Q+A: Frezno Photographer Tony Stamolis

November 21, 2008

Photographer Tony Stamolis grew up like a lot of suburban kids, surrounded by strip malls and spending endless hours thinking up something to do. Years later, Stamolis returned to his hometown of Fresno, California and began work on his photo book Frezno. After the jump read FADER style assistant and Fresno native Erin Hansen's Q+A with Stamolis.

Interview by Erin Hansen

Why'd you do a book on Fresno?

Everyone in their hometown, when they’re younger, all they want to do is get out. I hated Fresno for many years. At one point I went back in 1999 and it just clicked. I really began to appreciate it and then almost obsessed over it. I kind of freaked out on its strangeness. I will be walking down the street in New York and stop dead in my tracks and say, That’s Fresno light. There are so many weird sensory memories I have about Fresno.

I feel like this happens to a lot of kids who leave their hometowns and have that wanderlust to go out into the world. Once they return with a new perspective on the largeness of the world, they seek out the small personalities in their hometown that make them who they are.

At some point you realize you can’t ever not be from your family, you can’t not come from where you come from. Everyone that’s seen the book tells me, That looks like my hometown. The images from the book are just sort of what goes on across suburban America, just a bunch of bored kids and people doing what they do. But Fresno is very third world in many ways, everything builds north and then drains the south, it becomes Mexico basically.

You're right. There is a huge division between class south of Shaw Avenue and north of Shaw Avenue. It’s a very clear line. But once you go south towards downtown and beyond, you really start to see the vast agricultural community and the multiculturalism that the Central Valley has cultivated. It’s also depressing though because of that division.

There was a pre-Hurricane Katrina study on poverty in America and Fresno was number one, which has a lot to do with immigrant workers.

I would say a significant portion of the city is illegal, which doesn’t help when it comes to getting stuff done on a political level because the people who need most help are people who have no say in property laws, education, and civil liberty suits. Plus, Bubba is the mayor.

That weirdness is all part of it. This whole project came out of me going back to take care of my sick mother, and it was very stressful and depressing. Taking pictures of Fresno was an outlet for me. It was my down time. I found something good in its oddities and it’s weird depressed thing. I know the people that will be offended by this book are the people that don’t understand that, but it’s like, Open your eyes! There are Meth heads in the best neighborhoods.

What about gated neighborhoods?

Oh yeah, they’re safe Meth heads then. Lets take off the rose-colored glasses already.

When I went back to Fresno, I found people went away, went to school, specialized in something and then returned because they figured out Fresno a perfect fit for them. And they were doing things! Like revitalizing downtown with loft housing and creating new venues and an Art Walk. I don’t remember seeing older kids come back when I was seventeen to do stuff like that.

Me neither.

This is something that is completely new.

Through this project, I met like a hundred and fifty kids and they are doing cool stuff and it’s kind of remarkable. When I was there last I found so much music happening, and it’s underground still. You go to a Chinese food restaurant downtown and find a punk rock show. It blew me away.

Are you going back to Fresno for the book launch?

I called a guy at Sugar Hill Shop in Fresno and set something up. They’re going to host it in their store and in the parking lot on December 13th. I told my friends in LA and San Francisc—ex- Frestuckians—and they said, Sitting in a parking lot on a curb drinking beer in Fresno with old friends? I can’t think of anything better.

Posted: November 21, 2008
Q+A: Frezno Photographer Tony Stamolis