Photography: Jessie Kohlman
Styling: Rey Pena
Makeup: Zac Weiss
Hair: Jarrett Edward
Tackling the role of both photographer and model, New York artist Jude Liana is a beast on both sides of the lens. She’s a self-proclaimed “hustler,” encapsulating the nostalgia of ’90s it-girls—equal parts beauty queen and snarky Manhattanite, which allows her to permeate a room with untouchable mystery.
Born and raised in the Lower East Side, Liana’s undeniably New York, oozing with “fuck the man” grittiness. This sheer authenticity flows throughout her art, as well; she shoots exclusively with a film camera and prides her work as being raw and untouched, capturing and celebrating life as things naturally unravel.
We recently caught up with Liana and her Pitbull in Union Square. Freshly back home from her brief stint as a Los Angeles resident, we discussed getting back to her roots, her presence on social media and how the 22-year-old creative plans to take the art world by storm.
What’re your favorite things to photograph?
“I’m from a very cultured neighborhood, [the Lower East Side of Manhattan]. The culture is disappearing some now, but I’ve always been drawn to the untouched world that I’ve grown up in. I’m also interested in how much the city, my culture is changing. Ever since I picked up a camera, it came naturally to me to photograph my immediate surroundings—day-to-day things that seemed so natural to me, but are foreign or unusual to non-New Yorkers, like the unappreciated aspects of the city. When I shoot, it always revolves heavily around street photography, candid portraits of strangers. I find the most inspiration from my friends, my family. It’s always more inspiring for me to work with people I pass everyday or are with everyday—the people closest to me.”
Did living in California shift your creative intuition at all?
“I went to LA with the intention of shooting this whole other world that I was excited about. It’s a different lifestyle out there—it’s much more slow paced, which you can use to your advantage, but for me I just didn’t end up shooting as much as I wanted to. It’s such a mission to shoot out there because things are so spread out. Here, you can walk out your door and have a subject to shoot right away. Right now I feel like I need to be [in New York]—I just want to get back to my roots for a little bit. Don’t get me wrong, LA is rad—there’s a sick art world that’s up and coming but [New York] is just my element. I still love getting outside of my comfort zone. I love going to places I don’t know shit about and documenting them as much as I can. I hope to go return to LA someday and pick up where i left off, just with a better mentality.”
Bra & Shorts: Gypsy Sport
Do you think gentrification is taking away New York’s intrinsic value?
“Yeah, totally—it’s depressing, but it’s a complicated subject to me. I’ve grown up in such a beautifully bonded, cultured neighborhood. To see it slowly disappearing is heartbreaking—seeing people forced to move who have been here for years because rent prices and the cost of living keeps increasing. But at the same time New York has always been changing. People can say, ‘Fuck gentrification,’ but it’s like, ‘Word—I feel you, but New York has always been gentrified. It’s always been changing. 50 years ago, it was still changing.’ It’s the one city that doesn’t stop evolving, so you can either be mad and complain, or you can be mad about it and keep trying to enjoy whatever special fragments still remain.”
Do you think Instagram has positively or negatively impacted your photography?
“I feel like I’m still in this in-between ground of posting my work and posting pictures of myself modeling. It’s difficult because I don’t want to be branded as just one thing, but I also don’t want to look like I don’t have a specific vision of what I’m trying to do. At the end of the day, I’m just trying to use whatever following I have to my advantage to try and brand myself as both. Modeling has strengthened my eye as a photographer and photography has strengthened my skill at being in front of the camera. In my mind the two really go hand-in-hand. In terms of my following, it’s rad. It’s amazing to see that people fuck with my work, whether it’s in front of a camera or behind it. I only feel positive toward it; I’m just trying to use it as a pedestal to strengthen my career path on both sides of the lens. Social media, whether it be Tumblr or Instagram, is so necessary in order to get your work into circulation.”
Can you remember taking your first photographs?
“When I first picked up a camera, it was this average, shitty point-and-shoot that my mom got for me. I didn’t really have a set idea yet [of who I was as an artist], but it always came naturally to me to shoot people. As I grew older, around 15, I was accepted into the International Center of Photography, where I took my first film course. That’s when I realized I wanted to shoot only on film. It was then that I really started thinking in terms of stories and sets of cohesive photos. I explored black-and-white photography for a while. I was drawn to how timeless they were—how photos without color can be turned into a story with so much depth.”
Who are your biggest influences?
“Quite a few, but in terms of photographers, my sixth grade art teacher Meryl Meisler used to always carry a camera around at school. I never thought anything of it—she was just this fun, quirky woman who taught a laidback art class. Last year, her name was popping up in all these articles and I recognized it—her work is insane. She documented things like Bushwick in the late ’70s and early ’80s and her form of photography is right up my alley. It’s raw, real, untouched, unedited, real New York—I relate to her style. Then, people like Diane Arbus and Vivian Maier—gritty, raw female photographers. I’m always drawn to women just because it’s such a male dominated art form.”
Skirt: Marissa Webb
You grew up with your older sister and mother. Do you think being raised by strong women has given you the support you need to be successful?
“Not just support, it’s given me more of the ability to really appreciate women, and how resilient and strong we are—how unappreciated we are in terms of what we do and what we’re capable of.”
If you could live in New York during any era, when would it be?
“All the photography I like that circles around New York is definitely from the ’80s and early ’90s. My mom moved here during the late ’70s. She has stories for days about my neighborhood. This is my mom’s 38th year living in our apartment, so it’s a trip. She has seen it all. The stories she has drive me crazy cause I’m just like, Dude if only I was alive then to see it myself.’ It was just such a different world—definitely sketchier, but more real.”
Some of your best photos were taken in a strip club. Tell me how you managed to capture those shots?
“The one and only time I ever went to Vegas was mostly awful. I was 20 and couldn’t do shit, but I did manage to get into the Huf x G pen party at Palominos, which is this old school strip club that’s like real Las Vegas. Normally they don’t allow you to photograph inside strip clubs, but it was such a shit show in there that they weren’t really stopping people from documenting. So I just started snapping and I came out of there with such a sick set of photos.”
You’re involved in the fashion world from two angles, but you say you don’t particularly care about the industry in general.
“I’m still so young, I don’t know what I’m going to explore later on. It’s weird because the only really exposure I’ve had to fashion is through my modeling opportunities, which I’m super grateful for. But at the end of the day I don’t really give a shit. It’s not my jam. I can appreciate it, but it’s not my calling.”
What’s the best experience you’ve had modeling?
“My coolest experience was working with Bruce Weber, twice. I had the opportunity to be in this cover shoot he did for Le Monde Magazine; I’m on this giant 15-foot-tall T-Rex prop, which I had to climb in this skintight leather Xena warrior princess-type dress. I was having such an anxiety attack, but the pictures came out beautiful. Working with Bruce is so amazing; he’s such a legend.”