Photographer Kevin Amato has been shooting commercially for magazines like GQ, Interview, and Dazed and Confused for over 10 years, while also photographing friends and spontaneous subjects in the Bronx. For the first time, he's putting all of his personal images, collected over the years, into a book—one which showcases his interest in and influence on the intersection of street culture and high fashion.
In combination with a capsule collection including blankets, boxer shorts, T-shirts, jumpers, and other "cozy" items connected to the book's title, Cozy, the book will be released globally. Amato has called on friends from Ambush to Cassette Playa, Off-White, Six Feet Deep, Luar Zepol, Mykki Blanco, and Shayne Oliver of Hood by Air to collaborate on these items.
We interviewed Kevin about the book and his photography as a whole. Cozy will be available this month at VFILES (New York), Selfridges (London), Colette (Paris), Boon (South Korea), The Webster (Miami), Antonioli (Italy), KM20 (Russia), GR8 (Tokyo), Wild Style (L.A.), 424 Fairfax (L.A.), and I-T (Hong Kong).
You've been an established photographer for a long time but have decided to release your first photography book now. What makes this the right time to share this way?
Friends, family, and colleagues have been pushing the idea on me for a while now. That's where the supporting pop-up shop came in. The timing felt right, but in initial meetings, a few publishers didn't really grasp the direction I wanted to go in. Shayne Oliver of Hood By Air is a longtime creative partner of mine. He was the first to ignite the idea of creating a supplementary capsule collection to be able to produce the book.
We’ve been lucky to witness an evolution of the way music, fashion, and art exist. Now it’s one cross-pollinated medium. I refer to it as the "take-out-your-credit-card culture," because it somewhat embraces real street culture, but not enough to interrupt things. However, the muscle of street culture will always break through, because it’s a culture that embodies substance and soul, not pretentious artsy hipster shit.
It's the Stratford Mall skate kids, punk kids in the Bronx. When I first saw dudes breaking stacks on strippers asses in go-go bars uptown, with black painted fingernails, I knew the timing was right. Musicians like Rocky and Rihanna who embrace "goth" culture now also have a dual effect on style. And dudes like Wiz and Chance the Rapper who are being "hippy" and shit are on the other end of the spectrum. There are kids in the p.j.'s across the street from me eating mushrooms and tripping balls in stairwells like it's Woodstock in 1969.
This cross-cultural pollinization has inspired my work and personal style since day one. It wasn't too long ago that a major fashion house snuffed me and a reputable mag I was shooting for, because we shot their collection with an all-black street cast that I put together. They even went so far as to pull their ads due to the shoot "Misrepresenting the brands identity." We've come a long way in bringing people who are commonly under-represented in fashion to the forefront.
The book, a limited edition of 500 copies, is a stark, unpretentious collection of personal and diaristic work spanning the past 10 years. I'm a firm believer that there's no difference between art and commerce. If you stay true to your aesthetic, people will eventually catch on. This is a bit of an homage to that notion.
Why did you decide to name the book Cozy?
The overall concept for the book release and supporting pop-up shop is COZY. It's a term that me and my friends are constantly using. “Cozied up,” “cozy boys”...Vogue even used “Cozy Chic” once to describe high-end sportswear. To me, it's a stage of comfort and contention; it’s all about feeling right and not giving a fuck.
Are most of the images in the book from the Bronx and New York specifically? When you were compiling all of these images, what realizations did you have about these times in your life in retrospect?
I live in the Bronx, so it's a large, overarching presence in my work. And the one thing being here has taught me is that people are all the same at the end of the day. We're unique in our own ways, but regardless of race, social class, sexual orientation, gender, etc., we all want just to be recognized and respected.
There are a lot of familiar faces in the book, from Chris Brown and Waka Flocka Flame to some of your collaborators on the capsule collection. How did most of these people enter your life for such intimate shots and portraits?
I'd like to believe it's having creative trust and respect for each other's work. I'm pretty laid back, and my photography style is very candid. I approach and deal with celebrities like any of my other subjects. Big cameras and a shit-load of equipment and assistants make people appear postured and sterile. I usually just show up with me and a camera.
What is the one thing you hope people gather from these images, whether or not they're previously familiar with your or your work?
That your social status, number of real or purchased followers on Instagram and Twitter, and the amount cabbage in your pocket are meaningless. You always need to be curious and look further.
How does the book connect to the capsule collection you're releasing at the same time?
The capsule collection sales are what funded the book's production.
Fashion, more specifically contemporary fashion and streetwear, have become the cultural equivalent to music in the 1970s. They are what's exposing a whole new generation of kids to the fine arts, and to lifestyles they wouldn't have otherwise been exposed to—like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Test Pattern aka Grey, or Keith Haring's relevancy to both early hip-hop and queer culture.
How did you choose this group of collaborators for the capsule collection?
All of the collaborators for the capsule collection are my close friends. They are the innovators and influential voices within high-end sportswear and street culture. These geniuses have been creating and cultivating for over the past 8 to 10 years, and their support and stamp of approval is truly a blessing.
Do you prefer film or digital, or do you shoot both? What would you consider your technical style to be?
I prefer film but shoot digital, as well. The book is 95% film images, and the book is off-set printed. It was important that the book wasn't printed digitally, so I sourced production in an old newspaper press in Lithuania, just because that was the best execution for this project.
What's the most important lesson you've learned as a photographer and overall artist and creator?
Just stay true to your shit.