IMAGHOSTXO - Photographer Capturing Truth on the Streets of Downtown LA

IMAGHOSTXO - Photographer Capturing Truth on the Streets of Downtown LA

NFT photography at the crossroads of experiential gaming

By Pam Voth

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Overview:

IMAGHOSTXO, is a photographer capturing the truth in the streets of downtown LA. His photography is candid and unposed and has been collected by some of the most prominent names in the web3 NFT space. We ask him about his life story, and what inspires him to make his art. During the conversation, we learn about his early work as an album cover designer helping to define the look of hip hop culture in DTLA. We get a sense of the buzz of the NFT photography bull market when Justin Aversano’s Twin Flames, and Drift were becoming known to everyone on Twitter.

Find Photography NFTs from IMAGHOSTXO on Sloika at these links: https://sloika.xyz/imaghostxo.eth/52bodies https://sloika.xyz/imaghostxo.eth/imaghostxo-editions-01-ladders

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Pam Voth: Hello and welcome to One of One on Sloika, the curated NFT photography marketplace. Today I'm here with IMAGHOSTXO, a photographer capturing the truth in the streets of downtown LA. His work is candid and unposed. To me, his shots seem like a direct link to the stories playing out in the daily lives of people who may go unnoticed if it weren't for Ghosts’ lens. His Sloika NFTs have been exhibited in a Rome gallery and on a billboard in Times Square. And they've been collected by the top collectors in the space. Let's get to know Ghost and what compels his photography. Welcome, Ghost!

IMAGHOSTXO: I thought that was such a nice intro. I really appreciate that.

PV: I understand you carry your camera with you every day. And I wanted to know if you've taken any pictures today.

G:
Yeah, well, I've definitely taken a few pictures this morning. Yes, and you're totally right. Shooting for me is an obsession. I've gotten to the point where I can walk out of the house now without having my camera. But there was a time when if I got even a mile away from the house, I would there have been moments when I've turned around to go grab my camera. It's pretty bad.

PV:
I don't know if I'd call it bad. I think I call it the personality of a photographer, probably.

G: I appreciate that. Yeah.

PV:
So you're very skilled at capturing stories about the streets of LA, and I wondered if you could share your own LA story?

G:
Wow. Well, ya know, thank you so very much. I was born and raised in LA. And I think it boils down to the fact that LA has been the center of my life. I slept in the streets of downtown LA as a young man. Eventually, I worked in the streets of downtown LA as a young professional in the music industry. Then, for a while, I lived in the center of downtown LA for eight years and shot literally every single day.

I’m a lot of things outside of being a photographer, I'm a creative. And I made a career pretty much kind of behind the curtain. And it’s the reason I've always wanted my work to just stand for itself. So yeah, IMAGHOSTXO is kind of like, representative of not only my career but also the way I shoot. So that's the short background of me and LA, I guess.

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PV:
That's really awesome to know. You say you're a creative, I was curious about what other kinds of creative work you do.

G:
I think it's time to kind of start revealing a little bit. When I was really young, I had a moment in life, where I thought I was going to be an Olympic runner, football player, or soccer player. And something happened to me where I spent a summer in the hospital unable to move. I was even given last rites. They expected that I was not going to make it. And the only thing that really kind of helped me pass my time was my love of drawing and television. I would sit up late at night in the hospital and watch runway shows from New York and France. I love that and I love music. Music videos were a big thing.

And it was then and there that I decided that I was going to make a career out of designing album covers. So kind of a crazy decision to make at you know, 14. Obviously, I made it out. And that was the path for my life.

So my first professional job was as an album designer for a one of two men team at Priority Records. So from 1994 to 2000, I was part of that two-man group who made everything for West Coast hip hop. So – Ice Cube Snoop Dogg, NWA Friday, the movie, I mean, you name it, I've had a part in it. And from there, I went to MCA Records to design album covers, mostly for quote-unquote, urban artists because I was the urban guy from Priority Records.

So, that is a very, very short description of my professional career. But after that, I became a creative director, chief creative, and so on and so forth. And I built teams. A lot of work in digital marketing, music, entertainment videos, and then experiential and a lot of really experimental digital marketing. My career has been as a creative but my obsession in life has been as an artist, an abstract painter, and as a documentary-style photographer.

PV:
Yeah, that's a really great story. I didn't know all these things about you. This is one of the great things about the One of One talks. We can learn all this really great back story!

G:
Well, I appreciate it. You know, as I said, I've really wanted my work to stand for itself. Not that I'm an important person whatsoever. But I have spent a life and this sounds so strange, but I have spent a life seeing my work on people's bodies, in their homes, on billboards, on TV. I've been able and had the great pleasure of being part of, you know, cultural movements, and music and popular culture. And that has been all great.

I've never really searched for the spotlight. I’ve had the intention to be the type of creative that I wanted to be who mentors, other creators. I just really didn't want that to be part of what people were considering when they were looking at my photography. Again, not a big deal, it doesn't matter, some people might think it's cool. I mean, I've enjoyed it. And it's been nothing but an immense dream, to have the life that I have. I’m very grateful for it.

But, you know, some people do put weight on it. I shot Snoop Dogg, I've worked with him, Ice Cube, these types of names, and these types of people. Whether other people put weight on it, and they start to, they might look at my work differently. And I prefer that they just looked at my work for what it is. So that's why it always kind of stayed kind of behind the name IMAGHOSTXO as it's been now about a year and a few months in the Twitter space. Having had 52Bodies out, I've decided, I might as well start mentioning these things, because, um, you know, I mean, historically, I guess it matters.

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PV:
Yeah, exactly. And just thinking about just the art form of photography, itself. I used to work in advertising myself and worked at J. Walter Thompson, and some really big ad agencies. We were always working with this huge team of creatives. And my role in those teams was not necessarily, quote-unquote, creative. But I was very much part of the relationship building and the project management and all that kind of stuff. I was on the client relations side. There were so many times when we would make a Superbowl commercial, or we would make an ad in the New York Times or publish something in Time magazine, or Newsweek, or BusinessWeek. And I'd be like, “Hey, Mom, look what we did!” And she goes, Oh, did you take the picture? No. Did you write the headline? No. Did you write the copy? No. Did you buy the media? No. And I'm like, I didn't really do anything here. But if I didn't do my job, the whole thing wouldn't come together.

So I kind of landed in photography as “my” art form that I could do. Because I push the shutter button, I showed up, I was the one I was the I behind the lens. And, that's why it became so personal to me.

And I was just wondering if your photography of all these musicians, and everything was part of another process and if this photography that you're doing now with 52Bodies and the other NFTs that you've been releasing as IMAGHOST is a personalized experience for you, too?

G:
That is a really, really fantastic question. And fantastic background, thank you for that. I want to be clear that I designed the album covers, but those were done by photographers that I would hire or artists I had hired. I was a creative director and a designer, especially in 1994. It's where I started cutting my teeth and design was a great place to do it. As a young person, you're really trying to find yourself. There are vices out there kind of swirling around while you're trying to make it through the world as a young creative.

I want to go back to you saying that your mom asked, ‘did you do that?’ One thing that I've learned and that I really stand behind is one of the reasons that I like being kind of behind the scenes and not grabbing the spotlight. We're not an island and everything we do takes several of us. If you get on my Twitter feed, you'll see me say a bunch of things some people may be able to relate to, and others kind of just blow over.

When I say things like being grateful that you're here, we're nothing without each other. These things are all true and as a creative, being part of a creative group, you know, every single person matters. Every single bit of energy that you're moving forward to bring something into reality matters.

So, you may not have been the person to press that shutter button. But you know, you are a part of making that happen. But after you know all that said, there is something magical and protective and incredible about being behind the camera.

There are a lot of reasons why I shoot. But one of the very first reasons I remember as a young man was feeling like I went invisible behind the camera. I grew up in a time in a place where it was not easy for me to be where I was. People didn't want me there. I was made fun of a lot. Horrible things happen to tons and tons of people around the world. And I found when I got behind that camera when I was looking through that viewfinder, I was not there. It wasn't about me. It was about everything in front of me, about everything that I obsess over, whether it's difficult to look at difficult to swallow, beautiful to look at inspirational, whatever it was, I was able to look at it out of my body almost and then capture it and hold on to that moment. So for me, that's where photography, and maybe the obsession with photography came from. So yeah, it is interesting what happens to you when you get behind the camera.

But that being said, I don't really shoot looking through the viewfinder very much anymore. It took me a few years to find my process and hundreds and hundreds of missed shots. But I shoot from the hip. I know what I'm capturing because I've worked on the angle, the position in my hands, and my camera. But I'm not looking through the viewfinder, but yet, in the process of being ultra present in my environment, watching every single thing going around. I am not present. I feel like I'm some type of energy with a camera in my hand. It's an extension of my body that is rushing to capture moments that I'm seeing happening in front of me. And in that, there's a lot of peace. And there's a lot of introspection. I find it really compelling and it just drives me to have that camera in my hand at all times.

PV:
It sounds like you're almost describing this conduit sort of scenario.

G:
Yeah, that's really well put, I didn't think about it. But yes, absolutely.

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PV:
Were you like, “I'm here to capture the truth.” I read that in your description. Is what you're seeing on the streets? You're not trying to pose or have someone do something over again. I feel like the candid nature of your work is so important.

G: Yeah, thank you so much. It is extremely important to me. I'm not a small person. And so it is quite a bit of an effort for me to blend in and not be seen. But I'm also on the other end of the spectrum from like a Bruce Gilden. I'm not throwing my camera in people's faces or using flashes. I'm trying to be as respectful and quiet about it as possible because I don't want anything – the photography, the moment – to be about me whatsoever. I mean, at some point, it has to be because I am there. I'm close. I shoot with a fixed 23-millimeter lens. So I have to be close to my subjects. And I say if I can't get close enough to capture the shot, I don't deserve to be in that environment. I don't deserve to capture that shot.

So for me, it really is about just trying to find a way to become part of the environment, to be super hypersensitive, and acutely aware of what's happening around me to try to capture what ultimately becomes impossible moments that just kind of astonished me because I as you said, I'm not posing anything. I'm not premeditated. None of it is set up. So when I capture a Quick Draw Bench, and it looks like the gentleman is reaching for his own handgun, or I capture a girl on the high on the back of someone on a BMX rolling down a hill and I framed matches perfectly with the bus and the building behind it. You know, those are really amazing moments. And that's the heroin that keeps me going, I guess.

Because it's not about my photography as much as it is about the image that is really compelling to me. I feel like people are so powerful and immensely beautiful, and meaningful, even in their darkest moments, even in their ugly states. Because we as a whole are just a flash of light in this moment. Everything is ephemeral, nothing lasts. And when I capture these moments, and I am able to put them in front of someone or even just able to look at them myself, in great astonishment for the harmonies and the rhythms and then in the impossible the impossibilities that I see in some of these moments. I'm just like, wow, these things are happening around us all the time.

And yet, we all walk around sometimes – not all of us but many of us – will walk around, wondering about our value in this world. And sometimes my photography is just to say, You're immensely powerful and meaningful, even when you're laying in, you know, in the middle of the sidewalk or walking to your house. Or after leaving the subway and a long day of work. I mean, just these mundane moments.

PV:
I think it's wonderful. Since I didn't know about the summer when you had a non-ability to move, I wondered if that time helped form this current perspective that you have about everyone being special. I don't know if that occurred to you before, but just hearing your story now, iti makes me think, Wow, maybe that experience crystallized that idea? Or did you feel like that beforehand?

G:
Yeah. You know, Pam, that is why it's astonishing, talking to you. I know I tend to get lost in this conceptual, ephemeral thinking. But, yeah, I think everything is tied together. And I had not really. I mean, when you just said that, I realized that before, when I was thinking about being a long-distance runner, an Olympic athlete, or a football player, that was all about me. That was me inside of me.

And the moment, I think I made that decision, I guess I did turn outward. I mean, before then, though, I had always had a camera in my hand. I always take photographs, but I guess I never really thought about it. I mean, at 14, you know, you're young, you're forming, and it took a long time.

Even as a young professional, it took a long time for me to accept that what I was doing was worth paying attention to even by myself. I wasn't able to call myself a designer in front of people, even after seven years of having been at Priority Record as one who is shaping the look and feel of West Coast hip hop, or hardcore.

So that's just how I am but ya know. Perhaps I'm acutely aware of the fact that life can be taken away at any moment, that's for sure.

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PV:
Well, that’s really beautiful. And I think beautiful is the right word. It's such a basic word.

It's really an honor to hear you talk about that. Even you, who are in this great position to work with all of these musicians and have such an important part there, you still sort of doubted yourself.

I mean, there are so many of us as artists who have that sort of quote-unquote imposter syndrome. It's like, Am I really doing this? Do people really like this? Should I keep doing it? And I just think that you have a very open and honest and beautiful way of telling that story about yourself. You help us all kind of go, Yeah, I guess I'm gonna be okay if I feel the same thing.

G:
Geez, that's a huge honor.

A part of me has always admired these people, but I've never really been able to understand people who – this is gonna sound so bad – but I guess I just have to say, people who are really confident about themselves.

I had made a decision in life as a young designer. I had seen creative directors who would take credit. They make people do the work in a better way, churn and burn their resources, and their young, young talent, and really disregard them.

Having been kind of behind the curtain, because of the way I kind of came into design, I had decided that that was not the way that I was ever going to lead.

So I think not so much about humility, but a desire to really not take that spotlight has always kind of forced me to kind of stand back. And, you know, in a lot of ways, I could be a lot richer. I could be a lot more famous. But fame is definitely nothing I've ever wanted. And I do not pursue it.

So for me, that's just the way that I've kind of gone about things. And it's difficult for me to talk about myself in any way that is flattering, or in any good way about my work or to say that my work is meaningful, or say that it's powerful. Any of those things just feel really, really strange coming out of my mouth. But at some point, I know I have to at least kind of own it. And I do love my photography, and I do love my work and I do know the impact that I've had on culture.

But it is important for me to do it quietly, I suppose.

PV: Well, we'll do the shouting for you.

G:
Oh, I'm so flattered, it's really, really crazy. But thank you so very much.

PV:
Yeah. Well, that's why we're here.

Thinking back to November of 2022, we offered the opportunity at Sloika to have people submit their NFTs and be chosen to exhibit them in the gallery in Rome. We invited several guest curators to be part of that process. And more than one of the curators picked your work. I was so impressed. I just wanted to share that with you. You've had really great collectors in the space. Your work really does resonate with people.

With that being said, is there a reason that you can think of that this street photography of yours is really different from other street photography that we see? Because I see a lot of images in my position here you know, being a curator of sorts, and being a person that works with all the creatives. I do see a lot of street photography, but I do have to say that yours really does stand out. And I'm trying to put my finger on it.

Is there a way that you describe – even internally describe – your street photography? When you come back home and you say, Okay, I've shot from the hip, how do I know this is a good picture versus that?

G:
Yeah, that's a really great question. As I said, I worked on my process for several years. I mean, I've always shot candid photography. I remember it was for me always about getting the smallest camera that I could palm. I would sneak it into clubs and whatnot. And, you know, there was a Yashica that had a top down viewfinder so I could hold it at my waist and look through the viewfinder and crop a pretty well-composed image.

But for me, I just wanted to be able to use my camera without looking at it, which is why I’ve chosen the camera that I chose. And that process of trying to do whatever I can to not interrupt or become part of the shot. And I think that maybe all those things make the shot compelling. It has something about it that looks staged, maybe the lighting which I'm always aware of, which is why I’m shooting black and white – color confuses me – but with black and white, I just see the form in the light. So I know what I'm trying to capture.

Street photography is really a very fast game. Sometimes you don't know if the lighting is going to be right. You don't know if someone's going to be in position. I mean, it really is a crazy practice, which makes it really a lot of fun. But I think maybe when all the things are working correctly when everything comes together to capture that one ‘Quick Draw Bench’ or ‘Crosses,’ or even ‘Ladders,’ then I think people just are drawn to it because it feels posed. It feels right, it feels balanced. And maybe there's just something about that, that just causes people to stop because they're like, how could this happen or look this way in a world that's moving at a super high pace?

And then on top of that, when I have the opportunity with 52Bodies or with Ladders to tell the story of how I captured that, t's all so fun to tell. I sacrificed my body to get some of these shots. I'm so acutely in the moment and watching everything that sometimes I am running and diving to capture a shot. And I think that when those things happen, I'm astonished that that shot is captured. And I think that that energy kind of carries forward to the viewer.

So perhaps that's why I'm just honored that anyone takes a moment to even stop and look at my photography in the first place. It's nice to even be asked the question to think about why someone might care about it.

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PV:
Well, they definitely do, and it definitely does connect to people.

So I wanted to ask you about getting into NFTs and web3. What was your motivation to start releasing your photography as NFTs? Because I know you have your book, 52Bodies, and that's one of the really amazing perks that you offer for people who collect from 52Bodies on Sloika. But why NFTs? Why did you start doing this?

G:
That was the result of a few friends who kept telling me, hey, we love your work. The people that brought me to the NFT space had been collecting my work already, printed large pieces on their walls. And they were fans of Justin and Drift. And they're like, your work is different than theirs, but we love it. It's compelling. And you've got to learn this space.

And really I waited a bit too long, to be honest. It took me about six or seven months to finally open Twitter and start researching all the things that they've been sending me. While Twins Flames was out there selling out. And while these things were making great leaps and being traded in crazy amounts of money. And photographers were gaining a lot of acclaim for their work.

But what captured my eye about it was the ability to create an experience. I love to play games. I love secrets. I think you see some of that in my photography. My photography has a lot of hidden things in it. And as a designer, I do my best not to I don't alter my images, but every once in a while I might do something like hide a symbol, or do a reflection, or crop it a certain way where there's some unexpected stuff. And I thought with NFT's and my work in experiential, I could make a collection of my work, see if people cared about it. And then also have the opportunity to extend people's experiences through the art.

And again, maybe I was a little bit too late. Again, my imposter syndrome kind of kicks in here, it says, Well, you know, no one ever is really going to care about your work. But the thoughts of having enough of an audience that I could then have a gallery show that would have a bunch of experiences and surprises. And then there's a bit of geocaching.

I've given away a lot of secrets here, but there are a lot of things that my collectors have in their hands that they have no idea that they have just yet. And so like the airdrops and all of this, there are other things that I'm starting to kind of play around with, which are all the things that really excited me about web3. And not only that just to be able to own my work in the manner that the the blockchain allows you, smart contracts and everything that Sloika has done – the community, the inspiration, surrounded by so much talent – these are all the things that really kind of drew me to it and kind of why I'm here until Twitter and NFT's blow up I guess.

PV:
Well, we hope that we hope that we all stick around, to be honest.

Was there a collector as part of either your 52Bodies or your new editions, Ladders – has there been a collector who's changed your life? What that experience like?

G:
I mean, they've all changed my life, and that they've all brought new stories and new energy to my photography. And those things are those moments are really kind of unbelievable and magical.

There is one collector Darran, who's one of the two main people who brought me to NFTs. He's always been a supporter of my work. This man is a genius. I don't want to put him out there and or, you know, dox him. He's a sought-after mind in the gaming, community space, and marketing space. One of those people that you kind of sit and talk to about the world and anything in general, and you kind of leave thinking like, Man, I am the dumbest person on this planet, like how do I even exist? We're just so different.

And for him to have belief in my work and the type of support that he's always given me to say, hey, you know, you gotta get out there and do this and making really encouraging comments, which maybe were a little bit exaggerated, because he knew that they might spur me on, you know, I would have to say he's probably one of the main people to have changed my life through NFT's.

That aside, everyone, the entire community, the inspiration, the connectivity, it's incredible. What I get from Twitter, the space, the NFT space, the community, the photography community. It's hard to pick one person, but if I had to, it'd be Darran. Oh, and he's the owner of Piggy Bike, Meteors. And oh, what's the other one? Oh, yeah. Back By Popular Demand Plus Hand.

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PV:
Wow. So he's a really big supporter. Did he get copies of books? Or did you send one book for each one?

G:
You know, he's an interesting guy. He's also an innovative thinker. He has not collected the books. He knows he has them because we know each other, but he wants to do something different with them. He has a longer vision and who knows? The NFT space has been changing and things may not turn out the way he kind of envisioned for these books. But yeah, he hasn't grabbed them yet, but he knows my photography. I mean, he has four giant pieces hanging in his house. PV:
He sounds like a super fan. I'd keep him close.

G:
I call him a patron of the arts. He's quite a collector. He's started a group in the NFT space called Mad Dogs. And I think they did some stuff on SuperRare. Yeah, he's got a lot of art. I'm just really honored to be a part of it.

PV:
That's really awesome. So before we wrap up, I was gonna ask if you have any future plans for your work here in the NFT space? I know you have editions out now called Ladders, and talking about the gaming and the and this sort of the, all these little perks that the collectors of your work are going to get to enjoy over time. What can you tell us about your thoughts for the future and what you're planning to do with NFT's?

G:
I'm going to continue to kind of feel the space out, I'm going to continue to go down the road that I maybe should have gone down last year if I had started earlier.

I'm still playing games with my collections, as you know, Ladders as part of a five series editions called IMAGHOSTXO editions. Each of the five images is going to increase in quantity and fall in price. And then at the end, anyone who owns the five editions will have access to a very special collage, and some other surprises that I have plans for which include an IRL show that is going to be much different than a gallery show that you probably normally expect to go to.

Some physical pieces then revealing some of the surprises that are in my book, and in the hands of some collectors. So I don't really want to divulge much, but my photography and the real world will kind of cross paths at some point.

The ultimate goal is just to keep getting more gathered, keep making the work, and then just find a way of expanding on the experience of those photographs.

PV:
Well, that all sounds very exciting. And I want to have an update conversation with you! Maybe we'll wait a couple of months and check back in with you again!

G:
I want to take this opportunity here to say thank you for picking up Ladders, I'm so immensely honored that you have a piece of mine. I've had the pleasure to get to know you. I was really intimidated the first time I met you being a professional with such incredible photography in an area that I could never even imagine.

Thank you for everything you do for me and for all of the community. I really truly appreciate it. And again, I just I'm surprised that anyone takes the time to even stop and consider my work much less collect it. So I’m immensely grateful. Thank you.

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PV:
Absolutely. Well, I'm really grateful that you released it in an edition form so that I could be part of your journey. So I feel I feel really honored for that too.

Thank you so much Ghost for talking with me today and being part of our One of One on the Sloika podcast and blog. I'll let you get back to the rest of your day.

G:
Yeah, thank you so very much. I hope I didn't ramble too much and I hope I made some points that mattered and were relevant to my work. But yeah, been a great honor to be here. Thank you so very much.