From the magazine: ISSUE 93, August/September 2014
For an in-depth feature in our annual Fall Fashion issue, photographer Jake Stangel went deep into the desert to photograph electronic artist Porter Robinson against the unrealest of backdrops: Joshua Tree. Here, he reflects on that experience.
Jake Stangel: The FADER’s photo editor, Geordie Wood, called me with this idea to shoot in Joshua Tree, which was funny because I’d been jonesing to get out there myself for quite a while. We wanted to get Porter Robinson out of this crazy, bullshit, EDM boozefest and show how he’s asserting himself as a real musician, with actual thoughts beyond just a build-up and a break. There are a lot of super-ambient, open moments on his album, Worlds, so we went to Joshua Tree, this very isolated, massive, sacred place.
I hopped on a plane and found this insane house in the desert where you’d step outside, and it was, like, 100 acres of boulder fields everywhere. The next day, Porter drove in, straight off a night in Vegas for a show. It was super hot—105 degrees during the day—and the A/C was broken, so we laid low for a while, like lizards, then headed out that evening to shoot.
It was a really wonderful first night. Every-thing just gelled really nicely. To be around Joshua Tree at sunset and dusk is really special. It was one of those shoots where everyone in the crew—Porter, myself, Porter’s girlfriend, his PR—just had a really delightful couple hours in the desert with nothing around. It didn’t really feel like a shoot. It was more like, “This is good, let’s see where things go.” There are these huge, head-high bushes with crazy spikes moving in every direction, outward like a ball. I’m not an art historian, but in 15th and 16th century paintings, religious figures often appear with this gold halo; I got the idea to mimic that, but instead of having it be a gold halo, it would be one of these plants. I really liked that shot.
The next morning, we woke up ridiculously early and went out to the boulder field around the house. Sunrise was at 5:30AM, but we were still in the shade of this big mountain range, so we spent 20 minutes driving down some sketchy dirt road in search of the lowest part of the range to get the sun while it was still really golden. We ended up trespassing on this massive property, hoping we didn’t get shot at. We didn’t, which was good.
Porter was a wonderful subject, super unguarded and up for pretty much anything. I wouldn’t say the desert was his natural environment, but that was kind of a cool contrast, between Joshua Tree and the clothes he was wearing. I’m a big believer in the subject representing himself the way he wants to, especially with style. Porter is really inspired by a lot of Japanese clothing and video game culture, and what he was wearing was like this complete dichotomy from the environment. I was definitely feeling it.