This portfolio appears in VICE Magazine's 2019 Photo Issue. With this issue we wanted to celebrate the absurd, the lighthearted, and the humorous. It’s important to take a break from the real world. As much as we need to be informed, engaged, and aware, we also need to laugh. We wanted to champion the people making art with a sense of humor. In today’s climate, there’s something nicely subversive about that. You can read more about our theme in the letter from our editor.
Todd Midler is a New York City-based photographer whose work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times and the New Yorker. Seeing as he just received his BFA in photography from the School of Visual Arts last year, we’d say he’s doing a pretty good job so far.
He tells us his most loved things are photography, basketball, and photography about basketball. This all started to make sense once we flipped through the images he submitted for this year’s photo issue, one of which became our cover.
Midler’s series was inspired by his obsessive love/hate relationship with his favorite American basketball team: the New York Knicks. We caught up with him about his career, his cover photo, and his love of basketball.
VICE: Tell us the story behind our cover image.
Todd Midler: I became obsessed with basketball fan culture. I decided to study the viewers of the game rather than the players. I was very interested in the different ways that fans expressed their loyalty to their favorite teams. Some showed love, obsession, and devotion while others showed pessimism and hopelessness. I wanted to create an image that blended all these ideas together: a super fan who is devoted enough to get their face painted like a basketball, but looks equally disinterested in what they are viewing. Although the image is of my friend Nick, I thoroughly empathize with the man in the photo. It’s basically a self-portrait: The man who got all dressed up—face paint and everything—only to watch his Knicks lose to the Cavs by 24 points.
For the basketball headshot—did you know what kind of facial expression you wanted?
I had a vision. Obviously there were some tweaks here and there but I feel like the image that I came out of that shoot with is exactly what I envisioned it would be.
Your portfolio was inspired by your love/hate relationship with the New York Knicks. When and how did you first become a fan of the team?
My father is the reason why I’m a Knicks fan. As a child, I used to wear his jerseys around the house and pretend I was on the team. My Dad had Knicks season tickets sometime in the 90s. I’d imagine he gave them up when I was born in 1995. To this day, I’m convinced that if I was born in 1994 and somehow my mom allowed my dad to bring their six-month-old baby to Game 6 of the NBA finals, the Knicks would’ve won the Championship that year and all would be good and well in the world of the Knicks. Oh well. I still love them, even if they haven’t won a championship since 1973. That’s my team.
Your work focuses on still life images—can you walk us through the portfolio? It seems to be a mix of your own archival, like letters and childhood drawings, mixed with more conceptual photos.
With this specific body of work, “Madison Square Garbage,” I wanted to focus on creating very specific images. It was my first body of work where I jotted down different ideas for pictures and even created a detailed shot list. Before that, I was very much a find-an-image-in-the-world-type of photographer. With this project, I drew pictures my eight-year-old self would draw. I used old picture frames that looked like the ones my mom made when I was a child. I appropriated imagery from the internet, all with the intention of creating specific images. The project was meant to be a fabricated photographic archive of a basketball fan.
When not shooting basketball heads, what are you working on?
I love photography. I’ve been making personal work as well as assisting and shooting some editorial work here and there. I’m constantly trying to one up myself and progress as a photographer. I want to make photos forever.