By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The following night, at Star Shoes on Hollywood Boulevard, Paper magazine hosts a party to celebrate the release of a book documenting its 20 years of style coverage. Hunter is generous enough to put my girlfriend and me on the list — he’s got carte blanche to come and go as he pleases at a lot of places around town given the numerous relationships he’s cemented with PR folks and event planners. The vibe is monumentally tamer than the warehouse party, but includes complimentary vodka drinks. We sip screwdrivers while waiting for the Cobrasnake to finish shooting a Vice magazine fashion show at the Standard Hotel Downtown. Huddled around us near the entrance is a swarm of photographers looking for guests worthy of their film. They let a bald-headed transvestite strike some poses, as well as a redheaded actress from M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, but the money shots are of filmmaker Pedro Almodovar and the drop-dead gorgeous Penelope Cruz.
Eventually, Hunter arrives escorted by a bleached blond model from the Vice show. She bears resemblance to a young Courtney Love at the onset of a relapse, awestruck and blissful. Her eyes are coated in a raccoon’s mask worth of gray makeup to match her gray frock. “I have a stable of five girls who are my muses,” the Cobrasnake says. Translation: Hunter has a handful of women friends who routinely accompany him to functions, lending legitimacy to his gig. Tonight, in lieu of his Paul Frank tote bag, he carries a Louis Vuitton purse, in which he stores photo equipment. I ask him what’s up with the bag. “Louis Vuitton is pretty ridiculous ...” he says. “I can sort of get away with it; I’m a little flamboyant, but not in a gay way.”
A native Angeleno, Hunter graduated from Santa Monica High School and then dropped out of Santa Monica College his freshman year when he realized his calling. He initially promoted www.polaroidscene.com with fliers and posters depicting an actual Polaroid instant photograph. When the Polaroid Corporation found out about this gross misappropriation of its brand, lawyers sicced the Cobrasnake with a cease and desist order for trademark infringement. Rather than litigate, Hunter proposed a partnership, but Polaroid’s higher-ups weren’t interested. The company’s loss was the gain of Virgin Mobile, who has licensed Hunter’s images for print advertisements. As a result of the Polaroid debacle, the Cobrasnake will re-launch his Web site later this month as www.thecobrasnake.com. And while he admits that he’s not the only one doing what he’s doing, he says, “I’m the only weird, Jewish, hairy guy I know doing it.”
For all his obvious cool, Hunter doesn’t come off as self-absorbed or difficult. He’s not overtly malicious toward his subjects, and doesn’t aim to catch them in uncompromising, unnatural stances. Moreover, he’s willing to remove any photograph from his Web site that a subject deems unflattering — or perhaps they’ve been caught cheating on their lover — and replace it with “CENSORED.” He even considers nudity a relative no-no. “I don’t like too much nudity because then you turn in to Terry Richardson.” Despite it all, he does rub certain people the wrong way. Once, a graffiti-head whose photograph had been taken without proper authorization put the hurt on the Cobrasnake.
When I ask him what constitutes a good party, Hunter cites the obvious — kick-ass music, interesting people and free stuff (“booze, swag, hookers”). Real estate is also important. “If a space is too full and hard to move around in, it can be a disaster,” he says. “And there should be at least one celebrity so everyone can have something to talk about that night and for like the next month,” he adds. The Cobrasnake concedes that his photos can make a lame affair appear fun, a slight of hand attributable to his impromptu style of shooting, which is in direct opposition to the rigid, full-body, frontal poses that have become the norm for photographers co-opted by legendary nightlife photographer Patrick “Studio 54” McMullan. What Hunter does have in common with McMullan, though, is a desire to expand his operation to include multiple photographers working in various cities under the Cobrasnake brand.
Despite admittedly amateur Web design skills, Hunter is excited about his plans to expand his site to include Onion-esque editorial content other than the grab bag of e-mails he answers with stream-of-consciousness prose. Until then, he’s going to take it as it comes, and if he ever finds himself without direction, he can consult his mentor and former boss, Shepard Fairey. For two years, the Cobrasnake served as the guerilla postering sensation’s assistant, gleaning Fairey’s marketing acumen and absorbing his manifesto of phenomenology. Ruminating on his protégé’s work, Fairey says, “I always think of the Mick Rock party shot of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and David Bowie, with Iggy wearing a T Rex T-shirt. The photo appears very casual, but the people there are collectively mostly responsible for art rock, punk and glam. Mark will have a photo like that under his belt at some point.” The Cobrasnake — Mark — intends to obey.