It’s a rainy New York afternoon—the kind where only a Hazmat suit can keep you dry. My photographer, Dave, and I weave between umbrellas, commenting on the abundance of galleries in Chelsea. New ones seem to spring every day, like some strange and wonderful virus afflicting the neighborhood.
We arrive at the Emmanuel Fremin Gallery, wiping droplets from our eyes. Impersonally modern galleries often plague the neighborhood, but this place is all warm lights and wood floors. We introduce ourselves to the gallery owner, the exuberant Emmanuel, and see a familiar bald head pop around the corner.
“Hi, I’m Moby.”
As a freelance journalist, it can be difficult to explain the many difficulties of our jobs: The pitching, the personalities, the self-ascribed shame with every declined story—but it’s subjects like this that make our efforts worthwhile. Soft-spoken in a way that conveys strength, and speaking with the tempo of someone who knows this will be transcribed, Moby seems more like a zealous grad student than a world-famous musician.
We settle into folding chairs and press record.
: Today is the eve of your latest photography exhibit, innocents. Tell me about the story behind the work.
Moby: The idea is that the apocalypse has already happened, and these photos are the documentation of the apocalypse. But it’s as if it’s collectively understood that the apocalypse has happened. So you’re not trying to prove that the apocalypse has happened, you’re just saying “Oh, here are some pictures of the apocalypse that we all agree upon.”
The figures in my photos are the world’s first post-apocalyptic cult…and the idea is that they’re concealing themselves. They exist in a state of shame. And so they’re this concealed group of creatures representing shame for what their species has done.
And that’s also why so many of the pieces are underwater. Those ones are more baptismal.
: You say the cult represents “shame for what their species has done.” Is this a reference to the events of today: Syria, Ukraine, etc.?
Moby: It’s more what we do on a daily basis. We look back at humans 100 years ago, when kids worked in factories and women couldn’t vote. African-Americans couldn’t drink from water fountains, or own property, or run for office. Everybody smoked cigarettes. People tortured animals. People look at those things today and are like “Oh, I can’t believe we ever did that.”
100 years from now, people will be like, “Oh, they drove internal combustion engines? They used animals for food? They poisoned their water supply? They poisoned their air?” [The cult’s] shame is for that…for the stuff that we’re collectively doing on a daily basis that we all know is wrong.
And it’s not me being judgmental, it’s just me saying—objectively speaking—most of what we do on a daily basis, we know we shouldn’t be doing. But we all continue to do it. And the most heartbreaking facet is that it doesn’t make anyone happy. So someone checks Facebook 50 times a day, eats Burger King, smokes cigarettes, is in a loveless relationship. And the end result is that they’re miserable.
And they’re ruining natural resources doing all these things—and it would be forgivable if it made them happy. But the end result is only misery.
: So do you view the coming of apocalypse as a more positive thing?
Moby: I really feel like the apocalypse has already happened in a very benign way. My hope for the apocalypse is that it’s the end of the patriarchy…the end of stupidity…the end of unnecessary conflict. And that the new era is one of matriarchy, cooperation and rationalism.
And I see so much evidence that that is happening. We have an African-American president. Hopefully our next president will be a woman. People are so much more aware of what they put on their bodies…what they put in their bodies…what they put in the water supply. So we’re still doing stupid things, but I truly feel like we’re moving away from it.
: You mentioned social media earlier, which is a contested aspect of modern life. How does this fit into your opinions?
Moby: I think it’s hard to make sweeping generalizations about social media. It’s kind of like generalizing about television. A television is inherently neutral. If it’s showing something beautiful, or transformational, or educational—it’s a wonderful thing. If it’s showing a re-run of The Real Housewives of Miami, then maybe that’s not advancing us as a species. But it’s hard to generalize about the medium. It’s more about the person.
Social networking can be remarkable, when it shines light on atrocities. When it prevents dictators from getting away with things…But it’s so heartbreaking when you walk around and see people forgoing actual human contact so that they can be hunched over their phone.
Not to sound like too much of a hippie, but it’s just so sad that somehow we—and I’m just as guilty—think a two by four inch piece of metal and glass and plastic is more interesting than the entire outside world.
It’s almost like we’ve entered this sick realm where a picture of a tree on Instagram is more interesting to people than a tree.
: Does that impact the way you view your own art? Do you shy away from digital mediums?
Moby: I love digital photography…But the question for photographers today is: What are you doing differently than some kid with Instagram? Because the truth is, a lot of kids on Instagram are amazing.
But the thought behind my photography is different. Like Instagram and iPhone pictures are great for spontaneous documentation, but less so for conceptual art photography.
: Have you struggled in your transition from music to photography?
Moby: It’s not so much a struggle, it’s just that there’s a long tradition of dilettantism of the arts…of musicians trying to be visual artists. Of visual artists trying to be musicians. Of filmmakers and actors trying to start bands. And let’s say safely that nine times out of 10—whenever someone tries to leave their domain—let’s just say it’s not amazing. And so I’m battling against that. But the benefit is that there are low expectations. When people come to an art show by a musician, they expect very little. And oftentimes, that’s what they get.
: Looking around the room, I can’t help but notice that most of the subjects are wearing masks—monkeys, bears, etc. What do they represent?
Moby: I can talk for far too long on this subject…But it’s a combination of things. In a very weird way—and I’m trying not to sound too much like a grad student—it’s like a semiotic exploration of the notion of printing. Because as a semiotic signifier, a mask can represent so many things: It’s either scary, or it’s Halloween. It can feel like menace, or like childhood innocence. And there’s something inherently disconcerting about the human form with a nonhuman face.
But it’s ultimately just a piece of plastic with ink on it. The same way photography is just a piece of paper with ink on it. So at least from my perspective, I wanted to explore what it says about us as a species that we’re willing to ascribe so much meaning to something printed.
: For our last question—and I know I’m going off-topic—but I want to ask about Twin Peaks. I’ve read that you’re a fan. Are you psyched about the return?
Moby: I feel psyched, but mostly I just feel betrayed…but I say that in a lighthearted way. David and I, we’re good friends. The last time I saw him was three or four months ago. I was interviewing him and I jokingly asked, “I know you never want to talk about future movie or TV projects, so I’m not going to ask if you’ll ever do another TV series.” And he said, “Moby, I’m never going to do another TV series.” And this was only a couple of months before they announced the return of Twin Peaks. So he betrayed me.
But I’ve also told him that if there’s a bald, space alien character in the new Twin Peaks...well, that role is mine.
innocents is on display at the Emmanuel Fremin gallery through Dec. 31. You can also download the accompanying album on iTunes.
Emily Siegel is a freelance writer whose pieces have appeared in Mashable, Haute Living and Elite Daily. Her favorite animal is the Rockhopper Penguin (even if she’s jealous of their flair). Follow her on twitter @emilysiegel.
Dave Krugman is a freelance photographer. Follow him on Instagram @Dave.Krugman.