A world filled with half-naked girls and boys going down on Buzz Lightyear action figures and babies dressed up as ghosts may seem like some kind of nightmare. For photographer Pretty Puke, this is reality—one that he's created to reflect our time URL and IRL.
While some of his most widely seen images capture dark, drunken, and sexually explicit scenes of youth covered in paint, masks, and dollar bills, he's also been commissioned to do portraits of artists like Big Sean, Wiz Khalifa, and Sia, often being requested by the artists themselves. He also previously teamed up with ALIFE for collaborative NSFW T-shirt collections and advertising campaigns.
Embracing the old maxim that the freaks come out at night, Pretty Puke only shoots after the sun goes down. By doing so, he’s able to embody an unforgiving, grungy aesthetic—one that’s not for the prude or faint of heart. Beyond all the butts and vodka bottles, though, there’s something to be said for Pretty Puke’s audacious approach and place within a group of ambitious, of-the-now photographers who are making serious moves.
He’s a product of his environment, translating real, spontaneous moments into images that make comments on contemporary youth culture. From an artistic standpoint, his images communicate the attitude of today's youth generation; by working with all types of body shapes and personalities, Pretty Puke’s photography also breathes a distinct social commentary on this mixed bag generation.
If some of these scandalous .jpgs look familiar, you’ve probably seen them before; Pretty Puke owes much of his rise to image-sharing platforms like Tumblr, with many of his posts receiving hundreds of notes. While he thrives in the Internet world, there’s a plot twist—the young photographer doesn’t even own a computer.
We talked to Pretty Puke about his defiant style, a recent perspective-altering car accident, and what it’s like to be a laptop-less Tumblr photographer.
When did you get your first camera?
I was 17 years old when I met a very deceiving girl off of Myspace. Her dad was a crime scene photographer. I stole one of his cameras. He was an asshole.
You told us you don’t own a computer, which is interesting because your images are so heavily popularized by the Internet. Was this a conscious decision?
I feel so dated and analog in the way I produce work. It’s been four years since my computer died. It's shocking to me that I'm even somewhat relevant, because I don’t own a computer. It’s so easy to be completely influenced by others now. There’s so much shit happening right now that it's hard to find yourself as a young artist. Distancing myself from what others are doing allowed me to focus on my own work.
You create these sort of unapologetically explicit images, some of which can be seen as vulgar, whether that be your intention or not. What do you think most people see in them?
I think that my images don’t allow people to get too comfortable. My images can come off as intense or dysfunctional at times, but regardless of what they stand for, I think people seem to relate to how playful the images tend to be.
You photograph a lot of musicians like Wiz, Soulja Boy, Mac Miller, and Big Sean. How did these relationships form, and how do you aim to represent people when they're already widely seen?
I have a ton of friends who are musicians, and a lot of the time, they just tend to name-drop me. I think it's just interesting for friends to see what rappers look like up in the mix of the strangeness I’ve created. I tend to just capture these dudes as they are, because asking Wiz or Big Sean to do something strange for me wouldn't be true to their character. A lot of the time, rappers just reach out because they think I’m a wild boy with crazy girls around me at all time. Most of them just see the girls in the images and do not consider anything beyond that. A lot of the girls in my images are just strong, autonomous females that own their sexuality.
So would you say that your photos are more premeditated and thought-out, or is it more of an in-the-moment process?
If you’re a true creative you should never second-guess your moves.
How do you feel you've evolved as a photographer over the years?
I have been taking photography seriously for about five years now. I started receiving lots of attention in the past year and a half. I am still growing as a photographer. My growth is in my ideas becoming more fluid. I am trying to master capturing this world I have created.
You were recently in a pretty bad car accident. Has this changed your perspective?
My views and what I stand for have not changed. If anything my accident was a complete eye-opener and has given me more initiative to push this raw aesthetic. I did have to hit unfollow on a lot of people, because I was able to see who my real friends were. Death trying to cop my body gave me the clarity I needed.
You’re frequently regarded as a “Tumblr photographer.” How do you feel about this categorization?
Before Pretty Puke images became a reality, I wanted to create a very real world relatable to the ideals of the youth of today. My images were made for the Internet. Pretty Puke was born on Tumblr in Tumblr’s infancy, and it is a hyper reality related to by our current generation. It is not surprising to me that I would be someone to be labeled this. It is so future to me.
Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
I have two books in their beginnings stages and a short film featuring my son, Casper.