An Interview With Patrick O'Dell
Patrick O’Dell has done a lot of different crap at Vice US – contributor, Photo Editor, VBS.TV personality, etc. So when he sent us his submission for the Still Lifes issue, our maternal instincts kicked in. We worried about him. Is he eating right? Does he have a roof over his head? A warm winter coat? Turns out he’s got all of those things (and a motorcycle), and that photo was taken years ago.
These days, Patrick is the nice, freshly shaven man who hosts Epicly Later’d on VBS. He also aggressively updates his blog with photos of adventure, travel, mayhem, and skateboarding (his photos of the latter have been plastered all over every major skate magazine for years). He used to live in New York, but now he lives in LA with a dog and a Jerry Hsu photo he stole from us.
Vice: Hey Patrick, you’ve done a lot of stuff for us. How’d you get involved with Vice in the first place?
Patrick O’Dell: I interned at Index when Jesse Pearson was an editor there. Ryan McGinley was a contributor, and I think Amy Kellner was also a contributor. I was working for Thrasher at the time, but it was winter or something. I had a skateboard kind of job, but I wanted to do more.
By "a skateboard kind of job", do you mean a skate photographer?
Skate-ography, yeah. I don’t think I was staff at Thrasher at that point, but I was like, doing it. I was out there in the world, trying to be a skate-ographer. And I always liked Index because they always had really good interviews and articles. It turned out that it was Jesse, Amy and Ryan who were bringing in a lot of those good articles.
So you met them when you were an intern?
Yeah. It’s funny because Jesse started there as an intern, or maybe Amy was interning? Wait, I think it was Ryan – maybe he was an intern? Anyway, I just remember thinking it was kind of funny that all these interns were kind of escalating out of that a little bit. I think I showed Jesse some photos I took or something, and he was like, "Oh, I want you to meet Gavin from Vice, you should give these to Gavin." So the first thing I did for Vice was all the DOs and DON'Ts. I shot all the DOs one month in some pretty old issue. It was called something like, "Patrick O'Dell Special: DOs."
You update your Epicly Later’d blog a lot, and it seems like you’re always at fun parties and hanging out with pretty girls and stuff. Is that true?
Not exactly. I think my blog kind of compresses that stuff, so it makes it look like every single day I’m doing something like that. It’s more like once a week or something I’ll do something interesting and blog it. I think my life may look a lot more exciting on the internet than actually being in my skin and sitting here doing boring stuff all day.
Where do you get all the fancy, cryptic words that you string together for each photo album?
They’re usually just song lyrics. Not all of them, but most of them. You can probably just copy and paste them into Google and I’m sure you’ll find the song. But yeah, some of them are cryptic. I got really into foreign songs for a while. I’d use Google Translate to figure out what the song was about, and then use those lyrics, so sometimes it’s super-broken English, but I think it sounds cool.
On average, how many photos do you think you shoot a day?
It totally varies, I don’t know. Do iPhone photos count?
Yes, they count.
Then tonnes. I have an iPhone and I have a film camera, and I carry them both. I used to use a digital – it was a Canon – but I think iPhone photos are fine. So I just alternate between that and a film camera. So, if something’s like extra-special I’ll use the film, but if it’s like a funny sign, or if it’s me eating lunch with my friend I’ll use the phone. I’d say all-included, on average, maybe like 30 pictures. Or less. It depends because I shoot a lot more If I’m on a road trip or something. I haven’t taken a single picture today.
What kind of film camera do you use?
I like point-and-shoots. I have a bunch of different ones, and I think those are the easiest to work with. I also have a medium format and an SLR – I think I might have one of everything. Usually on my site it’s film point-and-shoots though.
How’d you get into photography? Was it through skateboarding?
Maybe, but I think I got into photography before I got into skateboarding. I’m sure I got into both around those formative middle school years. I think I dove into that version of what being a skater is. You know, you start skating and then you get into art and music and that kind of stuff, but photography is something I’ve just always done.
Your photo from the Still Lifes issue is pretty depressing. What did you spend all your money on?
That photo’s ancient. It’s from when I first started my website. Amy Kellner had her site, Teenage Unicorn back then – I think that photo was taken in 2004. Back then I lived in New York and used to party a little harder. That photo’s probably from a Canon Elph that was about one and a half megapixels, which is pretty much the same as an iPhone at this point. I had never had a digital camera, but Amy was like, "You need a digital camera." So I bought all the stuff she had to get my site going. I probably spent all of my money on alcohol and the camera that I took the photo with. It was like a 300 dollar camera.
So that photo was taken in New York?
Yeah, I think it was at a deli in between Katz and a pizza place. I went in there to get money out of the ATM, and I had insufficient funds but I swear to God I think the statement said I had like 15 dollars, so I couldn’t get a 20.
That’s the worst, having just enough money in your account that you can’t take any out.
Yeah. I was just thinking: "Whatever’s in my bank account, I’m going to spend it." So I went to a liquor store and bought a little bottle of Jager because it was only 13 or 14 dollars.
Do you have a favourite photo from the Still Lifes issue?
Nope, I haven’t seen it yet.
We didn’t send you a copy?
Nope. I don’t think I have a subscription anymore. Also, I just moved into this house and I think all my subscriptions still go to my last house. I could do some homework though and get back to you. I want to see it, it sounds like a really interesting concept.
Oh, it’s interesting all right.
Yeah, it’s a good idea. You can’t keep doing the same thing every year. There was a photo issue that Jesse, Amy, and I worked on. I don’t know if it’s still like this, but we used to have a picture of each photographer for the contributor page, and Jesse said as a joke, "They have to be naked." He was kind of kidding, but the more we thought about it the more we were like, "That’s a good idea, because they can interpret it however they want. They can actually be naked, or they can do some kind of play on it." It was like a photo assignment: be naked. So we did it, and a lot of the photographers took it really seriously and did really interesting things. I think it was sort of similar to the Still Lifes issue in that it was an assignment, like, "OK photographer, send us your best picture with nothing living in it." I like that. I like seeing what people come up with.
Did you have to take a naked picture of yourself?
No, I wasn’t in it because I figured, as Photo Editor, I wouldn’t include myself in that issue. It just seemed stupid, like, "Hey, check me out!"
That was very modest of you. If you had to look around the room that you’re in right now and take a photo of something, what would it be?
I have a dog that’s sitting here cross-legged. She sits so elegantly with one leg on top of the other, so that’s pretty cute. Ummm, OK, off the record, before I said the dog I was about to mention that I have this Jerry Hsu photo on the wall that would be good to take a picture of, but then I remembered that I actually stole it from Vice. Actually, I didn’t really steal it.
It was after a photo show for Jerry, and all the photos were printed and paid for by Vice, but at the end of the show Gavin took one, and I took one, and maybe Jerry got a couple back. Some were kept for the office, but it was kind of like no man’s land, like, "Whose are these?" So I asked Jerry if I could take one and he was like, "Eh, sure."
Let’s not make that off the record.
I don’t want Suroosh coming over and being like, "Yoink".
OK, it can be on the record. But if it gets stolen from me I’m going to be pissed.
I doubt anyone’s going to come out to LA and take it back from you.
I can see the Vice repo man or someone showing up. But then they’d have to get Gavin too, because I know he got one.
Yeah, bring him down with you.
Yeah, because I think there were like 25 pictures in the show, and I think in the office there’s like six. A lot of them flew out the door somehow. But it’s not stealing if I admit it.
I don’t know if that’s true.
Well, now I’m coming clean and I’ve made my amends. So hopefully they’ll see it in their hearts to let me keep it.
We actually just did another show with Jerry, and we had a bunch of his photos laying around here.
You should have stolen them.
Don’t try to bring me down too. Alright, so it was either the cute, cross-legged dog, or a photo of Jerry’s stolen photo?
Jerry’s stolen photo, yeah.