You might know Ojay Morgan by his stage name Zebra Katz. From the moment I met Ojay I knew he was born to be a star, like David Bowie “I’m an instant star, just add water and stir.” I’ve known Ojay since our days at DSOA high school and it seemed like he always found himself as the creator and leader of several dance and performance troops. That natural leadership and ambition only quadrupled once he moved to NYC to attend The New School. Although Zebra Katz is currently taking the music and fashion world by storm, Ojay is constantly in the process of creating new characters and projects. CLAW CLAW has the honor of showcasing one of his over-sized Polaroids in our upcoming art exhibition & party on 10/12/13 at The Living Gallery.
SHANON WELTMAN: Do you still consider yourself a performance artist?
OJAY MORGAN: Yes. I like to consider myself a multi-media artist or interdisciplinary artist. I tend to mix a lot of mediums and I think it’s the juxtaposition of those mediums that make that said art so interesting sometimes. Whether it’s, like, stage performance, producing and using sound clips, or working with a set medium, like champagne. It’s just an idea, a theme, a concept – an idea and expanding it in the realm of visuals to celebratory performance of, like, shaking a bottle and spraying that onto an audience. Or making cork pieces out of it – grinding up the cork from said champagne bottle and using that cork to make black face. It’s definitely multidimensional. Yeah, performance.
SW: How has making it as Zebra Katz influenced your creative process?
OM: I think it gives me the opportunity to continue to grow and experiment and experience new things, so I’m constantly growing as an individual and an artist. It reminds me to challenge myself, because this may not be the set field I sought out to be doing creatively, but it’s a new experience and I’m enjoying it trying to continue the artistic movement of the creation [the project].
SW: Biggest inspirations artistically?
OM: I speak a lot about Nina Simone, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill. Visually, sonically. I draw from a lot of pop culture. Nomie Simone from Showgirls as a tragic hero, as a character. I’m inspired by really random things, but I think they all contribute to a greater cause in whatever piece. If it’s a sound clip or a hat or a mask, they all sort of lend themselves to other influences. Or things inspire me just by the performance or what they mean.
SW: What have been your favorite and least favorite cities internationally?
OM: I would say Moscow is pretty crazy. It was a good crazy. Going there and realizing that I had an audience or fan base there was just shocking to know. It was a little surreal being there not knowing much about Moscow or Russia at the time. What a lot of those kids are going through and they were listening to my music and it was something they were really into at the time and still they are. I guess it was four weeks after we left the whole thing with Putin starting happening and there are all these anti-gay rights that are happening. So it’s just crazy to think about how I relate to that performance and the kids that were there, and how they are dealing with the city that I visited, and thought was great, but there’s all this really crazy shit going on there at the same time. That was insane.
Going to Kiev was amazingly crazy in the Ukraine, which is not that far away. I recently went to Poland. I think it’s hard to break these cities up by worst place and best place because I’m usually only there for like 72 hours max and you really don’t get to go out that much. You really only go there to do the show. Rest up, do the show, maybe go see someone else play, socialize for a bit, then back to the hotel, and the next morning you’re gone. I’d say the least favorite city would be… Geneva, but only because I lost my passport. That’s it.
SW: Do you know how Rick Owens found your song?
OM: He found it on the internet.
SW: Totally by himself?
OM: Mmm hmmm. On the Mad Decent website, checking out some music. He used the track for his runway show and that kind of just sparked the trajectory of Zebra Katz.
SW: Do you pick out the outfits you’re wearing in your photos you post online, or is that advertisement?
OM: Yeah, usually. If people send me clothes I’ll wear it because I can’t afford to go out and buy clothes at the moment, because I have to pay for other shit. [haha] So, a lot of times I’ll see a pair of shades and I’ll like it on the brand’s page and they’ll say “oh, we’ll send you a pair”, just because they probably know I like to do the whole Instagram thing and show friends what I’m doing and what I’m up to. Mostly I dress myself, but sometimes in the videos I work with stylists. I still pick what I want to wear and how I want it to fit and all that.
SW: What do you miss about not being on tour?
OM: I don’t really miss much about it. I think the only thing is the stability, if anything, but I think you find stability in other things you do that you make ritual. That’s the only thing, not really knowing where you’re going to be, if you’re going to like it, if it’s gonna be crazy, if you’re going to be in the country in the next few days, if you need to find a subletter, if you can afford to go on tour for that long, who you’ll be touring with, are you going to bring someone on tour with you, who’s your tour manager. You think about a lot of things that I necessarily didn’t think about before or care to know that I do know now. Just try to apply to it and just better myself. I think you make a lot of mistakes and you learn from them and grow and then by your fourth or fifth year as a performing artist you get the ropes. You get to know how stage shows go, and booking festivals, and how to release tracks. By doing you learn a lot. So I’m learning at a rapid speed.
Yan Sze Li
SW: Tell me about your Polaroid series.
OM: So, I’ve been taking Polaroids since my senior year of high school. I kind of just fell in love with Polaroid photography. I found a Polaroid at a vintage shop and then found some film and went at it. Just documenting things and working with with mixed medium on that little 5”x6” frame. I started to take photos a lot of my friends, so the collection sort of started there. I have 1,000+ Polaroids now archived that I’ve been trying to make a book out of for the last six years. I even started a publishing company to do so, but it never really got off the ground. I probably have to get a lot of signatures [haha] of people I probably haven’t spoken to in a while. I still have a lot of people I do know and I did grab some signatures at the time for most of those events. I also continue to take pictures while I’m on tour. They’re really great, I miss them. I have a lot of Polaroids about just parties and living in NYC, the experience.
The photo that I’m showing in the [CLAW CLAW] show is from “Moor Contradiction”, which is the solo piece that I did in 2007 at LaMaMa Theatre. It’s me on the corner of 13th St. & 6th Ave., right by the New School. I needed an image for it one day and called up my friend Yan Sze and was like “omg I need you to come to the street and take this picture of me. I’m about to take my shirt off, so I need it to be really awesome and crazy and striking.” She took it in one shot, and I turned around and she took another one, put my shirt back on and went upstairs. In a week I did that show and created those characters. Zebra Katz is one of the characters in that show, so it’s great to see how all these other things interact.
I’m also working on a performance piece titled “Black House” which I hope to premiere in the fall of 2014. And then start touring. I helped create the menu and the concept behind the theater/dinner performance which is hosted by Zebra Katz. I’d like to share more details soon.
SW: Celebrity crush?
OM: Um, I have a lot of them. [silence] I’ll just say follow my Instagram [haha].
If you haven’t heard about Brooklyn-based Photographer Hadar Pitchon, pull up a chair and treat yourself. They say eyes are the windows to the soul and they also say a picture is worth a thousand words. Hadar’s photography is quite literally both of those sentiments. Looking at one of his photographs makes you, to quote Liz Lemon, “want to go to there” and know the whole story going on. They are multilayered in cultural references, personal stories, perfectly executed compositions, and a deep connection to his subjects. He’s like a spiritual guru with occasional mint or lime colored hair. I was lucky enough to cross paths with Hadar during our days in the salt mines of retail at Urban Outfitters. He’s one of the 25 artists that will be featured at CLAW CLAW’s upcoming gallery show on 10/12 at the Living Gallery.
SHANON WELTMAN: Name some of the clients you’ve worked with.
HADAR PITCHON: I’ve shot for Bullett, Interview, Wetheurban, In Tandem, Diesel, Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, Wilhelmina Agency, and DNA Model Agency. I do fashion work with them. It’s mainly magazines. I was part of a collective show through Bushwick Daily.
SW: Favorite subject(s) to photograph?
HP: People. I absolutely love photographing people. For me, it’s about trying to get something raw, vulnerable, real, yet also kind of staging and creating that moment. Usually men, but that’s probably because that’s what I’m attracted to. I really just love portraits and trying to capture people.
SW: Do you have a favorite camera?
HP: I’m the worst technical person. When people ask me about equipment I’m always like ‘what…’
SW: Well, do you care about digital vs. film?
HP: If I could shoot film, I would all the time, but I can’t afford it. That’s the difference. I try to shoot digital and edit it in a way that feels like film, but it can never completely take its place obviously. I loved shooting with a large format camera. It’s an old school camera, ya know, you got the sheet over your head, the little loop you’re looking through to focus. The images are just so beautiful and so crisp, yet then you can have this romantic dream-like quality to them and I love that. I haven’t picked up a camera like that since college because I haven’t had the resources. To be honest, I would shoot film all the time if I had someone backing me. For now, for me, it’s not the kind of camera, it’s the final image. I don’t care how it gets there, as long as it achieves the goal in mind.
SW: Do you have any photography rituals or routines that are really special to you?
HP: I like to brainstorm, I sit down and maybe sketch out shots. I do put together mood boards too, where I just scour the internet, or I try to think within my own work, and put together images that can encapsulate the mood I want it to be or the idea. Like, for my family project I did go online and find the classical paintings and then put them in a folder so I could look at them and be inspired. …I think it’s just conceptualizing. Sometimes I listen to music and space out. My favorite ideas come from the moments where I’m not thinking about it. Like riding a train or driving a car, when you’re just listening to music and you tune out, all of a sudden you can see the visuals come to you.
SW: Favorite artists, inspirations, and ideas. Everything that just gets you going.
HP: Ooo everything under the sun! Well, I’ve always been influenced by fashion. I’ve looked up to people like Richard Avedon, who’s a classic, amazing photographer, and all the way to people today like Tim Walker. He has these amazing setups and he doesn’t use Photoshop. It’s all done in camera with these huge over-sized props and sort of whimsy.
I also am deeply, deeply inspired by art photographers. Especially Cindy Sherman for her exploration of identity and self-portraiture in many facets. But at the same time I love Nan Goldin for her snapshot sort of momentary aesthetic. What I love right now is seeing those photographers cross over and do a different kind of work. Nan Goldin just shot these Dior Homme ads that are just stunning. So, for me it’s interesting to see the bounce back and forth between art and fashion. And that’s what I want for myself, is to be able to walk the line of both worlds as these people do. Gregory Crewdson does amazing eerie suburban moments that are surreal. Mapplethorp, who pushed the line of erotism and male sexuality. Which is something I’m exploring myself in my own personal work.
I have a love affair with the past, which I think every artist does. For me, I was talking about the late 70s – early 80s. The time Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe lived in Chelsea Hotel, and the Factory was going on with Edie Sedgwick and Andy Warhol. It was that raw time, where everything felt new, and they were creating something and had no clue. I really just get excited about creation, about creating. People that create and know who they are and just want to express that through whatever thing it is.
I’m also inspired by painters like Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, I can’t even say those names correctly. I like the weird and abstract too. I think that’s why I’m drawn to certain models, to certain people. There are people that don’t fit that niche or idea of beauty, and I’ve always related to not fitting in and being the weird man out. The people that didn’t fit into society, the sub-cultures, the outcasts.
SW: Okay, tell the world about your fabulous and photogenic Nona. Tell everyone about her.
HP: She is the best. She is probably my first muse. When I started photography, she was probably the first person I started shooting. She’s completely inspirational and whenever I have a chance to show my work, if I get the option in a gallery, I immediately go to that work. Because my heart is in it and also it’s one of those things that really gets a response out of people. It just goes to show you can really have fun and enjoy your life at any age. And just to inspire people about stepping away from the old idea of family and sort of bringing in a new idea of family. A modern family, where they’ll embrace someone like me and even join me in a photograph vs. shame me or kick me out.
She’s a strong woman. She’s 87. She’s been through hell and back. She’s been through Auschwitz; breast cancer; she was there for my grandfather when he had a stroke and took care of him until he died. And now she’s like “I don’t need no men. I’m free. I’m a free woman!” She’s a character and I think that’s what initially inspired me to focus on interesting people. She was the biggest character I knew and I like to make everyone feel like they know her and they could love her. Because I love her.
SW: When I see pictures of Nona, I see you guys have matching hair and look like twins. Is that her suggestion or yours?
HP: Honestly, all the clothes that she wears are her clothes. She has this elegance of this lost time, where she likes to wear long gowns and do her hair. There’s only been probably two or three times where I’ve actually put things on her that were foreign to her, that weren’t things she owned. One was a designer piece; one was a hat that I found thrifting. Another time was the wig I found thrifting that I spray painted green. She was the one the put on the kimono and tons of jewelry and rings. I’ve played a small part in putting those shoots together, but overall she has this amazing style that I just observe and then play with by added other things. Like a little headpiece or a wig. All I do is take it to the next level, but that’s totally who she is. She’ll just come out in an outfit and surprise me. Whether it’s a one piece bikini, telling me she lost 10 pounds and telling me she needs me to take her photo, or she comes out in a pink power pants suit, or she comes out in a kimono.
SW: What’s her birthday?
HP: May 20, she’s a Gemini baby. We have a lot of Geminis.
SW: So you totally are twins, completely different generations.
HP: We’re completely different generations and twins. So a lot of that actually is her. She still has her pickiness. There will be times I will want to put her in something and she’ll say no, because her thing is she doesn’t want to look like a joke. She’s still very aware. She’s from a generation that didn’t leave the house unless you look presentable. So, she probably wouldn’t let me shoot her without her signature red lipstick or her red fingernails. One time I begged her to let me put black lipstick on her and I got her to. She’s a woman of taste and knows what she likes.
SW: Okay, dream photo shoot, all expenses paid, any time in history.
HP: WOO dream photo shoot! I honestly always wished I could have photographed Marilyn Monroe. From all the stories that I heard, and she’s just sort of the archetype of the female figure. Apart from her story of longing to be loved, like every human in this world, she’s just so stunning and so charismatic. Every image that I’ve seen of her, even the ones where she doesn’t look happy, you just want to be close to her. I think it would be amazing to be able to go back in time and have a weekend with Marilyn, not like the movie, but just to follow her around see who she really was. She’s still iconic today, people still borrow reference from her image.
Either that, or maybe go hang out at the Factory and shoot Edie Sedgwick. Definitely something iconic. Or I just want to take Angelina Jolie to the caribbean and get her naked floating in the water. I would do that too.
SW: To you, what’s the difference between having an Instagram account and actually being a photographer?
HP: I was really against Instagram for a long time. I refused to get it. I’ve even had friends that do photography and somebody will say to them “oh your photograph looks very Instagram”. That’s kind of insulting. And I’ll have a picture of a sunset on my phone and they’re like “I love your work” and I’m like “this isn’t my work…”
Instagram is another avenue of self promotion, of course, and I also see it personally like a journal. I’ll take a picture of a meal I just made or of my backyard with the kitties running around. But then I’ll intermix it with this photograph I just did. The nice thing about Instagram is that you can really see what someone’s life is like.
There’s a big difference between Instagram and photography. And there’s a big difference of photography and art. Nowadays anyone can pick up a phone and take a photograph, but not everyone can create art. The difference between photographer and artist is they think solely on capturing a specific thing. Art is conceptual, you have an idea, while photography simply snaps photographs at times.
I still even have to figure it out for myself because of my sanity. I just happened to pick a career where everyone thinks that they can do it. The thing is, you can get lucky time to time and take a good photograph. I invested so much money and time in going to school and learning about people who came before me. There are people who will pick up a camera tomorrow without any knowledge, of course they can take a good photograph. It’s difficult because you don’t see people wanting to pick up paints and wanting to become a painter. If they go to the store and buy paints and canvas they aren’t going to just call themselves a painter. They’re going to say they’re experimenting with painting, they’re not just going to say “oh I’m a painter”. But the minute someone goes and picks up a camera they’re like “ah I’m a photographer.”
It’s just become so accessible. Which is not a bad thing, because we’re getting photographs of things we might not be able to ever see. But at the same time we’re getting photographs of things that are pointless. So we’re getting barraged with tons of images and they’re losing their meaning and becoming disposable. Once what was iconic has now been washed off to the side. You don’t see very many iconic moments, everything is of the moment. People are so ADD about things, but Instagram is just one example of that. We’re living in an age of quantity over quality.
I put my heart and soul into this and for other people it’s just a fleeting hobby. That’s great to have a hobby, but when those people take jobs for too cheap or free it makes it harder someone like me that’s offering quality and asking for what I’m worth. That person gets a job over me. I have people come back to me later and say they should have hired me, but the problem is art isn’t respected like it used to be. People don’t get what they’re worth.
SW: Do you have any advice for anyone just starting out that wants to be a professional photographer?
HP: If you’re going to school, definitely take a business class. If I could go back I wish I would have done that myself. Learning how to sell yourself is key, especially if you’re to the level of being professional. That’s when you’re solely making your money off of what you do. If you want that kind of life, you have to know how to do everything, basically. You have to be your own PR, your own business, your own media, your own everything. I would go back and learn some graphic design too, so I’d know how to do layouts and html. A lot of times out in the world people don’t just want photography alone. We’re in a time when multiple jobs are being condensed into one job.
Dabble in design and business. You’ll be able to more properly present your work, which is probably, I hate to say it, 80% what matters these days. You can literally wrap something in a pretty package and no one is going to care what the shit looks like if you make it look impressive on the outside. If you have something beautiful, but you put it in shitty wrapping, no one’s going to open the box.
Also, in the beginning, which I didn’t realize this, you might not make any money at first. You have to build your name. That is your money maker. So, if nobody knows you and you haven’t been around long enough and you haven’t been doing enough work you can’t expect for someone to just hand you money. You have to earn it and put in your hard work, because other people that have been there before you have done the same.
Another important thing, have a goal and know what you like to photograph. There are people that do too many things all at once, but you never end up doing any of those super well. Know what you’re trying to say and develop a style and know who you are as an artist. It’s so easy to have other people tell you what to be. What’s really going to set you apart is having your own unique perspective.
SW: Last question, silly question. If you were trapped on a deserted island with one person and one item, who and what would they be?
HP: [lol] Well, first I know it’d have to be a dude. And how about a yacht? I’m stuck between my best friend that I’ve been super close to since college. We have an amazing time and just laugh, so she would be good to be there with. I’m also thinking of some sexy hot celebrity. What happens if I pick this hot sexy celebrity and we don’t get along, and we’re just each other’s sex toys, but we’re stuck on this island. That’d be awful.
…I was thinking just throw a Boston Market on there, with unlimited food. I love fast food. So, either put a Taco Bell or Boston Market on the island. Give me fast food and a man and I’m happy.