A: Will girls pretty much do anything for you now days?
R: (laughs) No, not by a long shot. I say 90 percent, no let’s say 70 percent of the girls I want to shoot, want to keep their pants on, their underpants, their panties, whatever they call them, they want to keep their panties on, which is fine with me. There’s a few that say they don’t care, I essentially am shooting them naked. These days I don’t really care.
A: It seems like you have a decent collection of panties that you travel with…
R: Yes, I have a gigantic box of them. In fact, I’m editing stuff from that same (European) trip, and it’s like man I wish I had more panties on this trip because I’ve got the same panties over and over again. Right now, I’m editing a movie that’s going to be just faces and panties. Girls wearing panties, their panty shot and their faces. It’s for this show that is happening in London. One of the videos, I’m trying to finish it up right now.
A: Is that another show with VBS?
R: Yes, VBS is doing another show in conjunction with this series. That’s probably why you’re interviewing me now. Because we are having the launch, show and videos and all that crap, in London starting next week. There’s going to be a show at a gallery with a bunch of the photos and some of the videos, then the actual TV show.
A: Can you tell me more about your relationship with VBS? How long have you been working with them? Well, you’ve essentially started paved the way for a lot of photographers and started a whole movement of a specific style of nude portraiture..
R: I don’t know about that, there were people shooting nudes for them long before I was working with them. I think I’ve been working with them, I can’t even say, maybe five years maybe more. But, the VBS thing that came about three years ago. That was the idea of the editor here in New York, Jesse Pearson, asked me if I wanted to do the show and it just turned out to be a really good thing. Because at the time this happened, I was just shooting all other kinds of stuff, but at the time the show started, it was getting to a point where it was getting harder for me to find some models. But this show has just made the models start pouring in.
A: Do you have a lot of say on the direction of the series?
R: Um, I have no direction (laughs), I sit there shooting, and they’re doing whatever they do. The director is generally the camera-person or the editor I would say. My objective in doing this is to get good photos for me. I don’t really care about anything else. I haven’t seen all the series to be perfectly honest. There’s nothing like watching yourself on screen looking like an idiot to cheer you up.
A: Yeah, sometimes it’s hard watching yourself on screen…
R: The only thing I see over and over is my thinning hair (laughs)… and my voice, it can be quite annoying.
A: The girls you normally work with, they’re not normally trained models, do you find it hard directing them? How do you get the perfect shot?
R: I’m only there for one purpose, and they’re only there for one purpose. I put them on the spot, when we first get there, I move them all around the house. I have a list of about 20 things I’d like to shoot. Then I try and knock out as many shots as I can before the time runs out.
A: When you are directing, how important is the intimacy between the director and model? How important is that?
R: Well that’s really important, they’ve got to be willing to do whatever they are doing. There was this girl on the European tour, she wouldn’t do anything. She said “No, I don’t want to do that, no I don’t want to do that”… She was a red head… She was an Italian, anyway…
A: You have a great relationship with Sonic Youth and Thurston Moore, he created a score for one of your documentaries. Can you tell me more about your relationship with them?
R: I mean, it’s just like that, I’ve known them forever. I did one of their first music videos. We grew up on the same street pretty much. I still talk to them fairly often. Thurston, just gave me some new music for the video I was talking about that I’m editing right now. Really sparse music. I see them all the time, I go to their events. Like Kim has something, I go to that. Thurston has something, I go to that. But, I don’t generally go out a lot. I’ve just known them forever.
A: What sort of music are you into at the moment?
R: All kinds I guess. Let’s see. I’ve been listening to this band, that I saw in Toronto, just recently called Dentata, it’s an all girl band. Joy Division, I’ve been listening to that, I guess everybody does. I have to think, wait let me just look at my ipod, that will tell me. I listen to talk radio to be honest. But for music… it says, the Jam, it says Sonic Youth, State of Alert, Small Faces, Type 0-. And that’s this week, you know, I’m all over the place with stuff. Type 0- because the singer just died and I photographed him once.
A: You had a magazine in the 80s called the Heroin Addict, but you later changed the name to Valium Addict. Why did you change the name?
R: Why did I change the name… Oh! Oh, Even though I never did heroin, I did actually do valium, at that time. I have done heroin since. When I did the magazine, it was before I had ever done that. But then I did actually take valium and that’s when I switched it to valium. There was a period, 6 months where I’d buy valium on the street and take them. It was so stupid. That was a long time ago.
A: With most of the girls you have been photographing lately, do you always have them smoke pot?
R: Yes, because I’m working on a book about pot smoking girls. It’s a big nostalgia fantasy for me, from when I was a kid. This was in the early 70s, I mean a long time ago, it was the end of the hippy era, and I spent a lot of time in fields or wherever smoking pot with people. Smoking pot with girls, at festivals. Everyone’s sitting around naked smoking pot, that kind of shit. That’s a big fantasy, a big nostalgia thing for me. Two things I’ve fantasized the most about. I don’t know if fantasy is the right word. Maybe it’s what I’m most nostalgic for, is girls, when I was smoking pot back then, that’s the age the girls were and usually the other girls (I photograph) look like the girls I hung out with. Like I have a friend who just paints beer cans and girls faces, so it’s kind of like that. That’s two things he’s into I guess…
A: How long have you been married for now? And how did you meet your wife?
R: Three years, she was one of my models. I met her before she was modelling for me actually. She used to edit a magazine that I worked for. Then I met her as a model, she was a model and a magazine editor.
A: What are your thoughts on how the way that publishing has changed over the past 20 years or so, more specifically the push towards online media?
R: Well one thing that’s really changed, is this show and series launches next week, you know, even a year ago, you’d have to do all the press like two months ahead of time. So you’d have deadlines. Now that’s no longer a problem. I mean they’re waiting until last minute, for everything, everyone waits till the last minute. There is also a tonne of more media. A tonne of it. And I’ve never heard of any of it. Who has time to read all this stuff? There’s too much other stuff to do, too many naked girls to photograph.
A: Thanks for your time. I’m looking forward to seeing more of your photographs and watching future seasons of your show on VBS.
R: Thanks. I can’t wait to see them too. I’ll watch them when I’m 60 or 70.
There will also be an exhibition of Kern’s work at Rove Gallery, London, opening on the 21st – details below.
Shot by Kern – Private view:
20th May 2010
Rove Gallery, Hoxton Square, London
Exhibition runs from 21st May – 26th June.