Bill Daniel.

“I have habitually photographed my desk space/work benches over the years. Not sure why, but it may be related to wanting to document my milkcrate collection. Interesting timing because I’m making a transition from a van-based workplace to a studio with a darkroom.”

“The driver’s seat as corner suite office (with the engine compartment up front to allow “in-doors’ engine repair) The van is both the primary means and metaphor for my work of the last few years, as a touring artist setting up shows on the road. But I’ve since moved into a shop on the edge of downtown LA, next to the river, where I finally have a huge, useable studio that I’ve built a darkroom in and am making giant photo prints (40″x60”).  I’ve always lived in my studio, and in the odd times I’ve lived in a house or a flat my space quickly starts looking like a garage. Stacks of milkcrates and salvaged doors as tables. (above photos by Jai Tanju)

This (see below) is a video of an installation I did last year involving a certain red desk that belonged to my mom when she was a pup. The installation was a recreation of my Jr High bedroom, morphing into a bar.”

Bill Daniel has been documenting American subcultures starting with the Texas skate/punk scene in the early 1980s. His film on the history of hobo graffiti, Who Is Bozo Texino? has screened in over 350 venues world wide, most recently at the MoMA.  A confirmed tramp, Daniel tours continually, setting up screenings and one-night art shows across the US. He blames Black Flag for his van-based nomadicism. Bill Daniel was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 2008.

FROM YOUR DESKS: How do you work?

BILL DANIEL: Good grief, how indeed?! Essentially, I inhabit my work, or maybe it incarcerates me. There’s usually way too many potential projects tacked to the wall and competing for limited space in my dizzy head. It’s a mystery to me how any particular project finally gets done. Most projects have long and very uneven gestation periods. The train film took 16 years. Right now I’m perusing a kind of photography that I started messing with in 1987. Almost everything I do I consider a work in progress, part of a larger piece that includes photo / film / video /audio / archive material… they’re all part of an overall piece. As far as my methods go, it’s pretty organic (read ADD), I rarely work in a very logical, end-product-driven method, which makes things difficult sometimes in this very output-demanding world. Trying to change my method this week.  I’m about to publish a book on my 80s punk photos, and that’s a very linear, committed kind of process. It feels great to see a long-running project finally coalesce into an actual thing– a film or book or show.

FYD: I love your Sailvan. Is the West like the water in that it’s fairly isolated and deserted? 

BD: Oh yeah, “The ocean is a desert with its life underground and a perfect disguise above” (good old song). When I’m driving long distance — I’m totally at sea… at the tiller and sheet lines of a small sailboat in the center of an ocean, totally solo and holding the course against the waves for hours and hours, day and night. The van is primitive, slow, without air conditioning, and mostly without heat, so driving them involves a lot of exposure and just hanging on. I get sunburned on the left arm.

FYD: What do you make of the van as a vessel? 

BD: The Sailvan is the convergence of aesthetic, personal and practical factors, one of which is that I’m a gearhead– I grew up racing dirtbikes and hotrodding. I love simple machines so I have a hearty affinity for automobiles built before 1974. Paradoxically, I’m a Peak Oil kook, interested in permaculture, bicycling, livable cities, and all that, so the Sailvan was a way to make a gliphic image out of these disparate passions. But the van also provides a huge amount of functionality in my art making and survival. It’s my daily driver, and in spite of not getting great mileage, it’s an incredibly thrifty vehicle to operate. Very simple to repair. At times, its been my sleeping quarters when enduring rent-free periods, and a tour vehicle. The van performs that classic “band van” function- carrying gear daily and providing a place to sleep on the road nightly. Lastly, the Sailvan is a mobile video sculpture— onto the two sails I project a 2-channel video essay on a collapse culture theme, called Sunset Scavenger.

FYD: In Ohio, a super trooper thought the surf board atop our truck signaled trafficking. Any good stories?

BD: I get pulled over all the time, it’s ridiculous. Sometimes it’s funny sometimes it’s a big bummer. When you leave the city you find out that you suddenly look like terrorist. I could write a comedic novel about my law enforcement encounters. Do you pay the tickets? If you plan on coming back to a town in that same van you prolly oughta pay em, so I usually do, because I usually plan to come back.  (van photos by: Eden Batki)

A small sailboat in the center of an ocean, totally solo and holding the course against the waves for hours and hours, day and night.

FYD: What’s been your favorite corridor of travel?

BD: I so much love driving around North America it would be impossible to single out a favorite corridor. I can say that interstates 90 and 95 in Massachusetts are my least favorite! I’ve had long-running relationships with certain migratory routes– the trip between the West Coast and Texas being one I’ve traversed dozens of times starting in the 1980s, so places like Albuquerque and Tucson and Marfa and Bisbee have become part of my extended neighborhood, with local friends and favorite cafes, venues to throw shows, swimming holes, etc. That route has a seasonal variant— I-40 being the preferred route in the summer and I-10 in the winter, Highway 90 when you’re not in a hurry. I was living near Pittsburgh for a couple of years, so I got into a groove with a new route down through Appalachia, which is such a different planet. Atlanta became my new half-way point and safe harbor. I have a freight-riding friend, Lloyd Benjamin who runs a gallery there so I’d end up on his floor several times a year.

FYD: How did your MOCA (installation) come about?

BD:Who Is Bozo Texino?” in some marginal way has positioned me as an authority on monikers/hobo graffiti. The three curators of the Art in the Streets show, Jeffery Deitch, Roger Gastman, and Aaron Rose knew me and my documentary work on rail graffiti, so I guess in deciding the scope of the show’s survey (controversial, of course) they figured this un-celebrated, more folkloric history of moniker graffiti should be included in the show. I collaborated on a couple projects with the late Margaret Kilgallen who shared my love of old rail markings, so at the MOCA show Margaret’s Main Drag installation and my Moniker Dept. installation share a room. It’s pretty damn sweet. (MOCA shot by Hans Hansen)

Almost everything I do I consider a work in progress…

FYD: You shot Bozo Texino in Super 8–ironically the title of a big Hollywood film. Funny how analog images and terminology are recycled into popular culture. Is it smart to stick with a medium you love?

BD: Love for the medium is right. I detest computers and I freaking LOVE black and white photography. I experience joy when making photography with electricity-free cameras, film and chemistry and light-sensitive paper and squeegees and drying racks… my joy in those processes influences what the works says and embeds a spiritual layer in the art. Can I say embeds a spiritual layer in the art here? Bozo Texino was shot on super 8 and 16mm, but finished digitally, since the potential global audience for a 16mm film is about 325 people.

FYD: Ronald Regan was the President when you were photographing the punk scene.What is happening with Tri-X-Noise?

BD:  It’s a site/store that I just launched to experiment with selling photography using the dreaded internet. I’m trying to do something unusual and sell traditional analog b/w photo prints just above cost. I’m posting a bunch of my early 80s punk photos, plus some skateboarding from the same time, plus a bunch of graffiti shots, as well as some shots from my general 35mm documentary practice.

I’ve been digging into my 90s SF graff archives recently, put out a zine of the stuff with Hamburger Eyes and even had a fantastic studio visit from Ruby Neri, who did the horse graffiti. Then I read your interview with Simone Shubuck, then (the other night) I was at an opening and I had a box of prints with me which had some shots of Jupe, a graffiti from back in SF. Rich Jacobs, the curator says, “oh you have Simone Shubuck.” “What?!” I exclaim! I just happen have a photo on Tri-X-Noise of a graffiti I shot in San Francisco in 1993 that just happens to have been done by Simone Schuback! Crazy world!

Punks have steadily been building a parallel society that is remarkably autonomous and self-sustaining. 

FYD: I read about these “Anti Graffiti squads” and oh, let’s play it safe and “commission” graffiti instead of allowing the artists the raw act of tagging.

BD: Graffiti…don’t start me…I’ve always loved all forms of graffiti, but concerning the street art that these days decorates my “Arts District” neighborhood in Los Angeles, let me only say that the neighborhood is also known as the “Toy District.”

FYD: What do you make of the evolution of punk?

BD: I don’t keep up with much contemporary punk actually. By now it seems difficult to do anything fresh with guitars. Not that I don’t still love rock and roll and noise and everything, but music seems to be not in a position to say anything heavy or consequential in the way it did 30-45 years ago. It’s great that that punk music still exists, it’s an important element of a free society… but what’s really important about punk now is not so much the music, but the social network (not internet social networks, the human-based one). Punks have steadily been building a parallel society that is remarkably autonomous and self-sustaining. Raw energy is not what’s novel, but constructing a more egalitarian social trip becomes tangible. I feel like the radical cultural vanguard for the next generation exists somewhere within environmentalism and permaculture, not art. I hope we start hearing from those kids soon.

FYD: What advice are you giving yourself for the next decade? 

BD: I can’t seem to answer the question myself, although I ask it everyday. It boils down to fight or flight.

Bill Daniel is plugged in. Own a print of punk history from  Tri-X-Noise + check Bill’s recently launched Tumblr here.

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