Cati González “The Next Gus Van Sant”
Eduardo Gion Espejo-Saavedra,
Cati González is a fashion photographer whose work has been published in the pages of Vogue and i-D Magazine. Her photographs have a raw and incredibly personal perspective that imbue in them a unique force and energy. It is a style that she has transferred to the world of film, having recently made her directorial debut with the film Ekaj. A coming of age story set in the LGBTQ community that has resulted in González being referred to as “the next Gus Van Sant.”
A version of this exclusive interview first appeared in the pages of the 15th issue of ODDA Magazine.
You were born in Spain, but you have lived most of your life in New York…
I moved to New York very young, three months before turning 18 and there I set up my life, I have a daughter [Aida Ferrer Leisenring] who is a Criminal Lawyer and also the Executive Producer of a wonderful documentary series, The Last Defense, with actress Viola Davis on the death penalty for the ABC TV channel.
Indeed, the subject that always invades your art, both cinema and photography, is the street. Was what you photographed in the 90s pretty much a prelude to what your film work was going to be?
The language of my films is very street, it is what I like, different people with few resources and a lot of drama. Yes, my photographic work is the same as my cinematic work. When I shot fashion in the 90s as well as now, I went to the street to get inspired because they are really the ones who create the true fashion, the street people – especially in New York City.
The nightclub guys were all great, they were the fashion and those I wanted to portray… hunting them for fashion editorials. In New York City it is very common for boys not to have a cent but they wear Jean Paul Gaultier shirts or Chanel jackets and are more stylish than those on the catwalks. They were the inspiration for Madonna’s most iconic videos. How they get clothes, I do not know, some work in fashion and get presents or others steal them at parties.
When you first landed in New York City from Europe, what did you do?
When I arrived, I dedicated myself to photography, I worked for French agencies, for i-D Magazine, for Vogue I only shot fashion. After, I shot for music magazine agencies like Sony, Warner Bros. and Atlantic Records. At that time there was the rap explosion and I shot many famous rappers for Vibe, Blaze and Spin magazines. It was a time that I enjoyed the most.
Were these commissions that left you total freedom in your work?
Yes, they were commissions and they gave me absolute freedom. I shot with a 6 per 7 polaroid. It was totally discolored giving a very challenging seven- ties finish.
That’s what I wanted to talk about: your analogy photographs. How do you get those images with that mixture of nostalgia and affection? When you look at them you fall in love with the way they are shot and developed.
I am preparing a book with all that work called King City, but it will take me 15 years to complete… I started about 7 years ago, and it’s all shot with different analogic cameras, different types. I liked to shoot polaroids and play with their instant development to create another colors, always thinking of those color pictures of the past that are discolored that you find in drawers.
Were your sessions impromptu or was there a lot of production involved?
I was obliged to have a minimum of hair/make-up artist, stylist… but, afterwards, I took them down to the street, working and shooting right in the street. I do not like elaborated sessions and this is also the same with cine- ma; I do not want an actioned, organized film, I want them to be natural to the fullest. Sometimes, I put them in trouble and see how they manage there, then I shoot or film the scene
I am fascinated by a session of photographs that feature Ingrid Casares where color, her, everything is pure art.
This session was in the 90s. Russell Simmons brought me in Ingrid Casares. I remember that it was the moment when she and Madonna had broken their relationship; she was beautiful, strong and very interesting, she had at that time a club in Miami. We did a great photo session with her and some pics also with her dog.
Do you work with natural light or with spotlights?
I set the minimum amount of light, I do not like big spotlights, maybe a light bulb at the end of the room, or a lamp on. I also like the fluorescents ugly light.
What was New York like in the 90s? How did you experience it?
It was fabulous and very free, very open people. I was a photographer and I got an agent who was not very famous but gave me a job. I lived in Philadelphia and, when I worked, I slept in his apartment in New York. He died of AIDS, so did the stylist who always worked with me. He knew fashion more than anyone else. That was the sad part of the 90s, people with incredible talent went away overnight.
How did you find the main actor for your movie Ekaj?
I saw Jake at a friend’s party on Facebook and he fascinated me, he was 15 years old at the time. When I met Jake, first I took some pictures for IMG Models agency, and they went crazy. I told him how he had to present him- self to the agency and he did the opposite, introducing himself as a good, shy child. Then, if he had to present himself to another agency, he would shave his eyebrows or his hair, you could never count on him looking the same. Interview magazine was interested in him for some pictures, but it was never done.
For me, he was like another child and he needed me. After a year trying to make Jake a model and taking care of him, I decided to rewrite the character of my script, and made him gay. At first, the characters were street Puerto Ricans, but they were not gay. Jake was about 17 when we started filming the movie.
How did you discover the other actor in your movie Ekaj?
Well, initially it was not the same protagonist performing Meca, Ekaj’s friend. After shooting a first part with the initial boy, who, by the way, was a handsome guy from the Bronx, raw, very strong and beautiful, he was a good partner to Jake. Then, we quit for a while to get more funds and, when we started filming again, I realized that he had tits. He admitted that he had become a woman and was going under operation. He was a transsexual, I could not believe it, but that’s how it was. I really would have loved to shoot his transformation but he did not let me. Then I looked for another to replace him and I found another street boy with the name of Bad Idea, even better actor than the original one.
In your film you talk about protection, about friendship rather than about love or drugs.
Exactly, in fact I always looked for people that I think they would like each other to create a feeling on the set. I think Jake and Bad Idea liked each other, and that was reflected in the movie. Drugs, in my film, are a dis- inhibitor. They consume them so they don’t have to live the reality that they have lived but, of course, when you are drugged you make mistakes and face diseases such as AIDS.
That’s what I talk about in my film. They argue a lot but they are very fond of each other. I believe that my strong point is to look for two completely antagonistic characters.
Your making-movies style is compared to those of directors like Larry Clark or Gus Van Sant…
Yes, it is funny when critics say I’m the new Gus van Sant. The truth is that I had not seen Kids and not much of Gus Van Sant before making my movie. My influences have been Sidney Lumet, Nick Cassavetes, Brian de Palma, Miloš Forman, etc.
When I get to know that I was compared to Larry Clark and Gus Van Sant, then I watched their films. I think I look like more, when it comes to filming and about subjects, a Spanish director of the 70s who started a new movement and who deserves all the possible recognition: José Antonio de la Loma [Perros Callejeros].
What will we see from you next?
Well, I’m finishing a documentary about the relationship of my mother and my sister, in Catalonia, where my mother is a nationalist and my sister a pro-independence. Shortly, I will return to New York City to write my next film and I can only say that it is related to drugs and the 90s.
Eduardo Gion Espejo-Saavedra
Filmmaker, Journalist and documentary. For several years working as an assistant director of short films and feature films in 35mm. His documentaries have been shown at festivals Festival de Cinema de Sitges, New York Film Festival, Portland Underground Film Festival, San Francisco Film Festival, and others. Worked at events “080” in Barcelona, collaborating with photographers Miguel Villalobos for the production of the tribute to Thierry Mugler. Writes and produces reports for magazines “Candy Magazine” to Luis Venegas, Also works for the magazine “Paraiso Magazine”, and Features Editor at ODDA Magazine.
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