Tod Seelie

Photographer

Produced by Marc Santo & Scott Newman
Camera by Rainer Evans
Edited by Connor Kalista
Interview by Marc Santo

In Tod Seelie’s world, things are a little different. They’re dirty, dismal, sometimes grotesque–but beautifully so. As a prolific photographer who’s spent the last decade documenting Brooklyn’s underground band and bike culture, Tod’s photographs are a reflection of his lifestyle. There are plenty of images of nights spent deep in the fringes of the Bushwick warehouse scene; bands setting themselves on fire and outlaw parties held in the back of bodegas. From the edges of town where burning cars, mutant bike gangs and apocalyptic performances reign, Brooklyn’s steampunk counterculture of punk rock, noise and mayhem unfolds while most are sound asleep in bed.

In addition to photographing his friends’ bands like Matt & Kim and Japanther, Tod is part of Swoon’s Miss Rockaway Armada and Swimming Cities Projects, which sent him down the Mississippi River, Hudson River and Adriatic Sea on homemade junk rafts that were built to promote sustainable ways of transportation. Tod’s latest adventure sent him to Southeast Asia, where he traveled around Japan and Indonesia in search of outlaw bike gangs.

Tod’s work can be found on the pages of numerous publications, including The New York Times, Vice, Art Forum, Rolling Stone and Art in America. His hugely entertaining website, suckapants.com, serves as his daily photo diary, showcasing weird events like panty parties, condiment wars and secret dinners that happen in and around the outer industrial neighborhoods of the city.

MARC SANTO: Your photographs depict a culture in New York City that some people might not be familiar with. Can you tell us about the culture you’re a part of?

TOD SEELIE: The culture my photographs depict are simply my life. I might be hanging out with bicycle gangs, going to a show or traveling down the Mississippi on a homemade raft. I don’t try to create something that isn’t real. I don’t do fiction.

MARC: What attracts you to this culture?

TOD: Photographers capture an image to share it with others, so in a way, photographers promote what they shoot. Most of my subjects are my friends and I look at my photography as a way of celebrating them and whateverit is that they do, whether it’s art, music or whatever.

MARC: How did all of you come together?

TOD: A lot of these bands  I’ve known for a long time. Matt & Kim and Japanther—I’ve known even before they were in bands. I went to school at Pratt with them. I think they’ve all set out to do great things and I always feel like you should make heroes out of your friends, which is why I started photographing them in the first place.

MARC: Do you think the viewer sees your subjects as heroes?

TOD: I hope my photographs intrigue people by showing something they haven’t seen before or showing something they’ve seen in a different way. With my live show photographs and the more action-oriented stuff, I’m trying to make the photographs appear as exciting as the show was in real life. If there are explosions going off and crazy lights, then I want the photograph to feel like that. I try to put these people on a pedestal because that’s how I feel about them, but whether the viewer sees that or not, I don’t know. I do hope they feel like they’re experiencing the show through my photographs. No matter what a person makes—a painting, a play—people are going to filter it through their own experiences, so it’s never going to be the same for everyone.  It’s never going to be pure.

MARC: From looking at your website, suckapants.com, it seems you’re out every night at places that might seem pretty far out to some people. It’s not like everyone can go to the Bowery Ballroom and see a band whose drummer sets his kit on fire, then crowd surfs while playing. What’s different about your New York experience?

TOD: The amazing thing about New York is that everyone’s New York is really different. A person on the Upper East Side would have no fraction of my experience and vice versa. It’s just a huge city with so many different people living so many different lives. Not even my own friends make up a singular experience. I have friends that I go to naked parties with and different friends who I go biking with. I just wish there were more crossover between cliques and everyone wasn’t so afraid of each other.

MARC: Do you feel like your photography is introducing these groups of people to each other or you’re introducing people to different kinds of social events through your work?

TOD: It’s not something I try to do, but I guess that’s advantageous if it does. The fact that I do show my particular New York certainly exposes that. My New York is populated by bands, bicycles and booty dancing. I live in Bushwick, so I shoot the burning cars outside of my apartment and the chaos and craziness that goes on here. I try to show adventure. There are so many ways to be adventurous in New York. There’s so much to explore. I don’t know why anyone would stay home and watch TV.

 

Tod Seelie's NYC


Photo by Tod Seelie
  • "The Madagascar Institute is a collective of crazy people who make cool things and pull off ambitious and imaginative ideas. They had a team in the condiment war that happened in Dumbo. It happened years ago and basically a handful of collectives decided to have a condiment war, which was basically just as it sounds. The weapons were condiments like ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and hot sauce... which turned out to be particularly devastating because it really stings in your eyes. One team had dough bombs, which also worked pretty well. Teams built catapults and one team even built a tank, which was basically a hot dog cart with people on top of it. Afterwards we all went swimming in the East River to clean up, which was pretty much as gross as it sounds."
  • Bushwick - Source: www.flickr.com/photos/diegocupolo/
    "I moved to Bushwick from Bed Stuy about 5 years ago. I'm originally from Cleveland, so I like the dismal, industrial look. It's one of my favorite neighborhoods in New York. I like it better than Bed Stuy, which I had to leave because I had too many bad experiences associated with it. I'm sure there's bad stuff happening in Bushwick, but it's not as bad or maybe not as prevalent. It's more low key and I like the aesthetics of the neighborhood. It just feels comfortable."
  • "Battery Park along the southern coast of Manhattan is under-appreciated. I mean it's manicured and everything but it's still pretty nice and strangely interesting."
  • "I highly suggest that people take the Staten Island Ferry, especially at night because it gives you a very cool view of the city."
  • “The Cinders Gallery in Williamsburg specializes in craft-oriented, folk-inspired art that tends to have interesting narratives. They’re located in a nice chill area of Williamsburg.”
  • The Arm NYC
    "The Arm is another Williamsburg gallery that shows a lot of artists that I really like. They're really open to giving a lot of artists who haven't had shows yet a chance, which I'm a big fan of."
  • “Powerhouse is a massive space with loads of great books. One can easily spend a couple hours here looking at stuff.”
  • “Dashwood Books in Manhattan is a photo book store with great collectibles, limited editions, signed prints and lots of one-of-a-kind stuff. I have to admit that when I want to look at photography, I usually go to photo book stores and this is one of the best I’ve ever seen.”
  • “To see the New York that I photograph, you should go to the events that I go to, and Todd P is an excellent start. Todd P is a promoter who puts on these great DIY shows with some of the most interesting bands from all over the place. His shows are often held in semi-illegal spaces that draw a really fun and down to earth crowd. He posts all his upcoming shows on his website toddpnyc.com.”
  • Rated X: The Panty Party - Source: www.ambrel.net by Nikola
    "As far as naked parties go, Rated X is usually the best. It happens every Saturday. Sometimes at Don Hills but it changes. At around 2 a.m. they have a hot body contest and a lot of people get naked for money. It's a lot of fun"
  • Tod Seelie
    "I have a friend who does these things called the Secret Dinners, he does it just for the hell of it. He'll find an abandoned location and then orchestrate a trip for other people to get there. So you basically have to find the place, then sneak in, climb in or do whatever you have to do to get into this amazing space. Once you're there, he has a giant communal dinner and performances by artists that he's inspired by. It's a lot of work and he gains nothing from it. That's something great about New York, guys like him and the fact that there are people who are excited to go to things like this."
  • “This is one of the best resources for underground events and everything else fun in this town. It’s not straight up art shows or music shows, but it’s more the weird word-of-mouth stuff you might otherwise miss in the city. If you’re looking to go to events where people set things on fire, build jet rocket bikes, get naked, host outlaw dinner parties in abandoned warehouses or throw condiment wars where catapults launch dough bombs and homemade tanks assault you with ketchup and mustard, look no further.”
  • “Sunny’s is a bar in Red Hook that I had heard about from a lot of friends but didn’t make it out to for a while. When I finally did, I realized why everyone was so fond of it. The bar has a bit of a timestanding- still feel, like a lot of old Red Hook. This is a great cozy, warmly-lit bar with worn wood floors, old booths and a nautical flotsam decor. I hear they also have live music in the back sometimes.”
  • “Goodbye Blue Monday is another DIY venue in Brooklyn. It serves coffee and wine and has a sit-down dinner-theater vibe. The walls look like a junk store exploded. They’re another place providing a home for small events and performances that happen in the city and I’ve been to some fun punk shows in their backyard.”

More Videos

  • Jacques Magazine

    Jonathan Leder & Danielle Luft

    "Pornography has a very dirty and cheap connotation but I dont see anything about our magazine being dirty or cheap."
  • Lorie Karnath

    President, The Explorers Club

    "Members from our club have been the first to climb Mt. Everest & the first to land on the moon."
  • Garrison Buxton & Ray Cross

    Ad Hoc Art

    "Art blurs the boundaries of life and creativity."
  • Noémie Lafrance

    Site-Specific Choreographer

    "Some of the places I've created shows are abandoned and not what people usually see as beautiful. It's nice to reinvent it's meaning."
  • Molly Crabapple

    Artist

    "I am an illustrator, which in the art world, is very much equivalent to whore."
  • Miles Rohan

    The Corduroy Club

    "The club was met with a lot of resistance. In fact, our first website was sabotaged."
  • Emily's Feet

    Foot Fetish Model

    "Once in a while someone will contact me who wants to eat an ice cream sunday off my feet. Of course I say yes, but it's a little odd."
  • Johnny Iuzzini

    Pastry Chef, Jean Georges

    "There are so many great restaurants in NYC. If I could, I'd go to a different one every night."
  • Josh Hadar

    Bike Builder

    "This has become an obsession, a sickness. I have about 30 different ideas for bikes in my head at any given time."
  • Rev. Al Sharpton

    Civil Rights Activist

    "I met James Brown at the Apollo and he took me in and became a father figure to me."
  • Ari Up

    Punk Legend

    "My sound is authentic and honest. You can hear Brooklyn coming through it."
  • Kev O'Kane Part I

    Past Life Regressionist

    "Past Life Regression is the closest thing we have to time travel."