Vision Walk: ComplexCon

With Brock Fetch

We recently partnered with Vans on a specially curated group of photo walks at ComplexCon with photographers Ray Barbee, Daniel Arnold, Miranda Barnes, and Brock Fetch. Each photographer brought their own unique styles and backgrounds to the walks, leading a group around the convention and Long Beach.

Brock Fetch is an American photographer based in Denver, Colorado. His incredible access with multiple burgeoning hip-hop artists in the early 2010s, including A$AP Rocky, Action Bronson, and Mac Miller has given Fetch a unique vantage point and intimate style of portrait photography. From music to fashion, Fetch has worked with Polaroid, Sonos, Juxtapoz and Thrasher Magazines.

What were the first images you remember understanding as having been created by someone?
Brock Fetch: My grandfather used to take pictures. We are from a farm-y kinda town. There wasn't a lot of art. But my grandfather for some reason always took photos and he had a little darkroom upstairs so I remember somebody always being present with a camera. As he got older, and I got older, I became that person at birthday parties and things that would take the family photo. It was something we could talk about together. 

That was the first time I really understood the importance of a photo. I understood how important a photography was when I understood how nostalgic it could make me and how it could capture people I loved and that moment was there forever. I think that's just what I was obsessed with throughout my life and why I had a camera and was always taking photos at events and parties and making sure we got a family photo or a group photo at the dinner. I was doing exactly what I do now with artists and musicians. I still shoot the same kind of photos. I love shooting them in those intimate environments. And so, yeah, I guess it's the sentimental aspect of a photograph that I'm really passionate about. And that's also why I'm not a huge fan of having to have a perfect photo. None of my photos that mean anything to me in the past were ever perfect. Family photos suck. They're not cropped right, they're not shot from the right angle, but they are so irreplaceable and special, I just feel like you could do that with everybody if you put yourself in the right situation at the right time.

You’ve told me before that it’s often difficult to get people to stop and take a photo but as time goes by they begin to understand why you're capturing those memories.
It still doesn't get them to slow down any faster the next time I ask but it's very important for me because I do care deeply for these kids that I photograph. I know I'm going to be able to deliver the photos of Rocky or of Vance in like 40 years. I'm gonna be around when they hit me up and ask for that photo of this green room situation or them with their mom somewhere. I take a lot of pride in the fact that that's the kind of documenting I'm doing. This is a lifetime thing. Whether I'm shooting them forever or not, they're gonna have access to these moments they allowed me into forever. And yeah, most of the best ones are not at ideal times. Nobody wants to get together for a group photo. Group photos are either at the beginning or the end of something. Everybody's either just got there or trying to get the fuck out. But when you look back at photos, group photos are some of the dopest photos you have of yourself because you're with all these people and you remember where you were at that moment.

"I understood how important a photo was when I understood how nostalgic it could make me and how it could capture people I loved and that moment was there forever."

I have found that now that some of my photos have matured a bit, when I do resend them to some of these kids, it is a very cool way to remind them of how far they've come or just to get them to slow down for a minute and be like, "Damn, that's dope." It's annoying to have your photo taken so much and if you're a celebrity, it's a lot. I think that sometimes you just need to be reminded that it's not all just for superficial reasons or Instagram. These are still for them.

Were you thinking that way from the beginning, that you knew that these might be important later on or was that something that came a little later?
Yeah, even the people that are nobodies were all somebody to me. Everything is important. And it's the same thing, in 20, 30 years when they need those photos I'm still gonna be around. I wasn't thinking about how they looked but I always respected people's space and time enough that if I'm asking for a photo, I'm shooting it, there's a fucking reason. I don't shoot a lot of photos so if I'm going to bug you or if I'm lifting my camera up, there's a reason and the less I have to explain it, the better for everybody. Fortunately, I feel like a lot of people did trust me and allowed me to be that kind of photographer. I mean, every photo I have of you is important. Everybody is important and if you're grabbing a moment of their life, that's a big deal to me. You should try when you're shooting it and then you're the protector of that moment for them, that's a big deal.

What was it that made you decide to pursue photography? When did you decide, "Alright, this is my thing, this is what I'm gonna do?"
As I said, I didn't really grow up somewhere where there was a lot of access to stuff I was into as a kid. I feel like I spent a lot of my early life being interested in things I didn't have access to or didn't have the balls to go get access to. I just have memories of my grandfather, of the guy that used to shoot our family photo once a year. I loved being in his studio, he had records everywhere that we'd listen to, it was rad.

I've always thought that that would be a cool thing to do but I never fucking had access to it. Who was I gonna shoot? I didn't know how to shoot. I did other things. But it just kinda reached a point where I needed to do something else and I might as well try to do something that I liked. It was hard, but I planned ahead. I saved up and I made sure that I had enough time to go about it like school. I set myself to up to live in New York for a year and just take pictures. I didn't have to stress about working a 9-5 to do it. I went there and knew I gotta learn this and I gotta learn it fast. And that's what I did. My schedule was just taking my backpack, camera, skateboard and just going. I would just ping-pong off different people and it just kind of happened. There wasn't a ton of jobs originally but in New York everybody wants you to work and if you work for free, at least you're learning. That's kinda what I did for the first year. I just did whatever everybody would let me do so I could figure out how to work all the buttons.

Has photography changed you at all?
Honestly, it's been more of a growth. It didn't change me, it just allowed me to be more me. It's the shit I'm in interested in. I'm around the people that interest me. I'm able to document them and my family, the people I love, better, and in a different way than I was before. But nah, I'm not changed. I really respected the shit out of what freezing moment was before, and I'm the same now...

Which do you enjoy more, the process of taking photos or seeing the moments you captured?
Going on the adventures is always more fun than the recap but the recap's amazing in 10 years. But no, as I said, I don't even know what I'm gonna shoot. I think you get off on the stress of the uncertainty. You just figure it out. It also has allowed me time to be with the person I'm shooting because we go out, we walk around and we'd stumble on this stuff together. It's not like I'm just showing up at a studio and meeting somebody and just boom, boom, boom, "Alright, later." It's maybe a harder way to shoot but it's definitely a more intimate way, for me at least.

So it’s more of a social thing for you?
An anti-social thing for me. I mean, I guess it's both. It's hyper-social but then I'm also hiding behind a camera the whole time. I don't have to necessarily be social, I can just dip out behind my camera and just shoot photos and hide behind that, which, is nice. It's something that becomes a social tool. It's like, people go outside to smoke and think, "Oh yeah, it's nice cause I chat people up, having a cigarette outside." Yeah well, I got a fucking camera so I can chat people up the same way. I can't walk up to somebody and say, "Hey, how ya doing?" I can walk up to someone and ask, "Hey would you mind if I took a photo?" That rejection doesn't bother me. The rejection of asking somebody "How ya doing," and them telling me to fuck off, that would kill me. That's why I don't go out unless I have a camera (laughs), so I don't have to talk to people in real life...

What kind of photography were you looking at when you first started?
Nothing. I knew nothing, I knew no one to follow. I had no exposure to it at all so moving to New York was the first time I was ever around people who were putting me on to photographers at all. I didn't know who the fuck Ricky Powell was. I thought he was a dude that the Beastie Boys rapped about but I didn't know who he actually was until I went to New York. I met him, which was super rad and real. That dude sat down and had like a three-hour conversation with me. Here's all the shit you don't wanna do and how you're gonna get fucked so be careful. And he was pretty spot on. I mean I think I also stayed away from looking too much at things because I worried that because I didn't have any background in photography I might start copying or something... which was probably stupid of me to do to research people a little more. I was a little fearful of that. I wasn't looking at books in New York. I was gone from the time I woke up until like five the next morning shooting. So it's really been since becoming a photographer that I've started appreciating other people's work and been tuned in enough too.

Do you feel pretty comfortable with it now?
No, but I don't want to. I don't want to be comfortable. There's no fire if you're comfortable. I mean, yeah I would like to be rich and comfortable. But I'm not gonna be rich and comfortable without some fucking fire. So nah, I need to be nervous and I need to be uncomfortable because that means I'm doing something new. I want to do other things and to do other things you gotta put yourself in situations where it's challenging, difficult, or hard.