention about numbers and statistics instead of the soul of it. And this sounds cliché, but the content matters. I think that's when everything went corporate. But now, we're becoming statistics, too. Like, "Oh, Neave has 230,000 followers. Let's hire him instead of so-and-so." That's fucked up.
Mo: And the people that are the framework of this cycle will continue doing what they're doing without knowing what effect they're actually causing.
Neave: Exactly! They don't change it.
Mo: And I know people will think you and I are complaining right now, but no, we're not complaining. We're stating the reality of this.
Neave: I'm not complaining because I know I'm not going to be changing the whole direction of it, but I want people to at least think about this. It's one of those things that I feel like so many people are on autopilot and they're not thinking about it. It's things like Instagram magazines that are doing shit like this. They're promoting people's work, and I'm not going to name names, but they have a lot of followers and they're such a good place to try to inspire people to do better quality work, but they won't.
Mo: I'm a photographer, sure, but I'm also a curator. For Emmazed, it's about sharing great work and creating it, too. I want share my work, sure, and other people's work, too, but lets try to approach that method differently. I’m aware of what the 20 other blogs are doing so I won’t rehash the same thing others are doing.
Neave: Wow, that's awesome. I used to have a website back in 2008 and so I know the feeling of sitting on your computer for hours and watching everyone else and figure out what content to provide.
Mo: It's challenging, but that's the process. I tell people straight up when I email them. This interview isn't going to get a million views, but if it touches one person then awesome. I do my best to distill this notion to people I get in touch with because a lot of them are about numbers. I'm like, "No, let's realise that I'm a creative and you're a creative, too." There's a conversation that we could have that'll bring a different perspective to other creatives. I'm not in this shit for the vanity. People don't need to [primarily] hear about the gear that you shoot with.
Neave: 100 percent. I agree with you. Who the fuck cares about the gear? When people ask me about inspiration, I'm like, "Dude, really?"
Mo: To an extent, yes, it's nice to have a station of things that are visually appealing, but that's not where the good shit is. I'd rather instil discipline than inspiration.
Neave: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Especially at a younger age, it's so hard to not want to sleep in late and hang out and do your thing. If someone doesn't instil a schedule on you, whether it’s school or work, it's so hard to come up with your own discipline.
Mo: Those years of having the chance to figure out what you want to do should be taken carefully, because if you fuck up those years, then it'll be harder to figure things out later, I believe. I don't mean that it'll be impossible, but it'll harder and the only person you can blame is yourself.
Neave: Even with this phone conversation that we have, I showered, I got ready, and wore, like, a button up. I've created the discipline that this is a work day, and I'm in work mode. I'm not in my PJ's at home just chilling. That's something I had to do on my own and to myself otherwise I'd be lazy.
Mo: Discipline isn't specifically geared towards photography. It's applicable to arguably every single career out there.
Neave: I think creative people struggle with discipline the most, because our brains are going all over the whole entire place and all of a sudden it wants to do this thing and that thing. It's so easy to get off track because you get excited about something else.
Mo: Exactly. So, what are a few factors that you take into account in terms of constantly creating something?
Neave: So when I first started, it was 2012, technically. I was shooting everyday because I had nothing else going on. I was looking for a job and it was a very unknown period in my life. I was literally shooting every. That didn't stop until six months ago. Even if it was for no fucking reason, I would keep shooting, because (one) I always wanted to get better and (two) I just didn't see the point in not shooting. Every day I was just creating. Recently, I decided to take more time for myself and live, and enjoy it.
Neave: So, now, when I create, I try to deal with people that inspire me. I try to study my surroundings more and create with that. Now when people ask me what kind of photographer I am, I just say that I like to photograph light because I see how it interacts with something and I'll take a picture of that. There's no goal as to where to share things. I would say that 80 percent of the things I'm photographing, I'm not sharing. And so, I don't have a goal in sight with everything that I capture, but it's this innate thing that I keep doing; make it more intense; make it more different; make it more mysterious; make it more sexy; make it more playful; make it more humble. I try to go through the motions and do something different. So far I'm pretty content with it, but there's always this thought as a creative that warrants you to not get stale.
Mo: I know it's challenging for you, especially with the stigma behind the subjects you normally shoot, but you want to advocate something different. A lot of people want to shoot pretty girls just to shoot pretty girls. There's enough people doing that. It's interesting with you because you're trying to advocate an underlying tone.
Neave: I don't know if you saw my Instagram a couple of days ago, but I went on a huge rant that a model friend sent me. Did you get to see that?
Neave: I took it off, but I'll text it to you real quick. So, this was a text message that I received from a model friend, and she visited LA for an agency and that's the conversation that they had.
Neave: So that happened, and I posted it on my Instagram and I wrote that caption. So then her agent actually ends up emailing her with a screenshot of my post and says, "Coincidence?" So homeboy ends up emailing me with a forwarded email of their conversation and asks me to come into the agency and come and talk to them. But my point is, even with the sexy shit, not everyone needs to shoot sexy. I feel like that's something else that people are forgetting because of this whole Instagram famous thing. It's like they think that if you take your clothes off or get all sexy and work with certain "Instagram magazines", that you're going to get to a level of fame and that's when people will fly you out to yachts in Ibiza. It's far from the truth, and not every girl should do that, and everybody should be careful about who they do it with because not every photographer is going to do you justice. And I'm not saying that I'm always the best at capturing it, but I do try my best to empower the women and represent them in a way that's more respectable than certain others in LA.
Neave: It doesn't necessarily always have to be sexy. It kind of pains me that I have to be the person who says that because I'm known for the sexy stuff and there's also a stigma with what I do, you know? There's so many models that email me and to shoot with me, and I straight up ask them, "Why do you want to shoot with me? You don't need to do this," and I feel like I'm just coaching people and nobody's listening because two weeks later she's half naked with her ass out.
Mo: Hmm. That is…
Neave: Oh yeah, there's a whole side of this my friend. [laughing]
Mo: That's crazy.
Neave: That's why I told Bobby that we need to have a fucking discussion and put it online because people are lost. This is a part of the lostness-ness where people think the only way to do things is sexy. Even agencies—nobody understands social media. Nobody.
Mo: It's still growing and all you can do is adapt to it.
Neave: It was Facebook for a while, but now it's on your phone, and you're like, what do I do?
Mo: When you and Bobby do this, just sit in a dim-lit, CSI-like room.
Neave: [In a 60s Jersey accent] "Where's the money, Bobby?" And he's like, "I thought we were talking about Instagram?" [both laughing]
Mo: But yes, I can't wait to see that conversation. You're in a position where you and Bobby can project these notions towards millions of people. It doesn't have to change their world, but subconsciously implant that.
Neave: Yeah! At least be aware of it! At least know about it. It can be a very dark thing, but it doesn't have to be.
Mo: Why did you delete the photo?
Neave: When I took the screenshot, the one that I sent you, it was two days after I posted it. Everybody saw it and it did its thing and that was it. It was alarming to see how many people, especially models, were agreeing with it. Like, wow, these agencies really don't get it.
Neave: The people who hire these models take into account their following, as well. So say there's a model with 2,000 followers that's fucking dope, right, but hasn't shot enough to have a following, they'll favour someone who has more than her. It's a thing now. What I like about my clients, especially someone like Cotton Citizen, is that they share the same view as me. We don't shoot the girls with high followings. We go out of our way, even if it means not having content for a while, and just finding the right girls to have a good aesthetic and a good vibe. It's funny because I have a lot of girls on my radar and soon as they shoot for a brand or something that I don't respect, I just don't shoot them again. I don't want to be associated with that brand and, also, I think it's important for people to work with people that represent them well. If you're a model and you're shooting with every brand that pays your rate then that's going to end up shooting you back in the foot, because you're associated with anything and everyone. There's not exclusive tidbit with it. I think people are forgetting that they need to be a little exclusive, too. As I keep talking, there's so much I'm realised that's happening.
Mo: Imagine if photographers were also models.
Neave: There's a bunch.
Neave: I gotta send you… This model that I used to hang out with—before she moved—our favourite activity was to watch this guys YouTube channel who was a photographer and a model. He would talk about lighting and selfies, and he was all whack about it so it was hilarious. [Mo laughing]
Mo: To formally conclude the interview, what do you find the purpose of your work to be?
Neave: To make you appreciate and think.
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