[DISCLAIMER: This interview and accompanying photographs contain explicit language]
To hear Blaise Cepis tell it, he’s your Average Joe who, with a bit of luck and a modicum of effort, fell into the New York photography and design world like Alice fell into the rabbit hole. Not so. The self-deprecating Cepis’ provocative and colorful portfolio earned him an “in” with design great Graham Wood at the advertising giant JWT, which Cepis subsequently left for the more intimate and creative agency, Mother New York. Intimacy and authenticity are, in fact, recurring themes for the Philadelphia-raised Cepis: his newly-established Scratch Press, a joint venture with two other NYC-based artists, John Codling and Craig Damrauer, is committed to producing handmade, limited-edition books of artists they admire and respect. His recent photographic work, on the other hand, takes intimacy to a whole new level; a look at one of his “Birthday Suit” or “Lemonade & Bugspray” photographs, and you’ll wonder why everyone doesn’t bare it all for the camera in pursuit of pure joy.
How would you describe your career right now?
Making shit. Whether it’s really beautiful or really not. I used to work at a big advertising agency called JWT, in which you often felt shitty about yourself and your work. I had no interest in advertising, but it paid the bills, and more importantly gave me the opportunity to meet some of the greatest people I’ve ever met. Without those people I wouldn’t be making the shit I’m making today.
So this definitely was not where you wanted to be when you grew up?
[laughs] Not really. I wanted to be a marine biologist, but I have gotten to work with great people such as Graham Wood (co-founder of Tomato), Robert Yeoman (cinematographer for Wes Anderson films), Stephan Sagmeister, Lance Acord (cinematographer for Spike Jonze films), and my two partners in The Scratch Press, John and Craig. However, the big corporate thing is not for me, so thankfully I got the opportunity to move on to a more creative and liberated place called Mother New York.
What is Scratch Press, and how did the whole project come about?
The Scratch started because my partners Craig, John, and myself were bored of our jobs and sick of seeing so much great stuff being put out and not being apart of much of it. We needed to do something and put something out. We were all kind of working on separate individual projects at the same time that all lent themselves to being made into books, so this collective light bulb turned on and we decided we should just make some books and it kind of has been snowballing ever since.
Why “Scratch Press”?
We all sat together one night at a dive-ish bar called “The Scratcher” in the East Village and decided to make a commitment to making these little books in limited edition. The idea was simple: We’ll put out our stuff and other stuff that makes us happy. And we kept having these weekly meetings at that bar and we could never come up with a name, and as dumb as it sounds, we came up with our name. We had an itch that we needed to scratch. [laughs]
What are some of the characteristics of the work that you put out?
The limited quantity of the books and trying to make each one kind of precious. You know, there is something to be said about having something so small and so unique and knowing you’re one of the few people that has it. Right now we’re producing our first series of books called “6×9,” named after their dimensions, all hand-sewn together with a different color thread for each. We only put out twenty-five copies of each book signed and numbered by the artists.
So many of the words that you say – “books, limited editions, collectors’ items, printed” – seem to be fading and a little counter-intuitive in the age of the digital revolution. What are your thoughts on this?
There are more interesting, beautifully printed things being made now than ever before! Scratch Press is catering to such a niche audience that if we can’t sell 25 copies of a book, that’s our fault – not the printed medium.
You take really provocative and beautiful photographs. What is the message that you are trying to convey as an artist?
I like to make my work feel like a world that I don’t live in but have lived in for a brief moment. I want every picture I take to represent a moment in which I was having fun while taking it. That’s what I want, all the time: happiness, beauty, and love. It’s all about curation. I try to edit the work down to make it feel like it represents the happiest time on earth. Even if the subject is of something that could be considered dark, make it feel fun and full of love. There are enough dark and negative things in the world, and I don’t want to contribute to any of that. In that sense, Scratch Press is about showcasing our work and promoting artists who are aligned with our aesthetic sense of beautiful things.
What kind of models do you like to photograph?
As cliché as it is, I love to shoot my friends and I like to shoot a lot of nude models, but have no real interest in “classic” nudes. I just think there’s nothing better than looking at a happy naked person. That’s something everyone’s always going to look at. I love happy naked people. If there are any happy naked people out there, I’d love to hang out and shoot them being happy and naked.
It’s beautiful. It’s freedom. Also, whether people are on board or offended, they’re going to look at it. It’s a great unifier.
How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success? Except for volunteering to be happy naked subjects, that is?
Everybody needs exposure and publicity. It’d be great not to have a square job.