Interview: Luis Ruano
For over 20 years, Los Angeles native Willie Toledo has sharpened his photographic skills and nearly perfected the craft of capturing time stamps of emotion; storytelling at its core. Having worked with the most notable names in the world of entertainment, those tallies are just a reflection of his labor of love, with the real signifier of success being his noble work behind the lens, which has graced the walls of galleries stateside and the eyes of countless worldwide.
Telling its own story of Valley Life over the last 7 years, Primitive is a reflection of the numerous subcultures that have shaped the path of a company who’s foundation is simply being itself, but its journey is one that merges a love of music, art, nature and people. Finding inspiration in a controversial movement across the pond in London, Primitive’s Creative Director Jubal Jones, along with Willie T, and cinematographer Jeffrey Woodings, set their sights on the Glamour scene over the past two years, telling a tale of censorship, art and the beauty of being a natural woman in a time where natural is just another word.
ORIGINS OF GLAMOUR
When did the idea for this project come about?
Jubal: The idea to shoot Glamour came about three years ago, when I was looking at different modeling scenes throughout the world. Primitive had already shot a bunch of girls domestically, so we wanted to try something new.
When I stumbled upon the glamour scene, it was something that was different to me, I liked the fact that these girls were natural and were being shot in a way that was not really our style, so I figured, “Hey, let’s bring our style to these girls and see what happens.” Not too long after that, I hit up my videographer Jeffrey Woodings and my main man Willie T. Once I had the crew set we came up with a game plan.
Obviously you and Willie go back, but why did you choose him to be your photography partner for Glamour?
Jubal: I’ve known Willie for a long time, well over ten years. He’s always been the dude, from photography to videography to everything in between. His product is always top notch. I love the way he shoots girls and appreciate how he treats them respectfully. We have a great time [when we shoot]. Whether it be girls or whomever, they leave the experience feeling good about themselves. He was the obvious choice for me.
Were you excited when you got that call, Willie?
Willie: I think its cool to know that people pay attention to what I do, meaning they don’t just pay attention to the social media aspect, but they actually pay attention to everything you’re about. I think sometimes in this business, that’s what you need to be different. People should know you, and study you, and do research. Like he [Jubal] says, he knows that I don’t just shoot girls, I do video work too. A lot of people don’t know that I shoot videos, that I love shooting videos, and I love documenting history. The fact that I was going on a trip to shoot girls in another country, and specifically just girls, and I don’t have to shoot video… that was exciting.
Jubal: The girls are only the catalyst, that’s what gets the conversation started, but we just like traveling, and going to different environments, and plugging ourselves into these new places. We trip out on people, and then, when our crew shows up, they definitely trip out on us. We have our own unique look and way of speaking. LA style I guess. Documenting the city and interacting with people is always our main goal.
Willie: Yeah, we don’t just shoot girls. That wouldn’t do our work justice. We do a lot more. We engage with people, we socialize, we tell them who we are… we’re inviting people. When we’re shooting, I want them to feel that they’re important, that this moment right here, this second means something to somebody, that people are going to translate that picture to something else. Now, imagine you watch us, like Jubal says, we show up, and we look the way we look, and we act the way we act, but when we’re about to start shooting, everything switches.
Jubal: Yeah, it’s all business when we shoot, for sure.
Willie: There’s no hidden agendas. My biggest thing is to know that somebody trusts me, because that’s all I have left. My smile is free. I just want you to trust that I’m going to do my best.
PROCESS OF CREATION
Obviously, there’s several components to this project. We have the photography aspect, we have the apparel tie-in and we have the Glamour documentary. When you guys went into this, was that even in your thought process, that you’d be doing this much from a trip to London, or did it naturally develop over time?
Jubal: To be completely honest, a lot of stuff happened during the trip. We just wanted to get out there, record our travels and shoot these girls, but after leaving, we were on the plane bugging out saying: ” Damn, we did something that most people don’t do as far as shooting that many high caliber girls in that short of a time period, in that setting. Interacting with locals and making an impact in the community.” This is after the first trip. We ended up taking two trips.
We had a special feeling about Glamour. I think that’s why we had a more thorough game plan for the second trip, “Let’s just do it again and actually tell the story a little bit more. Let’s find out this girl’s story, let’s find out this photographer’s story.” Everything else came up naturally, even the pop-up shop at the Seventh Letter store on Fairfax. It was like, “Hey, we got so much great stuff, let’s do a pop-up. Let’s do a Willie T photo gallery. Let’s do some pint glasses” There’s so much great content from these trips, so we just wanted the world to see it and experience what we experienced.
Willie: When we got there [on the second trip], it definitely inspired us to be more creative than usual. I think there’s a misconception [about shooting girls]. People think we’re just having fun, giggling and smiling the whole time. In reality, we were only sleeping three or four hours a night after shooting for fourteen hours a day.
Jubal: Yeah, the first trip was around 10 days total, but it’s non-stop, and you’re shooting two girls a day. I remember one time we shot three girls in a day, and it’s not easy, man. Hair, make up, outfits, location, video, photos, they all have to be on point. You have to make the most of the moment. The coordination involved is insane. Every time you shoot a model, there’s a ton of creative energy exchanged. We’re all working together to hopefully make magic. It’s draining, but in a good way.
Willie: The other factor that he [Jubal] probably cuts himself short on is the time that you have to actually think about what you just did. We’re both physically done, we’re tired, we worked all day, but that’s not the end, its just the beginning. We have to look at this content and say, “How is this going to work?” I have to sit in my room and say, “All right, let me give him some photos, let me add some different color corrections, and then hopefully every day inspire him,” because as a human, you get tired of doing this everyday. Yes, it’s beautiful, you get to shoot beautiful women. Yes, they’re naked. All these yeses are true, but at the end of the day, we still have to be inspired.
We have to stay inspired a month, two months, three months, a year from now, and appreciate everything we worked so hard for. In between that, you have to deal with different politics, the sales people, marketing people, and your retail sales people. We’re just at the beginning of the project, and we have to think of all these factors and all these people who are going to be a part of the project. It’s a lot to think about.
Jubal: It’s a mixture of art and commerce. How do you balance that? Its tough at times, but as long as you stay true to the project and your original intentions, then it usually ends up okay.
What’s something that you didn’t anticipate on your trip, or during this entire process?
Jubal: There are so many surprises when you go to a different country. As far as the models go, I was surprised at how cool they were, straight up. I work with a lot of models here in the states, every once and a while you are going to get someone who’s attitude is not that great. Every single girl that we worked with in London was super nice and really wanted to be part of the process. They were interested in Willie’s pictures and Jeffrey’s video. They were hyped on Primitive. They even wanted to hang out, which was awesome, so the crew got to know them on a personal level. They party too, they drink more than most dudes I know. They were standing up straight, having a good time. I take my hat off to them, cheers!
Willie: For me, it’s like Jubal says, they were very approachable, very open to ideas, especially when they really didn’t know who I was. A lot of people don’t know who I am, and that’s okay, I have no problem with that. All I ask from people is to have an open mind when being creative and to know that was automatically there when they showed up made my job easy. One of the girls, her name was Nicole…
Jubal: She was crazy…in a good way for sure.
Willie: She was crazy, but we didn’t know how crazy. What I mean by crazy is she knew her body and her expressions very well. On top of being professional and knowing herself, she was also a ballet dancer. Every time we shot, we did some kind of leg pose, and most of the time girls complain, but these girls were working like 6 hours a day doing more than the usual.
Jubal: Most of them took a train, like three hours to get there, then they shot for six hours. They wouldn’t complain at all. They’re open to doing stuff topless, trying whatever, just having fun. Like this girl Nicole – she’s gorgeous, like mainstream pretty –she would kill it in the United States. All of a sudden you’re in London, you have this beautiful girl doing these insane ballerina contortions, laughing with us, making fun of us while we shot, and you’re thinking “What the hell is happening right now?” This is amazing. This is why we do what we do.
CULTURE IN THE US VERSUS UK
Do you think that’s culture as a whole in the UK?
Willie: I think so. I think that the people there, the fact that they have to take buses and trains, and transportation just to get around, just dealing with regular Joes’ in the buses, they build this strong resilience.
Jubal: I agree. They know how to get it done.
Willie: Yeah, if they can be on the streets dealing with people waiting on buses, they can deal with us shooting photos.
Jubal: British people have a certain quality to them. They don’t wholeheartedly welcome you as soon as they see you. When we first got there, I said to myself “These people are being dicks right now.” I slowly began to realize it’s just because they want to see what you’re about. I respect that. They’re not fake.
Willie: It’s in their nature.
Jubal: You get used to it, for sure.
Willie: Here, we ride in cars most of the time. You’re not really engaging with the person next to you as much.
Jubal: And we’re in Hollywood too. It’s the big smile, and the big handshake, and I don’t know how genuine it always is out here. Out there, you have to earn respect, and I think there’s a deeper connection that way. Love Cali, though, don’t get me wrong.
Willie: Yeah, me too, come on now!
What’s your stand on censorship between the US and the UK?
Jubal: Out in the UK, there is a huge movement against girls being topless. When we first started the project, it wasn’t like that.
THE FEMINIST MOVEMENT
So it evolved over that short amount of time?
Jubal: Yeah. It evolved over a year and a half. Three years ago, this glamour scene, at least from my perspective, was popping off. There were girls everywhere. There were five or six magazines that were going hard. Then, when we got there the first time, two or three of those magazines had closed down and a bunch of girls had left the business. It was six months later for the second trip, and there was only one or two print magazines left. All these girls are like, “This shit’s dying.”
As we record this, I’m not even sure where the industry is at now. It’s funny because the global attitude towards women in the media has shifted since I conceived the project. Right now we’re in this crazy age of political correctness, people are very selective in what they choose to accept and are very quick to pass judgment.
What I’ve learned from the trip is my main focus should always be on what I create and what the people I associate with create. We need to be proud of what we produce. We can make whatever the fuck we want if we think that it’s artistic and we treat everyone we encounter with respect. There are hardcore feminists who blindly condemn others without doing their research as well as people on the opposite end of the spectrum who are like, “It doesn’t matter if they’re topless. Fuck it. The kids can see all this shit.” It’s not that simple. There’s a balance there, you know? But I can’t control that. I can’t control what people are going to think, especially nowadays. I’ve just got to make sure I’m true to my vision.
Willie: It’s true what he says. He’s in control of his destination. Now it’s up to me as a creative person. Like I said, I’m okay with it at this point. It doesn’t matter. It’s out there, and there’s nothing we can do. It’s what happens after what you do with it. How do you put it out there? How do you represent yourself? He [Jubal] trusts me, so I guess I’ve been doing the right things. I don’t just put it up on my social media and say, “Hey, here’s a topless pic” and show the whole world. It has to be done with logistics in mind.
Jubal: Yeah. It’s timeless. It’s classic what we’re doing. If a model poses in a way where she doesn’t look good or she’s overly exposed to where we think it’s raunchy, then we’ll say, “Cover that up.” We’re not trying to get that shot. There are plenty of people doing that stuff. This isn’t anything new. The nude female body has been recorded throughout history. We’re trying to create images that will live forever. You know what I’m saying?
Willie: Classic material. If I die next week, I should be comfortable with my family and my children going through my files and saying, “All right. That’s what he did. What do we do with it now?” I want them to be able to be like, “This is artistic. This is his art. That’s why it’s here. It’s not just a photo of some girl. He actually thought about it. He had a thought process before he shot this girl this way.” There’s a lot of girls I could have shot topless, but I just didn’t because it’s been done. There’s nothing I can do to make you different.
CENSORSHIP ABROAD AND AT HOME
Jubal: The U.K. is more accepting of women in their natural form. Here in the States, many of the big men’s magazines promote a surgically enhanced look. God bless girls with plastic surgery- but I can imagine that being pressured to pump up body parts is a tough thing to deal with. It was funny, yeah, because all the Glamour models were like, “Oh, so all the girls in the U.S., they have fake boobs, right? They have the Kim Kardashian lips.” We’re just like, “I don’t know. A little bit in Cali I guess, but not everywhere. Most people aren’t worrying about that.” People can do whatever they want though, I’m not going to censor anyone, but the models that I gravitate towards for shooting tend to be natural.
With girl modeling being so prevalent now, especially with the boom of social media, how has that effected the scene in general, even your mindset when it comes to shooting women as an art form?
Willie: Before we were just doing it for fun. The girls would hit me up (this is through MySpace) and say, “Hey you want to shoot some photos?” I’m like, yeah, let’s shoot some photos.
We’re talking what, maybe five years ago?
Willie: Six, seven, eight years ago. Maybe nine. MySpace time. I think that when we were doing it, there was more of a promotional element. They were doing promo fliers for club scenes. They were import modeling. You’d go to Hot Import Nights and they’d print out photos and sell them for like $10.
Did I make any money? There were times where girls paid me, there were times I just did it because it was easy. It took me an hour and a half. I could shoot four looks in an hour and a half. It was real easy and raw. There was no thought process, no creative direction, none of that. We just shot photos on a white wall or outside, nothing to push the boundaries of art. It’s just a girl that needed to make a little money so she asked for some help.
Back then you’d maybe shoot a thousand photos, use six and the rest would stay in some hard drive. Now, you still have the same mindset, you shoot a thousand photos, but now you have to carefully select what you put out. There’s a process to it.
Every time, Jubal’s like, “When you going to put the photo out?” He wants to strangle me. I’m just like, “Not yet, not yet.” He’s like, “Come on dude, put it out.” I understand it, you just want to get that art there and move onto the next thing, but in this age it’s kind of like you need a roll out plan. There’s just so many different aspects that go into putting out one picture, especially a project like this.
Willie: I think people take social media really seriously sometimes.
THE SOCIAL MEDIA AGE
How do you guys view social media these days? Most consider it a fantasyland.
Willie: Mickey Mouse was from fantasyland and they capitalized off that. If we’re all a part of Disneyland, we’re all capitalizing somehow off Disneyland, right?
People can say whatever they want to say. It’s true, but that’s fine. I guess I’m in Fantasyland right now. I’m in Tomorrowland, too. I’ll stay there for a while because of that, because of Tomorrowland, I’m able to still keep working.
This is where you as a creative person have to think about the content you put out. Yes, you put a picture up, yes, you got your likes, but the people who liked your photo, they also know who you are. They know your personality, they know whether you’re loud, quiet, talkative, or a non-talkative person.
It goes back to what have you done for yourself? Its fine that you have a following, but maybe they only liked your photo because it’s a hot picture, but there’s nothing else. After that, it’s just another pass, they just pass through your page. Now you have to figure out how are you going to capitalize off that, after they liked your picture.
Jubal: You’ve got to sell yourself.
Willie: You can’t be a hoarder. That’s what happens. Now you become a hoarder on the internet, but you don’t realize it. Even having all those followers is like being a hoarder. Is that really true? Is that really affecting you? Is that really helping you?
If a company sees your page, they only see all these followers and they see all these girls, but museums can’t take you serious, networks can’t take you seriously because you’re still crossing boundaries of the things that they can’t really show, things that don’t really sell a Colgate ad or armpit deodorant. You know what I mean?
Jubal: When you look at Willie T’s feed you go from celebrity to landscape, to some random person in a village in Thailand, to this beautiful woman. I gravitate towards it because it tells the full human story. There’s a global perspective. Willie is a global dude. He’s from the streets of LA, but he’s been around the world. He can tell that story without even saying a word. All you have to do is look at the pictures and you can see where he’s coming from. People connect with that.
THE DESIGN PROCESS
As a brand, how important was this project in the company’s evolution?
Jubal: Primitive’s been shooting girls from the beginning. I remember lurking on Model Mayhem with my business partner Andy Netkin over seven years ago. Times have changed for sure. People expect more than just putting a popular Instagram girl on a shirt. I always want to do something different, whether it be with our apparel, or with our media. For me, if we keep shooting the same girls out here that every one else is shooting, I felt that we wouldn’t progress. I think journeying to other cites or countries is the best thing you can do. We haven’t really told our story as much as I would like, because our team has been so small, but this has been one of the first times where we can actually tell a full story, from the beginning to the end. This time our story is about models and censorship, next time it could be about wildlife or musicians, the possibilities are seriously endless.
Can we talk a little bit about the design process behind the apparel collection?
Jubal: When you’re trying to sell apparel to someone, there’s a 5 second window for consumers to look at it and decide if they like it or not. You have to grab their attention right off the bat otherwise they are on to the next. We had so much content to work with on this collection. There’s always something visually intriguing going on. It’s not solely about the girl, the setting and the person capturing the moment ultimately make it art. We did our best to translate that artistic experience to tangible products.
Willie: I think when we try to shoot content for apparel, it has to stand the test of time. A good example would be old, heavy metal shirts. You could wear them now and fit right in. Now, imagine, somebody opening some of these shirts and saving them for ten, fifteen years down the line. Hopefully they’ll stand the times. Hopefully somebody can appreciate them ten years from now.
Jubal: We all come from a skateboard background and we take that mentality with us wherever we go. Get the shot and move on to the next spot. Shit, we get kicked outta spots too. It’s not all bikini tops and high fives. We’re doing this shit guerilla style with no permits. When you watch the documentary it looks likes a huge production crew put it together but in reality it’s 3 to 4 people out in the streets making it happen.
The imagery is what I like about this project. We captured the glamour scene with these particular girls. It will never exist again in this form. It might be completely gone soon. You never know.
It’s a piece of history.
Jubal: It’s a piece of history. I keep bringing up documentation, but that’s what it is. It’s just a little slice of time that we were there and we made our impact. Hopefully people feel that.
Willie: I’m a documentarian. That’s what I am. You’re going to bring me along just to hang out and take pictures, and I’m happy with that. I’m focused more on preserving a little bit of history. Primitive believed in what I’m about. Now you have two creative forces put together and you build solid merchandise that could stand the times. The photography, the girls and the brand, it was all made by somebody. I was made by my father and mother. Primitive was made by three men Andy, Paul & Jubal… the humans, the girls, the equipment that I use, put it all together and we create something special.
Jubal: We could’ve featured a bunch of nudie shots for our apparel but we just put out what we thought people were going to connect with, the shots that moved us. We have some topless stuff too, the exclusive decks, playing cards, the Frank 151 mag. For us, it’s not about censorship, it’s about sharing our passion with the world.
Willie: Just imagine, I shoot all this content, and I have to give it to the company I work for. And he has to go through it collectively and decide where everything goes. I should be confident enough to know that everything I shot was good enough for him to pick. I don’t have to sit there and micro-manage my photos. I don’t understand why people want to micro-manage each photo they shoot. It doesn’t matter. It’s going to sit in your hard drive anyway. Why don’t you just give it to somebody so they can create something with it? That’s what they [Primitive] did. That’s why the merchandise is going to be different. I’m excited about the damn bomber jacket. I need my jacket. Where’s my jacket?
I’m ready for my fucking skateboard too. Everybody I see [around the office], everybody has boards … what the fuck… I shot this shit, can I get something?