Sean Vegezzi is a young photographer from New York who enjoys hanging out in elevator shafts and getting cops to chase him through graveyards. You may remember the outstanding cover he shot for our Teetering on the Brink Issue last year.
At 21, Sean is about to publish his first book, I Don’t Warna Grow Up, which explores that liminal stage that hits adolescents when they’re too old to get excited about ice cream, but not old enough to afford lots of cocaine.
I called him up to ask for a sneak preview and to talk growing pains.
VICE: Hey Sean, nice book! You said it took five years to compile, so I’m guessing you’re pretty psyched it’s finally in print?
Sean Vegezzi: To be honest, I'm very impressed with myself. I always knew making a book would be an introverted process, but I didn't think I'd enjoy it as much as I did. I never knew such wonders could come from staying at home by myself! Before February of last year, I was basically out on these adventures every night. I hardly ever slept at home.
This all sounds pretty time-consuming. What was your school attendance rate like?
Well, high school was a really rough time in a lot of ways. I don't want to whine, but I was expecting to study at art school from the age of 14-18, but I had my acceptance revoked by the Board of Education and wound up in a math- and science-based school. All I wanted to do was run out of class. I'd come into school after running away from cops through a graveyard on the outskirts of the city, or something like that and have almost no energy left for morning classes.
That sucks. Do you think being in that environment gave you more of an incentive to do your own thing? Personally, I kind of miss having an enemy to rebel against. It’s no fun cutting class if you’re just eating into video game time. Right?
Definitely. That's exactly what the transition from being a teenager to a young adult is like. Once you lose that network of people constantly doubting you or criticising you, it's all on you and there's no one to buck against. It's odd. I think a lot of people hesitate at that transition and I think my book really addresses that.
You were working part-time for Annie Leibovitz’s studio while you were at school, too. What was it like? Did you see Miley Cyrus' boobs?
Working at Annie's really saved me. In the eyes of a lot of people, I'd probably be nobody without the experience and reference I got from it, plus I learned more at her studio than I ever did in school. Everyone there was so accepting of who I was—like, once I called my boss after I’d been arrested. I was freaking out about missing work that day, but he was totally fine with it. He never judged me. I was so taken aback, in a good way. They were always very supportive of my work.
They sound like a cool bunch. A lot of “urban exploration” photography can feel a bit earnest and lame, but your pictures focus more on experiences within spaces than on the spaces themselves. I guess you could call it urban portraiture. What inspired you to work that way?
Photography complemented what I was doing already, which was basically just hosting adventures with my friends. I always thought it was important to make the most of my teenage years and I had a serious fear that I was never living profoundly enough, so I barely spent any time inside. I tried to get out the house as quickly as possible and motivate all of my friends to come out and meet me. We would just wander around Tribeca and walk into any open door. We had the most fun in spaces that weren't really designed for pedestrians to see. Elevator shafts, cellars, steam tunnels, messenger corridors, office building rooftops…
That’s part of what make your pictures so interesting; all the different secret hideouts you discovered while exploring the city.
Yeah, we used to call them "missioners" when we were really little. I'd go out with a digital camera, climb around, come home and then have a slideshow on my computer with my friends. I must have been about 11 then.
Cute. There’s quite a lot of contemplative and retrospective text at the end of your book, is that because you’ve grown up now?
That's the idea that everyone is getting from the text and I like that. Things aren't the same and that's natural, obviously. I hate the idea of extending youth. Those overage youth photographers that seem to be in abundance really gross me out.
You’re hardly overage…
I know! I don’t mean to make myself sound like a grandpa. The book isn’t the end of this body of work either, I still have a lot more to work with and I won’t be abandoning it any time soon. I felt like those words had to accompany the images though.
Finally, all the words are credited to a certain Abeline. Who is she?
I don't remember time before Abeline. We've known each other since we were three. Abeline and I have always varied between seeing each other every day and not talking to each other for extended periods of time. It's not that we wear out our relationship or anything, we're just on very different trajectories. We don't have a physical relationship if that's what you were wondering. Although sometimes I try to get her to make out with me. Sometimes she's into it.
Good luck with that, Sean. And thanks!
I Donʼt Warna Grow Up is published by Fourteen-Nineteen and you can preorder it here. Also, if you are in New York and looking for a productive way to spend your Friday night, why not pop by The Hole Shop tomorrow, September 28, and check out the release party?
Here's a video Sean made to help sell more books:
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