An Exclusive Interview with Keith Aronowitz
Keith Aronowitz has proved to be a very interesting person. He has self-published photography books, made his first short film at the age of 12 and what most impressed me is that he lived in the Amazon for more than 5 years while making a documentary feature on Ayahuasca and Amazonian Shamanism. He met his wife there and had a son living in the city of Iquitos which is considered to be one of the most isolated cities in the world--as you can only get there by boat or plane. Keith and his family were literally in the middle of the jungle!
Keith certainly has a taste for adventure and I recently had the chance to catch up with him while he was working on one of his films with the well-accomplished artist Fumero.
As I have gotten to know you better, I see that you are a very visual person and one that clearly has a passion for street art. I would like to know how this particular relationship with street art started for you?
I have always enjoyed looking at street art--what some would consider graffiti, as giant tags on subway cars, murals and the like even as a kid growing up in NYC of the 70's and 80's. In regards to what I am doing now; a couple of years back I read an article about the Bushwick Collective. Which, I had never seen up to that point--and convinced a buddy of mine to take a drive out there and have a look around. I brought my camera with me and shot a bunch of stills and video. I was instantly hooked and have not stopped since. I think the talent to be seen in regards to what is out on the street is impressive and innovative. I never get tired of seeing what's out there.
What drew you to filming street artists in the first place?
Well, I have been into photography and filmmaking from a very young age. I have directed and shot a full length feature documentary, and make the bulk of my living as a freelance editor working on a variety of projects from Network News specials to music videos and everything in between. For me, it was a natural progression to go from still photography to making video shorts. As I started to shoot more and more street art. I started thinking about who the artists were behind the work, and their process. I'm very interested in process, seeing how different artists work. I feel this period of time is going to be looked at as a very important era in regards to what is going on in street art, and it is inspiring me to tell the artists stories. Not only am I interested in their process, but I'm also interested in examining and showing their passion, hopefully giving a little insight into what makes them want to create every day. Showing the artists heart behind their work and who they are, is just as if not more important than their process, at least as far as my films are concerned. I feel whether someone is an artist or not, people can relate to someone following their passions and living and expressing their dreams, which is what artists do, in my opinion. I'm at a period in my life where I only want to work on projects I'm passionate about. Fortunately, I have found a subject that I feel will retain my interest for quite a while.
Artist, Filmmaker, Editor and Photographer Keith Aronowitz.
What artist was your first to film and how did that come about?
The first film I did in regards to street art was on artist, Ramiro Davaro-Comas. One day I was wandering around Redhook, and came across this awesome and unique piece by Estaban Del Valle. I said to myself, I need to meet this guy. Anyway, he was accommodating, and we met for coffee and proceeded to have about an hour long conversation about his art and various artists that would make good subjects. The first two artists he mentioned were Ramiro and Fumero. Fumero took a while to track down, but I got in touch with Ramiro, who graciously invited me to come to his studio and talk about my project. He dug what I had to say, and about a month or two later we shot the film.The first film that actually came out though, was CityKitty. I just got in touch with him via instagram, we met up in Manhattan, and he also agreed to let me do a film about him. That one was a little tricky to shoot because he's anonymous! The films are not necessarily edited in order, so they don't always come out chronologically. For example; six months later, I'm still shooting Fumero. I didn't realize when I started, that it would be an opus. The opus of Fumero.
Keith with artist Ramiro Davaro-Comas
What projects are you currently working on?
Right now I have four film shorts in various states of completion. I am working on pieces of Fumero, WhoisDirk, Resa Piece, and Denton Burrows. I essentially find the artists based on the work that I see and admire while roaming the streets of NYC. Once I find an artist I like, I approach them with the idea of doing a short about them. I already have several of these films completed, so I have something to show them in regards to my work. Probably the best part of this project is getting to know the artists and hearing their story. I let them know from the get go, that these films are a collaboration, and that their input is very important. My hope is that these film shorts take off, and lead to a full length feature documentary, of which I will work on getting funding for, when the time comes.
Keith shooting Fumero during his latest mural for Black Tap located on Ludlow Street, NYC
Keith getting the close up correctly done with artist Fumero
Keith with artist JPO
Do you build close relationships with the artists you either film or photograph?
The best thing by far in regards to these projects I'm working on is the relationships I have been developing with the artists I meet. I appreciate the time and effort the artists have been giving me, as they are putting their trust in me to tell their stories and that takes a certain amount of vulnerability, at least in my opinion. Getting to know these artists is a privilege and a journey in and of itself, as they are all so unique in who they are and their perspective on the world, which of course, comes through in their art. For example, I have been working with Fumero on and off for six months or so now, and I feel a mutual respect and admiration has developed in regards to the fact that we're both hardcore! What I mean by that is that we are both perfectionists who are dedicated to always doing our best work without compromise or exceptions. The other day I told him to bring his "A" game, and he told me that's the only letter he brings to the game.
Furthermore, I feel this community has welcomed me with open arms--and I am very appreciative of that. I feel I am making friendships for life; which is just the icing on the cake in regards to all this. Shout out to WhoisDirk and Resa Piece.
Keith's shot of artist #WHOISDIRK
Please tell our readers more about your films and what kind of mark you would like to leave on the street art community.
As far as my work and what it means to me, I'm at a point in my life where self expression is very important to me, and I do that through my work, which is filmmaking, still photography and a little art. i.e., drawing. Both my parents were artists in their own right, so I've always been around it and did it, but being around these artists has reignited my passion for art in all forms, so I've picked up the pen (and markers) again. In regards to these film shorts, I've worked for other people, companies, etc., and while I did have a certain amount of creative license, I was doing work to their specifications, with various degrees of freedom. I'm over all that. A short while back, I realized that these films are an expression of who I am as well, as I can only show the artists through my perspective, so in essence, I'm painting a portrait of myself as I'm "painting" a portrait of them. Weird but true, at least that's how I see it.
As far as what kind of mark I want to leave on the street art community, I want to create films that show the beauty and passion of who these artists are and the work they put out there, and my hope is that the artists love the films as much as I do. As far as personally, I put my heart and soul into these films, and I hope that shows. In the future, I want to be known as the filmmaker who set the bar in regards to these types of films in relation to what's happening in this era of street art. That's not arrogance, that's just me being honest and the truth as I see it. Peace.
Below are a few of Keith's films to watch for your own viewing pleasure. I learned a lot from watching them and found them to be insightful, informative and entertaining. Enjoy.