10 quick questions, 5 professional and 5 random, with people you should know.
J-F Vergel was born in Paris, France, and came to these shores when he was 10 years old.
He’s done many things. All self-taught. Including how to speak English by watching Bugs Bunny, Popeye and the Little Rascals.
Let’s start with Lou Reed. He was his guitar roadie for a minute, when he was a self proclaimed “puppy” and worked as a sound engineer at a pre-tour rehearsal studio that
catered to big 1980’s Rock and R&B acts.
Following that he went to work for a Swiss photographer, Edo Bertoglio, as his photo assistant before working in interior architecture for 15 years as a designer, draftsman, model builder and renderer.
He found himself at Macy’s Corporate Store Design getting there via the executive elevator every day to the 12th floor. Then he made artwork for a wall covering designer where he got
to play with all kinds of mediums. “It was like being in kindergarten, but I got paid for it.”
This was all before computers took over analog. To continue on his interesting career journey he found himself as an assistant chef-instructor at the French Culinary Institute for 3 years. There he met Jaques Pépin, Julia Child, André Soltner. A highlight for him was cooking at The James Beard House. He even did a stint as the door person at Arlene’s Grocery.
But throughout he has always played music: The Waldos, Sylvain Sylvain, Rogue’s March, and now a new project, a power trio with vocals, Vagabond Hearts.
The other constant in his life has been photography. “I wasn’t any good at it until I started shooting with a purpose. And even then, it took years of trial and error. Once I delved into the mechanics, the mathematics it started to come together.”
His work is a combination of art and science. He shoots a lot of B&W film and shoots digital for his color work.
“I wish I’d taken it more seriously in the early days. Imagine the images I would have gotten…”
Q. Best advice, personal or professional, you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you give to anyone aspiring to have your career?
JFV. Lou Reed once told me, “Be specific”. I say, “Be humble. Never give up. And don’t let the bastards keep you down.”
Q. What about your work can’t you teach? What makes the work unique to you?
JFV. You cannot teach a person how to see. However, you can open their eyes, and they’ll either see or they won’t. All the arts are verypersonal and emotional experiences. Not everyone will like what I do or what I like… and that’s fine.
Q. If you could be equally as happy in a different career, what would it be?
JFV. Dear God! Another career? Okay… I’ll play. Circus clown.
Q. What/who has been your biggest influence?
JFV. I’ll change the question to “… who have been…?” My grandfather, Henri Mahé, was the greatest influence on my life. He was an artist, a painter and a writer. I can still smell the mix of turpentine, paints and tobacco in his studio. He decorated the Moulin Rouge and other nightclubs such as the Balajo… and houses of ill repute; he was a set designer for the director Abel Gance, and a friend of the French writer L.F. Céline. He wrote two books based on their correspondence. There’s a wonderful portrait of him in Doisneau’s book, “Portraits of the Artists”. In B&W photography, I’m influenced by so many: Graciela Iturbide, Araki, Anders Petersen, Jacob Aue Sobol, Moriyama, Winnogrand, Robert Frank, Brassaï, Ellen Von Unwerth… The classics. For color, I love Saul Leitner’s. I love how he frames his shots. Recently, I also discovered, and fell in love with, Jacques Henri Lartigue’s color work. Simply gorgeous. He really considered himself a painter and was discovered, as a “B&W” photographer late in his life by MoMA curator, John Szarkowski in the early 1960’s. In those days, color photography wasn’t considered art. But he’d been shooting color since 1912! I also look at painters. Notably Georges Seurat’s drawings. They feel like photographs.
Q. Has social media helped or hurt our society?
JFV. Social media is a pox on our society. People sit in front of a screen instead of meeting up… you know,experiencing dinner with friends for talk, food and drink…People on the street don’t look up any more. Their heads are buried in their devices. People should look up once in a while. There’s a lot of New York up there. But full disclosure, I’m guilty of Social Media abuse. There I said it. I don’t know how many hours I’ve wasted on social media. I did a series, The Web Cam Performers – the free sex chat rooms found on the internet. shot it all from my desk. It documented the disconnect or divide that can be a consequence of social media in that context.
Q. What is the oldest technology device you own? Do you still use it?
JFV. Pen and paper. I have a fetish for fountain pens and good writing paper. I’m constantly doodling and writing ideas and thoughts – all very disconected. I love it.
Q. How did you meet your best friend?
JFV. Susan was a fan of my band at the time, Rogue’s March. She came to most of my NY shows with her friends and we became friendly. I heard that she’d hit a rough patch so I invited her to dinner at my apartment. All innocent really. I just wanted to see if there was anything I could do to help; make sure she was fine, etc. She never left. Now we’re married. She’s the Digital Asset Manager for a major museum; she helps me with my edits. I rarely argue with her choices. I still cook for her… and we laugh a lot.
Q. Favorite City/Place in the world?
JFV. Every time I travel I fall in love with wherever I am… but only for a week or two. After that, it’s old hat.
Q. When did you first consider yourself an adult?
JFV. A what? How dare you!!!