MURS at Paid Dues – Photography By Todd Westphal.
Without the Todd Westphal’s of the world, Tila Tequila would just be the cute Vietnamese girl that works at the local pho restaurant in Houston, Texas, USA Today would be in black and white, and MURS wouldn’t look so cool in a goddamn CITGO jumper. If Todd Westphal released a viewmaster reel set of his works, you would see a collection of your favorite music stars (Chuck D, KRS-1, Cage, Murs, Glassjaw, Slick Rick, GZA, Aes Rizzle, etc), a few brides (that would turn even me into the Uma Thurman stalker), and every other cool fucking thing you could think of (outside of defecating in your neighbor’s front lawn and taking a picture, but then again, who can ever get the lighting right on a shiny turd). Todd Shoots Rappers, and gets away with it. Todd Shoots America…and foreign models. Todd shot the shit with me (in the neighbor’s front lawn). Here’s what came of it. . .
What camera do you use?
I shoot canon 5-d’s and a Mamiya rz when I’m feeling like a workout.
Are you the official photographer for “Cardboard City/Weathermen (CCWM)”/ Def Jux (djx)?
The nomenclature doesn’t stick – I would say I love a bunch of those guys, from Ameach to Palko [Cage] to Yak [Ballz] and on it goes, I’ve had a great chance to ‘do work’ so to say, and have my stuff be used in albums and in places like myspace and the net. I like my stuff getting out there. I want people to see it. I want people to look at a pic I took of them for the rest of their life and think, you know, that pic there caught me as what I really was at that moment in my life. That’s where the love of this whole thing lies for me. RE: the whole CCWM thing. I am an artist. This isn’t high school. I’m happy to have my friends and family. I’m happy to be in the club. Happy to share time with real artists – whatever click they roll with. Good energy is good energy.
What do you say to peeps who would say ‘good photography is just a matter of luck: being at the right place at the right time’?
I don’t really like peeps because they are this oddly bright artificial yellow color and really aren’t they just marshmallows anyway? I’ve never really liked marshmallows or other gooey things. No flan for me, Mr. Cosby.
Where’d your relationship with the “jukies” (Def Jux artists) start?
I was hustling myself out in a few directions back in 2003 and stepped to Amaechi as a kid who wanted to do some work and connect up in the music game and take pics. Really, it was my meeting with Amaechi that made me excited to be a part of what [Def] Jux had going on. He stepped to me a half year later to shoot Walz’s Year of the Beast and some other promo work and I’ve been doing random projects with them for a few years now. I feel like family, but its probably more like I’m ‘uncle Todd’ that shows up at Xmas dinner and isn’t really blood but seems to always be around. I like a bunch of those gals and cats like fam though for sure. Lot’s of Love up in this MF right here.
Any relation to Paul Westphal (basketball fame)?
He is my long lost 2nd grade teacher’s bastard mother’s child’s dog sitter I think – at least I think that’s what the book says. No, but for real though, Paul Westphal is the reason people spelled my name right in the 80′s.
Do you laugh at people with only a 1GB SD card?
Not so much as towards them – kidding. I like to help people take better pictures. Seriously, I can geek out on talking about photography all day. I should get paid for it. What kind of piece of plastic you shoot with?
[Editor's Note (EN): I copped a PowerShot SD450 Canon a few years back, as a defense mechanism to impending relationship doom --I knew I needed a camera to line up those Myspace Mirror Pic Jumpoffs that the chickas love!]
In a closed setting indoor photoshoot, do you set the mood with music? Or do you let the subject pick the music?
Music is important but I like to think I dont need any specific thing to pull off any shoot. So if the artist or subject wants to listen to something, I’m in, but I can get so focused (pardon pun) on shooting that I can even miss little details like that. Plus a model shoot doesn’t necessarily mix with Ice Cube’s Death Certificate when it pops up randomly on my ipod. – sometimes though it does.
Do you prefer doing a photoshoot in a studio or would you rather be at a live show, in the artist’s element?
I prefer not doing my photoshoots on a trapeze over a pit of dolphins with frickin lazerbeams in their heads. But really. I find myself most comfortable in real life places and situations capturing the people and the moods of the scene. I like shooting live shows and shit bc of my friends, the whole backstage experience of it… and the whole scene is inherently real. Same with a portrait – my goal is to capture the real person inside – that’s the hunt. It’s about the person and the human connection. I don’t take myself too seriously, but I take shooting pretty seriously.
Would you rather photograph your favorite rapper, or a really hot model?
I like shooting things that are interesting to me. I like interesting subjects and subject matter. I just shot a bunch of burlesque stuff in Vegas and its beautiful – very artistic in nature, hardly sexual even – more athletic and ballet like. I’m making myself sound wierd maybe when I say this, but I could shoot a thing for Playboy and barely even notice the naked nature of the woman on the other side of the camera… Give me a Penthouse and i’ll be looking at HOW they lit the shot. You know? wierd. I have a girlfriend. :)
[EN: The only thing I would care about is how well lit the freezer was that held the ice-cubes used in the Penthouse photoshoot]
Are you fans of a lot of the subjects you photograph?
I’m friends with alot of the subjects I photograph – if not before we shot, then after. That’s the whole thing about my life here. I want to connect with the people I meet, that I shoot. I want to ‘grow my family’ all around the country. Good people are the key to life. That’s how I put it at least. I say everybody should. Grow your family. Make a million GOOD friends.
[EN: Yes my friend, that is what we call the Shabooty Dynasty Extended Family!]
Which album covers have you photographed?
Some I am proud of include the Boot Camp Clik album ( in the airplane hangar shot – I love that sh), the upcoming release on WU Music Group from Solomon Childs. There will be many more soon.
Have you ever met Annie Leibovitz? Would you even want to?
I’d love to meet her – watch her work – watch how she interacts with the subjects. I certainly love her style and though I am nothing in comparison, we share some similar aspects within the way of our work. She actually lives down the block from a house where my sister lives in Long Island during the summers. Perhaps I will write a letter this summer to her, old school style.
What are your thoughts on the Miley Cyrus/Hanna Montana “controversy” with her “sexy” pics in Vanity Fair?
People need to lighten up. I am happy for people to work it out in their little public news media arena out there but seriously people need to lighten up. Oh my god. It’s her back. We live in a world where people might go stab their neighbor over a tree blocking their sun. Frankie say’s RELAX.
What are your favorite/most famous/ and most sentimental pictures you’ve taken?
Family. friends. and the best part is is that you can go back to pictures take 10 years ago and they have a whole other value today. Most famous? I’m not stressing that. So far away from my intent in taking pictures in the first place. I like wierd old pics like a headstone I found in a lush graveyard that says the name BEER on it. Rediculous stuff from my past or present. Or pics that get some kind of ? reaction out of the person viewing it. It’s supposed to be art. I think it’s supposed to feel like something. So I love when I get a feeling from my own photo. It’s a little narcissistic though, no?
PC user about to make a shift to the pay more for sexiness and convention mac world. get off my back mac boy! :)
Were you ever an embedded photographer on multiple tour dates?
Dude, the hoes were… nah, I’ve not really planted myself on tour as much as been able to wiggle my way onto tours here and there. I was tour manager as well as photographer and hit the whole US for a tour in 2006 – great band called VAEDA. Rock and roll and nerds on tour. Was a great time and got to see the whole country. Made friends with some of the CCWM boys on tour for a week or so last year in Fla with Cage and SSS and Yak and the enigmatic Cupcake Girls. Familam. Got to shoot for Rock the Bells/Paid Dues last year for Guerilla Union. That was a complete mind fuck with all the cool people there. I grew up on hip hop. Wu-Tang, Roots, Cypress, Public Enemy, Nas, Mos and Tweli, EPMD, Cage – cmon, I was onstage in front of 30,000 people – that’s amazing to me. I am rather fortunate. Three random old friends saw me up on stage from the crowd and called/texted me – which was a trip. That whole weekend was an amazing experience for me. Running back and forth from the Main stage to the Paid Dues stage where Cage and Yak and Sage Francis and the Hangar 18 and a bunch of people I know were also doing their thing – it was awesome.
Who’s your favorite band/musical act to see live?
I love anybody and everybody who can hold a beat, get the fuck down, lose their minds onstage and leave a piece of themselves up there when it’s all said and done. I don’t care if you are a rapper or a drummer or a singer, do your thing and I will listen.
Do extended relatives ever cheap out and beg you to be their wedding photographer for free?
Other peoples extended relatives cheap out and beg me to be their wedding photographer for $1000 but other than that my family has been good to me in regards to not making me jump through too many photo hoops. My sister does have me shooting xmas cards for her though.
What makes a good photographer?
What makes a good interviewer?
[EN: A good interviewer can make a pet-rock interesting, a bad interviewer has a rock to throw at you from falling asleep reading the interview.]
What “cd” is in your proverbial “cd deck”?
The one that i forgot about how awesome that song was! I like hip hop. I like rock and roll. I like beats that drop on the one.
What’s some ‘crazy shit’ you’ve seen, backstage?
I enjoyed the Cupcake Girls giving people black eyes when on the I hate it Tour. See pics please. Other than that, its pretty tame. And I don’t shoot and tell and I don’t take pics of things I shouldn’t anyway. Happily running down the street to get extra dutchies when hanging out backstage with Rakim though… that was pretty crazy for me.
What upcoming shows are you covering?
Headed to the El-P/Dizzie Rascal/Kids in the Hall show in NY [on the 10th]. Stoked for the summer and lot’s of shows though. I am between LA and NY these days, will be hitting up a bunch of shows in Cali once I’m back out there mid june
What are your thoughts on America’s Next Top Model?
TV will eat your brain.
Are paparazzi scumbags? Or you can’t blame ‘em for trying to make a living?
Paparazzi are scumbags that I can’t blame for trying to make a living in our weird little media world but it is all a little sad isn’t it?
I imagine you can get a lot of chicks in compromising positions as a photographer? ;)
I bet you do imagine that.
Who were your inspirations when you were a kid?
Of course, my poppa and my moms. My uncle used to race motorcycles so I thought he was the coolest thing ever. Still do. I loved looking at books of bands like the Beatles and can remember looking at picture’s of people like John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix and just wishing I was part of that. Sort of like I secretly wish I was John Lennon in the late 70′s and just made art and kept off the radar and was giving people interesting things to look at. And think about. I’m working on all of that now. I’d tell people to watch out – I’ve got some tricks up my sleeves.
Just to ask the people to put a little more love in their lives. People seem so afraid these days. Afraid of feelings, of learning more. Give it up people. Let it go. Spread the love. I’m not asking this bc I want to shoot more weddings or anything… do something nice for a stranger today. I know, I am a hippie. Get over it and go do something nice anyway – go make somebody’s day.
Thanks again Sha.
Sigh fine…I WON’T shit in the neighbors lawn and upload pics of it on ratemypoo.com.
Todd told me he is available and interested in shooting YOUR wedding, but you’re going to have to freestyle rhyme your vows.