STEVEN SEBRING & BOB RECINE

STEVEN SEBRING & BOB RECINE

FADE IN:

INT. STEVEN SEBRING’S STUDIO, FLATIRON DISTRICT, NEW YORK CITY – MORNING

STEVEN SEBRING, in a brown fedora, and BOB RECINE, sit opposite each other in leather armchairs inside STEVEN’s studio, a cavernous space in Manhattan that’s part Willy Wonka’s factory part bohemian loft.

STEVEN
The first time we met you were on your knees —

BOB
No, no, no! I can’t give all the details of that story. But it was on Valentine’s Day.

STEVEN
No, it was on your birthday.

BOB
No. It was Valentine’s Day — that’s why the dominatrix was there [laughs]. It was kind of a strange situation: I was lying on the floor and a dominatrix was sitting on my chest when you leaned over me. Your hair went to your waist back then, and mine was really long, too. “Nice to meet you,” you said, with your hair all in my face. We’ve been best friends ever since.

STEVEN
I would say we’re more like family.

BOB
We are.

STEVEN
You’ve always been around in my constant quest to go against the grain.

BOB
When we met all those decades ago, I never thought we’d be here, in your studio, as you’re on the verge of introducing new [image capturing] technologies for the world to see.

STEVEN
I’ve always pushed the use of technology — which can be gimmicky if not in the right hands — to create art. There’s a fine line artists like us walk: we don’t want to be swayed by it, but we want to be able to use technology to get our end result.

BOB
There are a lot of people out there who are very drunk on it [in general]. They have to realize that, in addition to making certain things more convenient, technology can make individuals a little more — sometimes a lot more — intellectually lazy. I always say, “Information is solely the deduction of possibility.” And by that I mean I don’t believe there is always health in, let’s say, knowing things. One should still have questions when he looks into the sky, into the cosmos — that’s healthy. We’re at a time in history that the way a person thinks is programmed —

STEVEN
Oh, it’s totally programmed —

BOB
In a way that doesn’t allow much room for creative processes.

STEVEN
What’s that saying? Don’t be a follower, be a doer. It’s that sort of concept.

BOB
You know I coined the phrase, “Just do it,” way before Nike.

STEVEN
Yeah?

BOB
It was plastered on my fridge when I lived on 57th Street in the early 80s. I only wish I could prove that! On a conscious level, technology really has nothing to do with creativity. And, at the end of the day, creativity is what brings enlightenment and moves people forward.

STEVEN
You’re not going to fundamentally solve a problem with technology alone.

BOB
In the end, I don’t think technology inspires imagination, in the sense that I see imagination as a well or flowing spring that is not contained by anything — including information. I get asked a lot, “Bobby, what is your inspiration?” My answer is, “I am inspired.” And I don’t need the aid of electricity or to tap my finger to discover that.

STEVEN
I never thought of it that way.

BOB
Information that technology makes available has the ability to kind of fuck with my imagination. I find it intrusive and limiting. Still, I often think to myself, “If Michelangelo were alive today, would he embrace all this?” And I do believe that every person of antiquity was involved in the technologies of his day.

STEVEN
Hell yeah they were! When we hit the fourth dimensional stuff here using our motion capture system [called “The Rig,” a dome equipped with 100+ digital cameras that encircle a subject allowing for 360 degrees of image capturing at the push of a button], and I started to look at the work frame by frame, I saw all the great masters who studied [English photographer] Eadweard Muybridge. I saw [Georges] Braque, [Salvador] Dali, Francis Bacon. I only achieved that connection through using technology — pushing it and pulling it in every which way. Yes, it was a mistake that resulted from simply trying things, but what a great mistake.

BOB
A long time ago, I said your machine reminded me of another dimension, and hence, I think you kind of picked up on that whole idea of the “Fourth Dimension.”

STEVEN
Once I started shooting Revolutions [with The Rig], I began to see everything in dimensions everywhere I went. Even though I see the whole system as simply a modern-day Polaroid camera, that technology gave me the ability to view the world in a new way. Now, I’m pushing the limits of what that means. Why do you think we became such good friends? Because we think in dimensions. I mean everything you’ve created with hair [as your medium] — that’s dimensional. That’s out there.

BOB
Am I a hairdresser? Yes. But when people ask me what I think of their hair, my answer is, “I don’t.” I don’t think of hair in those terms. There are taxi drivers and there are Formula 1 drivers. They both drive but they’re both using very, very different technologies.

STEVEN
That’s a great analogy.

BOB
My technology is within the realm of my own mind. My ideas take time and I’ve learned to be very patient as people catch up to where I am or what I’m thinking. And that’s fine with me. That none of the successes or advances in your field have affected the foundation of your house, so to speak, is something we have in common. How do you think — I’m using your words here — the old days ground us in our moment today?

STEVEN
Well, even with all of these systems, I’m still understanding how to capture a great moment as a photographer and filmmaker.

BOB
That’s an interesting word: moment.

STEVEN
It’s very rare to achieve that. A lot of tech companies think they can capture beautiful moments through scanning, printing, and all that stuff, but that’s impossible. My biggest pursuit here is finding how to fuck up technology to the point that it’s brilliant. Everyone thinks it has to be perfect, but to recreate flaws makes it more humanistic. When people say, “I’ve never seen anything like this,” that’s probably because, whatever it is, is flawed. And that’s actually creating an emotion, whatever the feeling may be. That’s why, even all these years later, the nostalgic idea of simply taking a photograph has not changed.

BOB
It’s not that you or I don’t want to use technology, we just don’t want to lose that moment, which kind of equates to this invisible feeling, or prize, that an individual who creates things can only really enjoy. Let’s call it glory. What’s important not to lose in embracing technology is the individual glory a person has a birthright to when they want to be able to say something to the world.

STEVEN
I totally agree.

BOB
By making a person’s external success very visible, technologies like Instagram have a trick of stealing those moments from an individual. Others maybe give the technology itself too much credit for what it has done for that person, as opposed to showing what he or she has achieved through using it.

STEVEN
Yes, exactly. Which is why I look forward to getting the image capturing systems I’ve developed to everyone I know. It’s exciting to give another artist or photographer a tool he or she can use to recreate their idea of themselves, or their work. When used in their individual styles, the end result from each will be completely different. That, to me, is pretty cool. It’s very much a field of dreams in here right now — one of those situations where, when you start building these things, you think they’re not going to come. But are you kidding me? They all want in on this stuff. Why wouldn’t they?

BOB
You’re speaking their language.

STEVEN
I’m speaking the language of an artist, and I believe the designers, photographers, cinematographers, and directors I know are all artists.

BOB
That way it feels collaborative. It’s funny, I just had an affirmation: in a strange way, if you think of our work as a reflection of us at the helm, I think technology has affirmed both us and its own limitations. Even looking at what you’ve built using technologies that are as cutting edge as anyone else’s in the game, the hippy guy from Arizona that I first met is still at the core.

STEVEN
I’m still that dude, and I love what I do, despite having been pigeon-holed my whole career.

BOB
That’s something we’ve always recognized in one another, and neither life — nor technology — will change it. Most people are confused by the multi-talented. When my book [Bob Recine: Alchemy of Beauty] came out, people assumed I was going to be an artist after that. But the only reason I can create art is because I’m a hairdresser. One feeds the other.

STEVEN
Well, you do the art to do the art. You do the work to do the work.

BOB
And if you’re not having fun, you’re in the wrong place. I think we both know what it’s like to be comfortably uncomfortable. That’s something I’ve known my whole life, and many of today’s [social] technologies that offer affirmation to others do not do much for someone like me. I’ve always found it easy to be known, but known for what I wish is the real challenge.

STEVEN
Well said!

CREDITS

Photography byAlberto Maria Colombo

Conversation moderated byAnthony Rotunno

Steven Sebring is a photographer, filmmaker, and multimedia artist based in New York City.
Bob Recine is a hairstylist and fine artist based in New York City.

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THE END