There once was a time, before camera phones and Instagram, where photography was considered novel. At least legendary street artist Ron English thought so, which is why in the early 1980’s he took up the craft. “At the time I perceived it to be a younger art form, so I thought my odds of creating something original were greater,” said English.
Originality isn’t something English has struggled with though. For over two decades, English and his bold statements have cemented his place in the art world as one of the fathers of prankster art. He is known for “liberating” commercial billboards with his own messages, often mocking the corporate icons being advertised.
But before the illegal murals and “popaganda,” English studied photography in Texas. “The thing I liked most about photography was its versatility coupled with the lie inherent in the cameraman’s choices,” said English, who cites Diane Arbus and her self-portraits among his influences. “I wanted all intervention to end with the click of the shutter, leaving the print to be the truth about the lie.”
English often placed himself into unusual situations just to see what would unfold. “For me, my photographs were happenings for people who were in no way seeking out an art experience, and my camera was my passport into any situation.” English’s photos give the viewer some guessing room as to what exactly is going on. Before Photoshop, English was able to create illusion, depth and mystery.
Upon graduation from art school though, English realized that photography may not be the most profitable route, and so he turned to oil painting. However, photography is still a large part of his art process, even if it may be more internal now. “I now do photographs as studies for paintings, many of which could stand alone as photographs,” said English, who hasn’t given up the idea of reengaging the public through photography in the future. “I could wear a clown suit or some costume and shoot people on the street, I’m sure they would react differently than if I were wearing a business suit.”
This post was contributed by Feature Shoot editorial intern Jennifer Kaye.