[Editor’s note: This week and next we’ll be featuring the work of seven artists we think you should keep an eye on. Not only are they making extraordinary work, but they’re being recognized for it as well.]
“I don’t think photography can really be objective, so I try to make it as subjective as possible,” Nick Sethi recently told VICE. No shit. On their surface, Sethi’s photographs reflect the interests and sensibilities of a fairly typical 25-year-old male: sex, humor, and women. And for this reason they might not be for everyone; he’s shot two teenagers making zombie faces, seemingly countless pictures of his friends drunk or passed out, and even himself wearing a woman’s swimsuit while standing in a toilet. Earlier in his career, Sethi worked for Terry Richardson, and his work often has the flavor of a raunchy Ryan McGinley or Larry Clarke with a sense of humor.
It doesn’t take too much time with Sethi’s images to scratch beneath this surface though. Many of his bro-y self-portraits are almost painfully self-conscious; of an Instagram video he posted of himself doing a strip tease, he wrote, “Doesn’t get too much weirder than being a slightly fat Indian kid alone in your house trying to play music off your computer and make a makeshift tripod out of boxes so u can record urself doing a weird striptease to a hardcore record on ur fone. I ride for my guyz doe.”
This video isn’t why Sethi makes our list of emerging stars, but it may give viewers a glimpse of why we think his vision of—lifestyle and documentary-style photography—is so unique. At their height, his own anxiety, mischievousness and love for the absurd are the defining qualities of the photograph. A self-portrait picturing his head obscuring the crotch of a model in a giant Hollister underwear ad behind him is one of our favorite examples, while on the other end of the spectrum, an appropriated selfie by a young woman with bruised lips reads as macabre to the point of being unsettling.
Perhaps his most personal work, though, comes from his photographs in India, which encompass small joys, and desperation; in one image, a grinning child with blackened features clutches her mother, in another, a woman passed out on the street takes the same position as a sleeping dog. Both are moving.
Unsurprisingly VICE has a solid line on Sethi. Over the last two years, his photographs have been the subject of no fewer than eight posts by the magazine. His work has also been featured in Vogue Japan, Beautiful Decay, and Purple; he’s currently got a show up at Magic on Canal Street. In our books, those are bright signs of a rising star.
What defines a good artist?
A good artist makes work that is an extension of themselves, and cannot exist and does not make sense in any other context or form.
Who and what influences your work?
Interactions and relationships between people, nature, and technology. The humor and weirdness of everyday life.
What’s the craziest situation you’ve been in on the road?
I was in the desert in India and was trying to plug a charger into this makeshift outlet, and didn’t realize the other end was sitting in a puddle of water. I got electrocuted while holding like $8,000 worth of gear and dropped it all, and everyone around me just acted like it was totally normal.
What do you look for in a photo? What interests you about the people you take pictures of?
I look for something I can connect to personally. I try to have a lot of humor in my life, and the same goes with my work. My favorite photos are the ones that make me laugh the most. I like to make people look weird and bad, including myself. The humor can be as literal as a friend wearing fake teeth or scrunching their face, or just a funny situation or detail that I got to witness. For instance, there’s this photo I shot in India where this little kid is inside this foam box sitting next to 3 right-foot sandals, all different colors. For some reason every time I look at the sandals, I can’t stop laughing. Its just too weird. Theres a blue, orange, and purple one… All right feet! And the kid is crying which makes it even more insane. Anything with kids too is usually fun to shoot too.
How did you start taking photos?
By trying to play guitar, and realizing I suck really bad, and then trying to sing, and realizing I suck really bad, and then trying to play drums, and realizing I suck really bad, and still wanting to go on tour with my friends’ punk bands. So I started taking photos so I had a reason to go on tour and actively participate.
Where would you go, if you had an all access pass to any place or event?
It would be insane to get to take selfies with dinosaurs. I’d be really stoked on that.
Do you see yourself living in New York for the next five to ten years?
Probably not? Maybe? I think I’m going to try to live in India 6 months out of the year from now on. I would love to have NY as a base though if I can still afford it…. Hopefully by next year I’ll be on the “artists who really made it in the past year” list!