James Georgopoulos is the artist who shoots famous guns. However, rather then turning off the safety and pulling the trigger of each pistol, he snaps them with his camera. And then, when he’s got the perfect image of something like Tony Montana’s machine gun fromScarface, he applies a layer of resin to it – similar to the way a surfboard shaper would do once they’ve finished carving the foam. I drove out to James’ studio to this interview, which is on the tarmac of a small airport right outside of Los Angeles. So as helicopters and private planes flew overhead, we talked about bombs, guns and cameras.
The photographer Glen E. Friedman, who shot every picture of Black Flag, The Beastie Boys, and Run DMC that you’ve ever loved, once told me that he stopped photographing guns because he felt they were too powerful as images. But, James Georgopoulos is doing things differently. He’s not photographing guns together with their owners to glorify the lifestyles of gangs and hoodlums. Instead, he’s coming from a place of a film lover, who’s documenting the most important artifacts from all of our favorite action movies in a unique and original way. And believe it or not, even with the fact that he photographs guns from films that all of our girlfriends at one point or another have claimed to hate, women are actually his biggest collectors.
Daniel Rolnik: How do you apply your photographs of guns to the wooden panels?
James Georgopoulos: It’s like doing a wheat paste, but a lot crazier because the prints are way thicker and require more glue.
DR: Do you photograph all the guns on white backgrounds?
It depends. because sometimes it’s just on the floor of an armory. The background means nothing because I block it out in the darkroom.
DR: How do you get access to all the guns from famous films?
I worked in the film industry for a while, so I met a lot of people in different departments who could get me into the armories.
DR: What were you doing in film?
Art direction. I did a lot of commercials and music videos, like Pink Floyd’s “Take It Back”
DR: What are some of the guns you’re going to be shooting in 2012?
My next big shoot is going to be of all the guns from The Godfather.
DR: What’s your favorite gun you’ve photographed so far?I really like Samuel L Jackson’s gun from Pulp Fiction because of its pearl handle and the fact it was also used in two other great films, Dillinger and The Untouchables.
DR: What’s this room all about?
It’s called a clean room and it’s normally what they use for painting cars. However, I use it to coat all my pieces in resin because it constantly circulates new air in so the toxic fumes of the chemicals in the paint don’t attack my lungs. Also, when I wasn’t using the room little bugs would fly into the resin before it dried and get stuck – so I’d have to sand them out and redo the entire piece.
DR: When did you know you wanted to become an artist?
My dad was an art collector, so I grew up around a lot of artists. I would hang out at György Kepes’ studio in Boston a lot because I just loved everything he was doing. He was just an amazing man and one of the founders of the Bauhaus movement as well as The Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT. I knew as soon as I saw his paintings that that’s what I wanted to do. I’ve been on track ever since.
DR: How did you get involved with NASA?
When Andy Warhol died I wanted to do some screen prints in honor of him, so I worked with NASA to acquire photographs from their archive. I did two pieces, a spacewalk from Gemini and one from the shuttle mission, and made them into 30”x40” pieces. It was quite an experience.
DR: Did you get to see a bunch of amazing pictures in their archives? Any aliens?
Back then it was really difficult to see anything because it was all analog. They would send me the actual negatives to approve, which is pretty crazy since if I had lost them, they would’ve been gone forever.
DR: What famous cameras have you photographed so far?
There are basically only two camera companies in the world of film and TV; Arriflex and Panavision. I’m actually the only artist that’s ever been allowed to photograph Panavision’s archive – some of my favorites have been the ones used on Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars, Titanic, JAWS, and James Bond. I shot most of the Arriflex cameras at Otto Nemenz, which is the premier rental house that supplies companies like HBO with all of their gear.
DR: What kind of camera do you use to take your photographs?I use an Arca Swiss large format camera.
DR: Would you ever shoot a digital camera and include it in your series?
I don’t see why not. I shot the camera used to film Star Wars: Episode 1, which was the first digital camera used on a major motion picture. And my brother, who is one of the most famous DIT’s in the business, has one of the first RED Camera’s that he used shot the movie Tree Of Life. I’m going to photograph that soon.
DR: Do you ever not know what film the gun is from?
I lose track sometimes because when I’m in the armories there isn’t a lot of time to write everything down, since they are all working facilities. I’m also the only one allowed in there, so it’s hectic and sometimes I forget to take good notes. I’m usually so concentrated on getting my lights set up and getting as many pictures as I can. The armories I photograph in are serious operations where people are renting live-fire weapons.
DR: Whoa! So all these guns and rifles actually fire?
DR: Have you fired any of them?
Not yet, but I’m sure I could if I wanted to.
DR: What do the gun armories look like?
They are high security facilities with vaults inside of giant containers that are similar to the ones used on freight ships. Inside each vault they have these pegs that stick out of the walls with rows of guns on them. It’s unbelievable. You walk into one vault and it’s all AK-47’s and then when you walk into another, it’s all AR-15’s. They don’t just have one AR-15, they have like 50 of them with all kinds of modifications.
DR: Have you ever even fired a gun?
When I was younger I had an Uzi.
DR: You had an UZI!!!
Yeah. I grew up in New Hampshire where it was legal to have one as long as you had a 19” extension on the barrel. However, the barrel made all the bullets curve so it wasn’t that much fun to shoot and so I traded it in for a Weatherby Rifle that had a scope on it. My friends and I would go to this place called The Pits and just shoot all day long, but I only had my guns for about 6 months because my mom hid them in her closest when she found out about them.
ROLNIK INTERVIEW: JAMES GEORGOPOULOS
An interview by Daniel Rolnik — an inspired blogger who brings you stories and interviews from talented local Southern California artists, here at Hurley.com.