Van Styles Holds Gallery Show, V/SUAL Pop-Up at Seventh Letter Store
Fairfax Avenue, the retail hub for graffiti culture and street style in Los Angeles, was crackling with activity last Saturday as The Seventh Letter Flagship Store & Gallery featured a gallery show and pop-up shop from celebrated photographer Van Styles. Along with 26 new photo prints, the store also displayed items from Styles’ V/SUAL apparel line’s Spring collection.
There was a definite buzz in the air at The Seventh Letter as the crowd swelled and moved through the gallery’s pristine white-walled space, marveling at the prints on display. Hip-hop stars Evidence, of Dilated Peoples, and Odd Future leader Tyler, the Creator mixed and mingled with graffiti artists, photographers and fans of Styles’ work.
The exhibition covers Styles’ last two to three years of globetrotting. Germany, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Texas, Arizona and Miami all provided inspiring canvases for Styles’ lens.
“This body of work I’m showcasing tonight represents a variety of what I’m capable of doing,” Styles told 12ozProphet. “A lot of people know me from shooting models, but as a photographer you should be able to shoot any subject matter. Street photography is one of my favorites—landscapes—a little of everything.”
The familiar tropes of Styles’ work were in full effect, from scantily-clad models to urban life, and in particular, the photographer’s love affair with Los Angeles, his home turf.
Adding to the compelling narrative and beauty of each photo, Styles decided to display his work via digital sublimation printing on flat aluminum sheets, which all came signed and numbered in limited editions. Printing his work on this medium gave Styles’ photos impressive color saturation and added depth—the work “popped” in a way that clearly distinguished it from work printed on regular photo paper.
“To me, in an age where everything is digital, everyone has access to a camera, anyone can pull up Instagram and see a great photo, I feel that the younger generation sees [printed photography] just as ink on paper,” Styles posited. “They might say ‘Why should I spend so much money on it?’ Not taking into consideration what it took to get the shot or to build up a body of work that’s of value to the name on the shot. So in a sense, it’s an experiment to combat that, to do something you don’t see in photography every day. If you love what you do, you should showcase it in the best way possible.”
The familiar tropes of Styles’ work were in full effect, from scantily clad models to urban life, and, in particular, the photographer’s love affair with Los Angeles, his home turf.
“Los Angeles inspires me because everything is temporary here, it’s all going to change, so the inspiration is to capture L.A. as I see it today. I’ve learned from photography that the skyline’s going to change and the streets will be different,” he said. “It’s important to document it as you see it. From shooting someone’s fashion on the street to architecture, it’s important to capture it now before the times change the world around us.”
Pointing to a black-and-white photo he shot in a downtown L.A. alley of a child playing in a puddle, capturing his kinetic energy just as he’s about to splash down, Styles said little moments like that reaffirm the passion he has for his medium. Soon, that street could be home to a mega-mall or luxury condos, as gentrification sweeps through the city, changing the landscape in a very real way.
“Energy, inspiration, photography—the more you’re moving around, the more things you see and the more ways you can become inspired,” Styles enthused. “It changes perspectives.”
It’s heartening that Styles sees his work as a time capsule, not just as something that’s aesthetically pleasing, but something imbued with soul, at a point where art meets commerce. Take, for example, another black-and-white photo Styles shot in New York during a snowstorm of a graffiti artist popping a tag on a building while surrounded by a fresh blanket of white powder as streetlights illuminate the falling flakes.
“It was definitely an amazing time, shooting photos all over New York while the snow was falling,” he said, wide-eyed. “By the time we made it out to Coney Island, the snow had stopped, but left a blanket of untouched snow all over, which was rad. I remember my fingers being so cold at one point, making it difficult to shoot. That night is definitely going down as one of the most fun nights of my life.”
Fans of Styles’ aerial photography will have much to marvel over at the exhibit. In a breathtaking series of photos, Styles shoots model Tianna Gregory, outfitted in black lingerie and stripy high heels, virtually dangling out of the helicopter, while iconic L.A. landmarks, like the Hollywood sign or the Santa Monica Pier, loom vibrantly in the background.
“The helicopter shots with Tianna are unique just because of the setting,” Styles said, smiling, seemingly recalling the memory of the shoot. “I love aerial photography because it’s always a challenge and such a cool way to shoot something, so to combine that with a gorgeous girl like Tianna, I don’t think people have seen that before.”
On the streetwear side, V/SUAL’s spring drop was doing brisk business. Featuring the photography of Styles and O.G. Odd Future lensman Sagan Lockhart, The Seventh Letter featured a variety of t-shirts and hats in its custom display cases. Eleven graphic tees, three pocket tees and a variety of hats from snapbacks, to strapbacks, to five-panels, comprised the first release of the brand’s Spring collection.
“This is the first pop-up we’ve done for V/SUAL, so that’s pretty exciting,” Styles beamed. “We’ve done some in-store signings with the girls, but never something where we’ve displayed a collection. Thanks to The Seventh Letter, we made it happen tonight.
The Van Styles and Sagan Lockhart photo exhibition and V/SUAL pop-up show is on display at The Seventh Letter through April 19. The store is located at 346 N. Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles.