It blows my mind how lucky we are here at What Youth. This one day, I was probably drinking coffee or making coffee or about to go get a coffee when Stefan Kocev came by our HQ with a friend of a friend, just to say hello. After a good hangout and me finishing said coffee, I got a look at Stefan’s photos. And what we found were intimate, incredible portraits and landscapes — the kind that stop you in your tracks, turn into a daydream and surprise you with their personality. He has images of everyone from Cailin Russo to Dan Malloy and RVCA founder Pat Tenore and more. And we just had to share. Below is a sampling of Stefan’s incredible portfolio, which you can peruse at his site in it’s entirety here: Stefankocev.com.
Spend some time with this gallery.
What Youth: How’d you get here and start taking photos?
Stefan Kocev: I am a photographer, father, surfer and black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I grew up in Venice and New York surfing, skateboarding and taking photos. I have always been connected to the energy of nature and the energy of urban environment was a great contrast to be exposed to both coasts and the benefits they offer in the way of inspiration and culture.
Were you formally trained?
I took some classes in high School and college but I would consider myself self taught. My journey began when my parents bought me a camera in high school. I became obsessed with learning photography and capturing what I saw. I got a job working at a dark room and developing film so I could learn from other photographers coming in and out of the photo lab and began to experiment with the process of creating an image. I kind of miss those days working in the dark room. Since then I have really just continued to search trying to educate myself, absorb knowledge from other photographers and just shooting a lot of photos trying to learn the technical way to create what I want to capture.
When did you realize photography would become a huge part of your life?
I still find the process of trying to understand and capture light with film so thrilling.
I knew photography would become a large part of my life when my ’60s literature teacher in high school encouraged me to enter into the LA County photo contest. Myself and 3 others won and the organization threw a gallery showing at Laddie John Dill’s studio in Venice. It was amazing to see the photos printed and hung under the light. It raised my confidence and wiped away my doubts of being able to be a photographer and this grew my hunger to continue learning.
Who are some of your biggest influences?
One of my earliest influences in photography was Diane Arbus. I remember going to an exhibit of her s at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and being stuck there for hours totally intrigued by what I saw. It had a huge impact on me. The photos gave me an emotional reaction and that is something that drives me a great deal in my own creative process today, capturing peoples humanity and emotion paused into single moments of time. It was very easy growing up to be inspired because everyone in my family is creative: my grandmother is an opera singer, my grandfather was a writer, my mother was a dancer, my father was always creating things with his hands. My aunt, uncle and cousin are also fine artists. So I was always surrounded by creative people and the arts in many different capacities. Art and creativity was something that was always encouraged in my household. I feel very blessed to be exposed to so much so early on and always be supported in forging my own path and cultivating my own creativity.
There are a lot of different ways to see photography today. Instagram. Online. Print. How do you feel is the best and most impactful way to see imagery?
I feel I’ve become unable to appreciate what some people are creating by just scrolling to the next thing. Everything moves so quickly today and I feel so much is just an imitation of an imitation of an imitation. For me there is really nothing like holding a finely printed book or ‘zine or going into a gallery or a museum where the images are lit perfectly, they have space to breathe and are hung above eye-level so you almost have to pray to them. That I feel is the most impactful way to see someones work.
Do you have creative goals or photographic goals?
My goal in photography is to try and cultivate my own style which I don’t even know if I have been successful in doing. Outside of that whether I am in a planned photographic setting or shooting on the fly I want people to feel like they are transported into another space in time and have the image create an emotional reaction. When I shoot a portrait I like to be very close to someone and snap the photo at that one moment when they stop posing and just relax getting a glimpse into their true nature. I often tell people to close their eyes and for a while and then I take the photo as soon as they open their eyes. I also love to photograph people’s hands because it tells so much of their story. With my nature and landscape I like to capture the texture and personality of the environment.
Parting words of advice for young photographers?
Take photos and then take more photos and more photos.