An Interview with Jim Mangan
We were first introduced to Jim Mangan when he sent us a photo series titled "Winter's Children," which featured naked men and women of the longhair variety coasting down fluffy snow-coated mountains in their birthday suits. We ran it in our June 2010 issue and since then Jim's shown them at all sorts of galleries and compiled an extended selection in a photo book that got lots of attention. We were very impressed that Jim convinced a bunch of his friends to drop trou and slide down craggy rocks with their genitals flopping about in the cold, but we were floored once we learned that it was one of his first serious stabs at taking photos for publication. So it's really no surprise that we picked one of his images for the cover of this year's Photo Issue. They're from a series entitled "Color'd," which depicts a group of people partaking in a Native American body-painting ceremony and becoming one with nature in the beautiful Utah countryside. It is the second part of a trilogy that began with "Winter's Children," and it will also be compiled in book form later this year. We'll let Jim tell you the rest.
VICE: This shoot is part of a three-part series, the first of which was "Winter’s Children." How did that lead to "Color’d"?
Jim Mangan: Basically, I was working in the snowboarding industry and I was just sort of over it. I was over my job and living in a mountain town, so one day I was like, “I’m selling my house, I’m going to quit my job, and I’m going to pursue something I’ve been thinking about for a long time,” which was photography. So I decided to finally make the conscious decision to just take a chance and quit. I took all my savings and invested it into these projects. The "Winter’s Children" project, for me, was a way of coming back to why I started snowboarding and why I do anything I love to do. It’s kind of a metaphor for that.
I had the "Color’d" project in mind when I shot "Winter’s Children," but I couldn’t really articulate it that well and wasn’t prepared to do it quite yet.
Did the area you shot in inform the concept, or was the initial idea to shoot a Native American body-painting ceremony?
No. I mean, there is that Native American element, but it’s not really about a Native American body-painting ceremony. What it comes down to is a shedding of consumerism—it’s a baptism. It’s a challenge to the regular, every day way of thinking that a lot of people have. I mean, seeing all of these naked people covered in paint was pretty shocking to a lot of the hikers who were up there. This group of people probably seemed like aliens to them because they were so out of the norm, especially for the Mormon families. It challenged their way of thinking in a very non-confrontational way.
Basically, everybody got naked and painted each other. Then, as you see in the photos, everybody jumped into the water and the paint came off, which is sort of like a baptism. So they all came back to where they started, but with a new focus and a new perspective on life. That’s the idea of this project, as well as the idea of the whole trilogy. The next project will be an extension of these first two.
What can you tell me about the area you shot in, the Uinta Mountains?
I spent a lot of years out there, so I’m really intimate with that area and the Ute tribe, which is native to the Uinta Mountains. I even reached out to the tribe's spiritual leader and got him to bless the journey. Not necessarily because he is Native American, but because his tribe has a long history there, going back hundreds and hundreds of years. So it was important to have him bless the journey.
What was the ceremony like? Didn’t you say there were parts of it you couldn’t photograph?
I got to photograph most of the ceremony, but there was one part of it that was males-only, and that part I couldn’t document because the spiritual leader said he wouldn’t perform it if I took photos. The whole thing was very powerful. I felt very empowered and blessed to be a part of something that a lot of people don't get to experience. He doesn't perform this ceremony with everybody, so we were really happy that he felt comfortable enough to do it with us, and that he felt the overall vibe of the group was something positive.
Some of the people in the background of the photos are probably Mormon families. How did they react to being around a bunch of naked people covered in paint?
There was a range of reactions. I didn’t go up to each family and say, “Hey, are you Mormon?” So I can’t tell you how the Mormons reacted as opposed to the other people, but it’s pretty safe to assume that a lot of the passers by were Mormon. There were some total hippie couples up there who probably weren't Mormon, and they reacted really positively to what we were doing and wanted to be a part of it. But I would say the majority of the reactions from people walking by were really negative. In fact, after we finished the shoot everyone met at a deli in this town called Kamus. Everyone still had the paint remnants on them, and a police officer in the deli came up to us and was like, “You guys were the ones up in the Uintas walking around naked.” He said he got tons of complaints from people who were extremely offended, and that he could arrest all of us for indecent exposure. But we all flatly denied it was us, so he didn’t do anything.