Local photographer Bernard Colbert talks about his new show "Getting Into Face," which chronicles the creative process of two of Chicago's most popular faces, JoJo Baby and Sal-E.
Getting Into Face grew from my experience of living and working in the Wicker Park/ Bucktown neighborhood.
I go out a lot. I love the nightlife. I have always noticed and appreciated the way bartenders, musicians, DJs, hairstylists, photographers—basically, service industry people, visual artists and performers of all types, mingle with each other, entertain each other, support and inspire each other. I call this interaction "crossover" and it is what inspired me to begin shooting JoJo and Sal-E.
JoJo is my good friend and neighbor. In 2005 JoJo hooked me up with his employer ( at the time ) Milio, of Milio's Salon. I shot their advertising monthly until Milio sold the business. The Milio images were the precursor to the 'Getting Into Face' project. I got to create advertising images which were unique. We shot concepts such as 80s rock, Goth, Punk, winged fairies, body painting and Asian themes. We played with ideas of sexuality. There was always an element of humor.
My friends and I were brainstorming about my next logical step for creativity and career. We were joking around about following JoJo with cameras in public and pretending to be paparazzi. The suggestion came up that I should get a ཤs period press photographer's costume and go around under the alias of 'Frank Swank' ( in homage to the beloved and now lost hot dog stand 'Swank Frank'. ) The concept also conjures the 'famous' Wee Gee and local photographer 'Phil Flash.'
Then and there I decided to invent the persona 'Frank Swank', a pretentious and artsy nightlife photographer. I pledged to document local celebrities in my own style, with my particular commentary on pop culture.
Collaborating with JoJo and Sal-E was the logical first assignment for 'Frank Swank.'
Getting Into Face is true collaboration. There is no way to overestimate what JoJo and Sal-E bring to the camera. They bring expert skill in make-up and costuming, concepts, planning and acting ability. The artistry of JoJo and Sal-E rival anything I have ever seen in Chicago. I would compare them to Cirque du Soleil and Red Moon Theatre. I can only take credit for what I do with lighting, setting, composition and angles. I suppose I can also take credit for choosing such wonderful muses.
Divas JoJo and Sal are pretentious and catty characters about town. One on one, I know them to be two of the most gentle and genuine people I have ever met.
Catch Bernard and company at the opening reception this Friday, January 18 from 6-10 p.m. at Gallery 203 in the Flat Iron Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave., suite #203.
-Bernard Colbert ( AKA Frank Swank )