Zak Smith: The Shorty Q&A with Dennis McGrath (NSFW)

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Shot on the sets of pornographic films, Dennis McGrath’s photographs are eerie, funny, down-to-earth, poignant, and gorgeous all at the same time. They are just the tip of an iceberg that started forming when a teenage McGrath got his first camera in order to shoot pictures of his friends skateboarding. Since then his work has appeared everywhere from Thrasher to The New York Times.  The images in this interview are not safe for work.

Zak Smith: What are the different projects/bodies of work you’ve done?

Dennis McGrath: The one I’m about to start work on is a collaboration with my brother Jonathan, Gary Van De Griek and Ed Templeton. Gary’s photos are just incredible. So it’s about a guy named Lennie Kirk, a friend. It’s titled HEAVEN and it’s pretty interesting. From 14 year-old runaway to California to pro skateboarder to born-again Christian to 3 to 5 years in San Quentin for armed robbery. Photo documentary, with ephemera. That’s the first. I’m long-term. My sex project has been 5 years so far. At least the exploration photographically.

Smith: You did a lot of skate photography–is there a trick to catching people in mid-air or do you just keep hitting the shutter?

McGrath: You gotta know what’s going on and it’s timing.

Smith: I hear you’re a kinky sex fiend–can you confirm or deny that?

McGrath: Who told you that?

Smith: Why do you like black and white?

McGrath: I just do. There’s something about the grain that you just can’t deny. The fact that I can develop the film and print it myself is also really cool. I do shoot color too it’s nice. I just like black and white better.

Smith: Can you describe your cameras? First, last and every one in-between.

McGrath: My first camera was a Canon AE-1. Second was a Nikon FM2. Third was an Olympus XA. Fourth Nikon f4. Fifth an Olympus xa4. Sixth a Nikon F5. Seventh a Leica M6. All I got left is the Leica and that’s all I shoot with, maybe a point-and-shoot sometimes. And I got a Lumix digi point-and-shoot. It’s decent.

Smith: Have you ever thought about making a movie? Have you done it already?

McGrath: I used to shoot a lot of 16mm film. I wanna make an avant-garde sex film.

Smith: What would your avant-garde sex film be like? As in: what things might be in it and/or what kind of films would it look like?

McGrath: It’s inspired by the films of Nathaniel Dorsky. He’s an experimental filmmaker from San Francisco who I’ve known since I moved to the city. It’s just an idea.

See more of Dennis McGrath’s photography on his blog (NSFW).


Zak Smith is an artist who first came to prominence with his mammoth work Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon's Novel Gravity's Rainbow. Smith's paintings and drawings are held in major public and private collections worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. We Did Porn— a book includng drawings and stories about his experiences working in the adult film industry— his third book and his first to include writing— will be published in July 2009 from Tin House Books. He lives and works in Los Angeles. More from this author →