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Focus on the Photographer: Bill Daniel

During his Tri-X Noise tour, we sat down with photographer Bill Daniel to talk origins, punk, projects, and printing press.

During his Tri-X Noise tour, we sat down with photographer Bill Daniel to talk origins, punk, projects, and printing press.

You live in Houston now and grew up in Texas, right? How long have you been visiting New Orleans? Have you ever lived here in New Orleans?

Yep, I grew up in Dallas, went to college and to punk rock in Austin, and then about 5 years ago moved back to Texas again, this time to Pasadena, which is a refinery town outside of Houston between the ship channel and Galveston Bay. I've been visiting New Orleans doing shows since, I guess it was 1996? I screened a show of 16mm films from San Francisco at Zeitgeist when he was on Magazine Street. Rene had a 35mm film projector in this tiny storefront screening space! Anyway, New Orleans has been a regular show stop for me over the years, a lot of dear friends here. I camped out here for a few weeks in December-January 2005, but I've never lived in New Orleans. My daddy went to LSU, and my parents honeymooned in New Orleans, so I got some in me somehow.

How did growing up in Texas influence your work?

I guess it gave me license to bullshit to high hell, hahah. The real influence would be the Austin punk scene I found myself in in the early 80s. It was famously a very distinct, regional punk culture. Something due to the hippie/cosmic cowboy/freak legacy in Austin created a fertile soil for a weird punk scene to sprout. A lot has been said about it, and I agree – it was particularly wild, especially being that two of the raddest bands, The Dicks and the Big Boys, were led by totally-out wild fags. Inspiring individuals, Gary and Randy. The scene was a real mind-opener for dumb suburban dipshits like me. Even though I felt like everyone at those early shows was way cooler and smarter than me, pretty soon I felt comfortable enough to start taking pictures. After a while my camera and flash and I were feeling accepted at shows.

“The scene was a real mind-opener for dumb suburban dipshits like me. Even though I felt like everyone at those early shows was way cooler and smarter than me, pretty soon I felt comfortable enough to start taking pictures.”

What other parts of the country resonate with you?

I've been lucky with touring in that I've seen the cool side of towns all over the country. So you find a resonance in places that you might not expect. I have a ton of affection for a lot of very different places, I feel like I love America in a way that the president's supporters could never understand. Pittsburgh, though, is really especially special. Being a god-damn southerner, I have a love/hate for the South, and so I really love places like Pensacola, Gainesville, Shreveport... that happen to have long-running strong and supportive local scenes.

How did the 2018 Tri-X tour go?

It was a blast, especially to finally have the TXN book finished and on the merch table. I keep thinking I need to book a TXN tour for the fall, but it looks like it might be a bit late to pull that off by now, haha!

Have you done other tours with your work?

Oh yeah, that's my main sledge, touring. I'm not adverse to doing real gallery and theater shows, but for every one of those official shows I'm offered I've done 100 DIY shows on the road.

We really like the tour aspect to showing photos, and your pricing is so good. How important is accessibility to you?

Of course this work – the Tri-X-Noise tour – is based on punk strategies and ethics, so accessibility is at the heart of it. I was a kid who did not have exposure to art until I discovered punk, so I really love getting non-Art-goers to my shows, young and old.

“...you find a resonance in places that you might not expect. I have a ton of affection for a lot of very different places, I feel like I love America in a way that the president's supporters could never understand.”

How different is it touring with different mediums? What collection of work, film, and music would your ideal tour consist of?

The essential task has been to fit non-music, non-performance, work into the touring musician model. First it was bringing film shows to non-film venues, as well as microcinemas. Then I started bringing photos along and trying to hitch an exhibition aspect to the screenings. Then in 2002, I think, I started hauling around a 2-channel video installation on a tour I did with Vanessa Renwick called the Lucky Bum Film Tour. Eventually I got to this thing I'm doing now where I bring the gallery walls and lighting with me. Kind of an extreme punk/hobo self-reliance thing. Like, "Oh yeah, no problem, I have my own walls, it's OK."

How did you first get into hobos and hobo monikers?

One afternoon in 1983 I received a visitation from a cosmic cowboy drawing that arrived on the side of a box car. I was "called," as they say in the church.

Did you ride trains before working on the film? When did you first ride trains? How did that start?

I decided that I'd make a train film not long after my first freight ride, a lucky first ride to California in 1987.

Was Bozo Texino something of an academic project for you?

The film occupied my life for about 16 years, and in that time it morphed into all kinds of ambitions. At one point I was trying for humanities grants and looking at the project in a more academic, anthropological way. I got some really valuable folklore historical advice from Archie Green, a legendary labor historian in San Francisco. So I got a bit of informal academic schooling, but eventually the film settled into its own weird groove. Not so much an academic piece about folklore, but maybe just a piece of folklore.

I love the DIY authority that you've built with that project. Now that it's complete, have you had interest from any institutions or other official sources? What's your relationship to that world?

Thanks! I'm looking for an app that will somehow convert my DIY authority into professional authority. Hopefully it will be a free download and not slow my phone down.

What's next for that project? Will it be archived somewhere, or do you have plans to expand on the film or the book in some way?

I'm working on the 3rd edition of the Mostly True book, which is exciting. I've got an interview with sign painter Heidi Tullman! Yeah! Top that! But as for the film, I have a very big, perhaps preposterous, plan for the Who is Bozo Texino? film. It's concerned with the long future. I'll let you know.

Anything you would like to say about Port Aransas Press? What are you publishing next?

I started a press to put out a couple of zines-- a tour photo-diary by my friend Lila Lee called The Mainland, and then New Orleans local Max Seckel designed and printed a stunning Riso zine of some of my 8x10 landscape photography. Max is a Riso wizard, and a painting wizard, and probably a wizard wizard. So you know, everyone needs to have their own press these days. The age of radical institutional de-centering. Everything is still flying apart, but I'm looking for signs of re-coalescing. We'll build new universities and new publishing structures. Right?

Anything else to add?

Thanks to everyone who leaves the house and puts down the phone to go out and see shows. See you there!

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