We had the good fortune of connecting with Tag Christof and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tag, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
If the past few years have taught us anything at all, it’s that nothing is guaranteed. Our parents mostly lived in a world where progress was linear, institutions were stable and reliable, and success was mostly just a matter of following the rules. None of that applies to the world we live in today — in fact, it can seem like the more you follow established rules, the worse off you can be. So, perhaps paradoxically, taking risks has become a safer bet in many ways.
I didn’t have much of a playbook for life set out for me. I didn’t grow up in a place or in a family where there were many examples of what success or a life well-lived should look like. I went to college early, got a degree in economics, went to work for a bank and then realized I hated the path I’d taken – it should’ve been clear much earlier that it had been the wrong path to take, but I just had no guidance whatsoever. So, I quit and went to art school. I had looked around, sized up my priorities and aspirations and realized that my own idea of success had a lot more to do with depth of experience and the ability to explore bigger ideas. I’m certainly a lot poorer than I would’ve been if I’d gone forward on my first career path, but that hardly seems to matter when I get to engages with artists, architects, curators and other thinkers about big ideas, rather than with bankers about balance sheets.
As far as I’m concerned, you should make that big bet. You should sell everything and start over again at least once. Old ideas of success no longer apply, so make the journey as vibrant as it can be.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m a photographer and writer focused mostly on design’s relationship to culture. I’m interested in the way America’s consumer culture has shaped our entire world at all scales, from one-time-use packaging to giant buildings, like shopping malls, that can go from cutting-edge to obsolete to demolished in just one generation. Currently, I’m working on a new editorial project about American design in context.
I’m not sure quite where I am in the larger scheme of success or failure, but I am very happy that I can wake up every day and engage with interesting societal questions. I suppose one key to finding a niche as an artist is being consistent in your outlook but omnivorous in your interests – looking outside and beyond yourself is the most critical tool an artist has, and yet it seems like this is the opposite of what almost everyone is doing these days.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
L.A.’s the best city in the world, because it can be anything, anytime, anywhere – people have always come here to build their dreams from scratch. I just love the places in town that allow you to breathe in the past. First, take a drive down Sunset or Ventura Blvd. or along Mulholland in a convertible, with the top down at sunset. Then, eat at one of the glorious old restaurants that have been kept alive and original out of pure passion: Musso & Frank, Pann’s, Canter’s. Tom Bergin’s, Cole’s, Langer’s, Tam o’ Shanter, and the handful of others. Then have a drink somewhere vibrant and diverse, full of the particularly vital, beautiful people that live here – I love the patio at Bacari on 3rd St. or The Wolves bar downtown.
I give most of my friends who come to L.A. for the first time a copy of Reyner Banham’s “Architecture of the Four Ecologies.” No book does a better job of making L.A. seem like both some version of utopia and an urban catastrophe at the same time. There’s also a great, kitschy 1970s documentary that goes along with it that you can easily find on YouTube!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’ve always had an innate obsession with the idea that some things that are inherently, intrinsically wonderful even if they don’t look so good on the surface. When my cousins and I built things with Legos as kids, I would always make mine perfectly color-coordinated and as functional as possible, where it seemed like every other kid just built a thing that kind of looked like a thing – color, shape, form be damned. (I was probably an insufferable child.) It wasn’t until I first read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” like every precocious, angsty teenager that I found a vocabulary for what I had always been obsessed with but never had been able to put into words: everything is a question of quality. When I first came across Jasper Morrison and Naoto Fukasawa’s work in “Super Normal,” it tied everything together. Their basic idea was that some things, like Bialetti coffee pots and Fiskars scissors, are so wonderful despite their banality that they transcend their own forms—they are delightful to use and see, precisely because they’re thoughtful, humble, inclusive and not precious.
I try to live a life of exactly this kind of quiet “quality,” from my own work to the objects I surround myself with.
All images © Tag Christof