Over a decades-long career as a sought-after editorial and celebrity portrait photographer, Kurt Iswarienko has worked across idioms and interpretations, characters and narratives, continents and campaigns. Along the continuum of his commercial practice, his style has emerged as one of nuance and subtlety, layering, and the elevation of telling detail. While a client expects perfection, and he delivers it to them, for Iswarienko there has always been a parallel practice that has been entirely his own — one more about expression, eccentricity and a special strangeness that lives, not in the portrait studio, but in the unpopulated landscape.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
KURT ISWARIENKO: I never made a decision to be an artist. It was more like I knew I didn’t want to make a living at a regular job working for a “boss.” Whatever it was going to be, I had a sense it would have to come from me, or that I would have to have a major say in how to do things.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
Emotions and people. What drives people to get up in the morning to do what they do.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
I’d be a private jet captain.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
I started art school at Rochester Institute of Technology, in the film program. I went for two years before realizing film school wasn’t my trajectory. Hollywood had a more attractive care package — you could move out here and get paid to learn from the best in the business.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
L.A. has always felt like home to me. It’s a place where anything is possible. I grew up in an eclectic mix of places — Akron, Ohio… Buenos Aires, Argentina… Mexico City… so when I found L.A. ,I felt like I found my place in the sun.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so what?
Always listen to music while working. It depends on the day, but usually a mix of old blues like John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters and BB King, rock & roll, and whatever weird stuff my crew likes to try out on me.
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