Todd Selby
Photo by Mark Seliger

Todd Selby: “Start your own thing”

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Short Profile

Name: Todd Selby
DOB: 1 October 1977
Place of Birth: Orange County, California, USA
Occupation: Photographer

Mr. Selby, your website The Selby gives an inside look on how creative people of all kinds live. How much of a voyeur is in every one of us?

I think it is a basic human instinct to be voyeuristic or to be nosy or to be curious. I think those are all shades of the same instinct. And that is definitely something that plays into what I do. I think that curiosity is human nature.

What part of a house says the most about a person?

It is hard to generalize, but I think it is often the living room, because that is where you do your entertaining. It is kind of what you are presenting to your guests. But it always depends on the person. Sometimes it is their closet, sometimes it is their office or their atelier.

I sometimes feel that people’s living room is like their Facebook page. They only show you what they want to show you.

That is true, too.

When you visit somebody’s home where do you start? Does the person have to interest you? And how much do you know before you get there?

It is about the people, the place, what they do – the whole thing interests me. I always research everything before I go in. I don’t just come in and say, “Oh, whoops. What is this?” I make sure that everything makes sense and works for what I do. Usually I have been there or I have seen photos.

The photos always seem very personal and open. Do you usually go by yourself?

I would say that 95 percent of the time I go by myself. I direct commercials and do ads with big crews, so to me it is refreshing to be working by myself. And it is a much different atmosphere for the subject. They feel less stressed out. So it is a better way to do it.

Four years ago, you said your apartment is not interesting enough to be on your website. Has that changed over the years?

I have moved since then, but I guess at the end of the day what I do is very personal and it still has a root as a personal project. I know a lot of people look at it and I did the books and stuff, but if something doesn’t interest me then I don’t do it. So I never wake up in the morning and think, “I am going to take pictures of my house!” I really have to have a reason. If it were related to a project maybe… But it has never interested me.

Do you ever get ideas for your own place from things that you photograph at other people’s houses?

I used to be more of a collector before I started with The Selby. I used to go to flea markets every weekend. I still do and I still have this collector’s impulse, but working on my website has somehow cured me from that. I see so many things and so much stuff. It is all a bit overwhelming. I love stuff, but I am happy to see it at other people’s houses now. I very, very rarely think, “Oh that is so cool, I want that for my house!” I am kind of over that now.

You’ve never seen something at somebody’s house and wanted it bad enough to go buy one for yourself?

Well, one thing that I do love and that I did see at someone’s house and I bought was a Coco de Mer, which is a coconut from the Seychelles Islands. It is shaped like a butt. I really love that.

Are there people who still say no to your requests to photograph their house?

Well, I really would like to shoot the Obama White House. And I have been trying, and trying for years now. So, we will see.

Were you a professional photographer before starting The Selby?

I have been a professional photographer for thirteen years now. I worked as an editorial photographer, a commercial photographer, I messed around with fashion photography, portrait photography, still life – I was just taking assignments for magazines basically. Now I make my own assignments.

Were you frustrated working for magazines?

I was lucky that I was working in a time period when magazines had more money and I was able to pay my rent doing shoots and taking on different kinds of assignments. That was a great education. It’s a great job working with magazines as a photographer and it’s really exciting, but then at a certain point you realize that you are just waiting for the phone to ring, you are waiting for that perfect assignment. At that point, I think it is really important to start your own thing – follow your own interests.

That’s true, but unfortunately a lot of people “did their own thing” by copying your thing.

I guess that is the nature of any kind of creative endeavor though. After I had my success, I knew it would happen eventually that people would say, “Oh, that sounds fun, I should do that.” It is something that has sprouted up in every country of the world. But the good thing is that it forces you to evolve. If you have one idea and then just kind of go out there and keep hammering at it, you don’t have any evolution. That is one of the reasons my second book was about the food world and now I am bringing out one about fashion.

An industry you seem to have always been quite connected to.

I have always liked to photograph people that are larger than life – characters, colorful personalities, eccentrics – and a lot of fashion people fit into that category. It’s kind of been my circle of friends being in New York for sixteen years, going to shows and kind of learning about it. But at the same time I have never worked professionally in it. I’m not a fashion photographer, so I’m kind of an insider but I’m kind of an outsider as well. My book Fashionable Selby is kind of an insider’s take on the whole on the world of fashion. So there are a lot of people there that even fashion people won’t know about, people making dye, people raising angora bunnies, people making shoes by hand in East London.

After spending so much time dealing with an industry like that, what surprised you the most?

That everyone has their own way of working and their own process and their own way of creating. I really like that, because there is no wrong way to do it. Some designers don’t even sketch, some people work straight from the beginning. They make a pattern first and then they make the outfit, or some people start with the fabric. For some people it is all about the muse and others don’t even have a fit model. Some people do every single thing themselves by their own hands and some people use computers for the whole process. It is really exciting. It is a fun thing that there is no right or wrong way to do things. It is more about what works best for that person.

Have you figured out what works best for you?

The thing that I try to avoid is my work focusing on clichés or becoming trend-oriented. If I feel that I’m seeing too much of a certain kind of thing or if I’m doing too much of a certain kind of thing, I always change directions. Then I go somewhere else. Go to a different country or place. I think it is boring if you do the same thing too long.