In the mid ‘90s my office at the old LA Weekly building was located on Sunset Boulevard in the former digs of the Hollywood Reporter, in the heart of Hollywood. Every photograph on my desk was tinted pink from the huge neon logo on the wall above, which the Reporter left behind when they vacated. Prior to 1936 the art deco storefront contained a failed haberdashery and barbershop, the ghosts of which are still rumored to roam the halls.
In just the few square blocks around us was the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, home to the first Academy Awards ceremony and birthplace of the neighborhood’s booming club scene. Hollywood High School with it’s famed alumni from Lana Turner to Cher was just a few doors away as was Crossroads of the World, the streamliner masterpiece known as the first shopping mall in America. Crossroads later housed a porn magazine and these days it is home to the offices of Taschen books and the fine printing of Schulman Photo Lab. Musicians Institute is just a block away, in the old Max Factor factory building. Founded by members of the original “Wrecking Crew,” M.I. is one of the reasons Hollywood’s streets and cheap apartments are filled with shaggy-haired kids with guitar cases and big dreams.
The eras that built Hollywood are layer upon layer, veneer upon veneer.
Shortly after arriving in town in 1994, Christopher Wray-McCann was busily photographing one of Hollywood’s younger layers. He met with me under the neon glow to show his images of young people who made the fabled trek to Hollywood to try their hand at “making it.” He’d moved into a wonderful old Spanish Colonial apartment a few blocks away and was working his way through a mixture of portraiture, street and music photographs. Many people do this, of course, but not many do it well. He had a particularly strong eye for the youth and pulse of the city. His photographs of bands, on stage, backstage and the places in between were more than just a good beginning; they were full of grit, lust, rhythm, and energy.
In the years since, Wray-McCann has been steadily working, photographing in over thirty countries, doing what he does best. His fly-on-the wall approach has lent itself to a vast array of projects from documenting a tour with Maroon 5, to editorial shoots for Rolling Stone, The New Yorker and Vogue, as well as advertising campaigns for Converse, Oakley, Ray-Ban and others. Brilliantly, he never sacrificed his signature style to cater to advertising. Rather, his way of seeing has given clients an edgy quality, suitable to their products and customer base.
Still based in Hollywood, Christopher Wray-McCann makes photographs that carry with them an air of authenticity, giving the viewer a true sense of being there.
Can you tell me a bit about your beginnings?
My father was a journalist. Two of my sisters are journalists. Storytelling runs in the family. My parents are part of the World War II generation, and so many of their really good stories had something or other to do with the war. When I was a kid I used to root around in my family bookshelves looking for pictures and when I found them, they helped me not only visualize what they were talking about, but it helped me feel it, at least a little bit. The pictures were like poems.
I’d always been drawing and painting, and by the time I made it to the Interlochen Arts Academy, photography seemed like the way forward.
Can you name some of the photographers, artists, filmmakers, and writers who have influenced you?
I grew up in Detroit, and I was fascinated with Diego Rivera’s murals at the DIA. I used to stare at them for hours. They completely blew me away.
As far as other people whose work has had an impact on me, I might as well make a list… the internet loves lists.
Ellen Von Unwerth
Hunter S. Thompson
David Foster Wallace
to name a few…
Can you talk about recent work you wish you’d created yourself?
I wish I’d invented the camera phone. Not only would it be a sweet patent to own, but it is in the process of changing the nature of photography profoundly; on the level of Jacob Riis using a flash to bring light into the darkest corners of New York, or the advances that put a small enough camera in the hands of the kid Jaques Henri Lartigue.
Ultimately the only camera that matters is the one on hand when you need one. Millions of people now carry cameras in their pockets and that changes everything: policy, perception, aesthetics, democracy… everything.
The best advice I’ve heard so far about not losing your mind in the 21st century is: “become an expert at being a beginner.”
I’d like to know if you have a story of an exceptionally gratifying or amusing shoot?
Ahhh. The best of these stories are told face to face, at the dark end of the bar, with names redacted to protect the foolish.
A massive part of being a professional is keeping your mouth shut even when, especially when you really, really want to open it. I’ve had to sign so many non-disclosure agreements that I’m starting to feel like they’re the corporate culture’s equivalent of the Mafia’s code of omerta.
That being said…there was one time when I was in Las Vegas, with my entire crew and we were walking through the Forum at Caesars Palace on our way to the wrap party. Probably because I had a camera in my hand, I was approached by a Japanese couple who wanted me to take their picture. They handed me their camera and sat down in front of a fountain. Before I could even put the camera to my eye, the rest of the crew went into action stations. Hair was being adjusted, suit jackets straightened, lighting options being configured. We completely took over their world for the next two minutes. I think we really freaked them out, but they managed to sit still and smile. I’ve never seen the final picture, but I hope it’s on their fridge.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
I just finished this video piece and I’m really psyched about it. I had the honor to work with the Emmy award-winning editor / title designer Josh Bodnar (Showtime’s Dexter, etc), and it was a blast to make:
It’s a new take on the concept of the portfolio. The band providing the music is A.R.E. Weapons, and the track is “F what you like.”