Norman Reedus’ Real Life and Undead Photography

'The Walking Dead' star’s new book and exhibition of fine art photographs are just as dark and strange as you’d imagine.

by Shana Nys Dambrot
08 November 2015, 2:00pm

All photographs by Norman Reedus. All images courtesy of the artist.

It’s hard to take a boring picture when all your friends are zombies. By all accounts, the actor Norman Reedus is rarely without a camera in his hand. Unless of course he’s on camera himself in his role as hunky zombie hunter Daryl Dixon on AMC’s The Walking Dead -- but apparently, he picks it right back up the second they wrap anything. That explains why his new photography book and LA gallery show have so many good-looking, scantily clad zombies smoking cigarettes on couches. But these familiar figures are transformed anew through Reedus’ parallel artistic perspective, and the blood, pus, and general nastiness becomes but one curious facet of a whole new story of surrealism, secrets, and serendipity.

In black and white and in color, in masks, prosthetics, and costumes, or else with minimal styling, a breeze of youthful indie edge and humor; in plain abstract settings and exotic, super-trippy locations like empty beaches and garish hotel hallways— Reedus has a multiplicity of tricks up his sleeve. But all of his work has this sort of low-fi handheld quality that’s very emotional and psychological, and romantic in a fraught and fierce kind of way.

He’s totally in command of his technique as far as lighting and framing and directing or noticing cinematic action. Even his behind-the-scenes stuff is not really about life on a soundstage in any conventional way; it’s more about the strange collisions of overlapping realities that working as a performer offers. Those are great in a Fellini-esque mode. But the images he composes from his raw imagination are even better — that is where you can imagine him waking up from a dream and rushing to write down what he saw in the certainty that it will make a really wicked photograph.

The reviews for his first photography book The Sun’s Coming Up… Like A Big Bald Head — or at least the suitably exuberant celebrity forewords—are coming in hot and heavy. Bette Midler calls the work “capricious, brutal, beautiful, sexual, vulnerable, playful and bewitching.” Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon notes the seamless integration of Reedus’ unsettling artistry both on set and off, as he moves effortlessly from extemporaneous documentation to the instigation of his own original concepts and dreamlike scenarios. “Like anyone looking through this book,” she writes, “I don’t know if the bruise around his eye is from the motorcycle accident that left him with a titanium eye socket, or if it’s a moment off set in character. [He’s] not giving anything away.”

 The Sun’s Coming Up… Like A Big Bald Head is already on sale everywhere, and the show opens in LA on Thursday, November 12, with a free public reception at Voila! Gallery from 7-10pm; it runs through December 31 at 518 N. La Brea Ave. The exhibition features never-before-seen photographs along with works from the book.