Artist of The Week: Aidan Cullen
Last year, V-Man called 19-year-old photographer Aidan Cullen “New York’s Nicest It-Boy,” and we don’t disagree. With work ranging from the J.W. Anderson x Converse collab to shots of the skate and music scenes he’s grown up in, he stepped into the fashion and art scene in his early teens. Working at Undefeated, a sneaker store in Santa Monica, he garnered inspiration and got his first commission. You may recognize A$AP Nast, Olan Prenatt, or saweetie in some of his shots. Most recently, he directed the “Trouble” video for Milk’s fav Omar Apollo. Read our interview below to find out what you should grab from 7-11 if you’re trying to roll with Aidan.
To steal one of your questions, what have you been into lately?
Lately, I’ve been into traveling, trying to save money, making music videos, researching and studying movies, shooting more fashion based things, forming a creative team that I can often work with, helping upcoming artists develop their image, and connecting musically talented friends so they can make cool music together.
What was it like growing up in Venice Beach?
I grew up in between Santa Monica and Venice. Living in LA was amazing in general and I think it really helped me in terms of being creative at a young age and meeting like-minded inspiring people. The weather is always nice and it’s such a diverse and interesting place but a lot definitely changed throughout my adolescence. Venice transitioned from a very high charisma, locals-only dominant neighborhood into a much more corporate city with half of the city being purchased by tech companies and other startups. The average “Venice person” for sure changed, for the better or the worse, it’s not for me to decide. There’s still cool locals but the feeling there is just different and a lot more corny. I definitely miss being able to go to my favorite food spots without them being super packed, and it’s annoying to sit in a crazy amount of traffic or risk getting run over by some goofy person on a lime scooter.
You got into the fashion/art industry early on. What was your first job, and who was the first person you looked up to?
My first job that really got me interested in the fashion and art scene was working at this shoe store in Santa Monica—Undefeated. I looked up to this dude named Alex Bruzzi who was my first mentor/ OG in that world. I learned so much from him. I started interning for them when I was like 14. Through working at Undefeated, I met my friend Nico who runs a brand called Rokit. Apart from shooting skateboarding stuff, they were the first company I took photos for.
Tell us about your zine production company.
Hah! Wow you did some research. In 2015-2016 my friend Quinton Dominguez and I were trying to start a zine production company called Q and A zines. We did a zine for Vlone, one for Marino infantry and we were both working on a few personal ones but honestly the idea of making it a company just phased out and didn’t really end up happening. I knew I was going to move and go to college soon, the companies we were working with never released the zines we made, and zines are not cheap to make. They are also hard to sell so it didn’t fully make sense for us to do that at the time… but I did learn a lot from the process. Who knows, maybe we will come back to it one day. A few months ago I was talking to Cali Dewitt, who’s an awesome artist I look up and a friend and he was telling me that when he’s old he wants to have a whole library of his own art books and I thought that was the sickest thing. Something about art books are just so sacred and important. I feel the same way as him, I want to have made a ton of books by the end of my career/ life.
What advice do you have for people interested in photography?
I would say: get a completely manual 35mm camera (not a point and shoot!) with an internal light meter and shoot with it as much as you can to learn how light, shutter speed and aperture work. If you can, get in the darkroom and learn that process as well! I’d also say while your learning try not to compare yourself to everyone because art is not a competition, there’s room for everyone’s ideas. If you have cool ideas and a strong vision for things, there is room for them, so just find out the stories you want to tell, how you want to tell them and find out why your photos are interesting and emphasize that because everyone has a damn camera these days, how are you going to be different? Also, just put things out and get feedback and keep growing. Don’t be too much of a perfectionist. I feel like if you are it’s harder to grow. Put things out, see how the world reacts, meet as many interesting people as you can and just keep shooting and making shit. With all of this being said, I’m still figuring out which stories I want to tell and which moments I want to show in my work and I’m still learning so much everyday.
Can you tell us about your artistic/technical process? Once you capture a moment, what’s next?
I shoot like 90 percent film so the next step is usually dropping off my film to a film development lab. My favorite places to develop film in NY are Color House and Luster. In LA I like Icon LA, Rose Photo, or Gold Photo.
How do you save your files? Scan, distribute, etc.
If I have the time I’ll scan my own negatives, but typically I’ll have the photo developing place do scans for me. If I need a super high res scan I’ll go back and have them do that for those particular images. Depending on what I shot, the process is different. When I am making selects and narrowing down photos I use Adobe Bridge. If I do a commercial shoot (different for everyone I work with) I’ll send all of the photos, or a batch of selected photos to the client and have them send me their selects then I’ll edit them in photoshop and retouch them a bit then send them back to the client.
You’re very inspired by what’s going on around you: your friends, your lives, what you’re wearing; when do you look outside for inspiration? And what do you look at?
I look to movies and art books for inspiration. Also just real-life interactions, everyday people watching, hearing random conversations and sounds- especially in New York etcetera. I normally don’t actively look for inspiration, it just happens fairly naturally. If I need to write a treatment or something and I’m having trouble coming up with ideas I’ll watch a bunch of random videos on youtube or watch a movie, it really just depends on the day and my mood.
When’s the last time something really caught your eye? What was it? And how long did the excitement (or any other emotion) last?
I just watched this amazing documentary called See Know Evil about Davide Sorrenti. He was an amazing photographer from NY who died when he was 20 of a heroin overdose. The film was super inspiring and I admired how he went about things so confidently and carelessly at such a young age. I’m not really sure how the excitement lasted… I showed a bunch of my friends the film because I wanted to share my excitement with them. I’d say it inspired me to create more and be confident in the messages I want to push with my art and to not be afraid to advocate for myself even though I’m a 19-year-old talking to 50-year-olds who work at big companies.
Besides having a Converse billboard up in Times Square, what would you say is your most proud moment as an artist?
It’s hard to pinpoint a specific moment that I’m super proud of. I’m proud of the things that I’ve done but my mind is always onto the next project. I’m definitely very critical on myself as an artist and still feel like I’m working myself up to where I want to be. I have a really long way to go and that is always on my mind more than the past.
If you had unlimited funds and resources – what would be your dream project? Cast, crew, client, etc.
Damn that’s a hard question. I’d say making a feature film that would be seen in the theaters. It would be a comedy. I gotta make the next Superbad. The whole crew has to be all friends and it needs to have a bunch of legendary actors (still pending) and random cameos from Lauryn Hill, Frank Ocean, Obama, and Elon Musk at certain points.
Quick! What’s the first thing that comes to mind:
- Dream Car: At the moment I want a Tesla.
- If you could be dressed head to toe in one brand for the rest of your life, it would be: I feel like i’d have to go with a versatile/ fairly plain brand like Carhartt or Uniqlo.
- Most important quality in a friend/collaborator: Trust
- Upcoming artist that you’re excited about: I can’t just name one! I have a bunch of friends who make awesome music, you guys should check all of these people out. These are in no specific order, Some are more upcoming than others and this list is excluding producers but… Omar Apollo, Dominic Fike, Bakar, Slowthai, Jaxxon D Silva, Steven Moses, Ambar Lucid, Role Model, D33j, Shlohmo, Angel Number 8, James Ivy, Ally Singa, Cheb Rabi, Deb Never, Gazi Ghost, A chal, Billy Uomo, Swoosh, Sloan Evans, Adamn Killa, Marco Mckinnis, Buddy, Levi Carter, Jean Dawson, Reaper, Dijon.
- What do you buy at 7-11: If you asked me a few months ago I would have said sour patch watermelons, Mike N Ikes, a blue Gatorade, a Dove dark chocolate bar, a pack of 5 gum (mint) and some other candy but I’m trying to be healthier this year so now I’d just say an Evian water, a pack of gum and maybe some chips.
- Favorite City: Tokyo.
- Least Favorite City: I’ve never been somewhere I’ve necessarily hated but I’d say the worst city is somewhere in the middle of America that’s still racist and living in the 1950s.
- Skill you wish you had: Being musically gifted! I used to take piano lessons and I’m still kinda good but I wish I could make my own music from scratch that’s honestly the sickest thing to me.
- Song of the moment: Hard to choose one but at the moment “I’ll Come Too” by James Blake.
Images courtesy of Julian Burgueño
Stay tuned to Milk for more rising artists.