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What the Photos You Take Say About You

Apr 10 2017

by Devin Peek

Ivan Cash got his first job in advertising by getting arrested—for selling t-shirts advocating for the firing of Knicks coach Isaiah Thomas. No joke. After a stint in that world working for Venables Bell & Partners and Wieden+Kennedy, he set out on his own to explore a different kind of client—everyday people. His projects, whether about protest signs or the last photo someone took on their phone, are a deep dive into how the images we create help tell our stories. In this first installment of Creative Crushes, I caught up with him over coffee to find out what he's been up to.

Ivan Cash Header

Photo by Bryan Derballa

In one sentence, who are you?

I am a human being who creates art, films, and cultural movements that inspire curiosity and connection.

What do you do? How did you learn it? 

I do a lot of things, all of which are self-taught. First, I was an art director at Venables Bell and Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam. Then I became an interactive artist making large-scale community driven projects, like Selfless Portraits, Last Photo, and Snail Mail My Email, and I published a book. And more recently, I’ve become a film director.

A lot of my work explores human connection and connecting with strangers, which comes from getting bullied as a kid and becoming fascinated with how people interact and treat each other. My biggest piece of advice in learning a creative skill is to stay curious, keep experimenting, and try reaching out to those who inspire you. That’s basically what I’ve done over and over again to get to where I am today. 

Snail Mail My Email is a community art project where volunteers transform strangers’ emails into handwritten letters, free of charge.

What are your three favorite possessions?

  1.  My stuffed animal Snuffleupagus, which I’ve had since I was born.
  2. Handwritten letters from over the years.
  3. My data.

I had a house fire five years ago and lost nearly everything. It showed me that most possessions are replaceable. It’s my creative ideas and material that are most prized.

What does a typical work session look like for you?

I don’t really have a typical work session; my days are split between working in the studio, traveling to give a talk, going out to make a film, or working on-site with a client. I really like this balance of working with a team and working in solitude. I need this constant mix of circumstances to keep me both energized and recharged.

Signs of the Times explores the personal, human stories behind protest signs, without ever showing the sign holders’ faces.

How do you get over creative block?

I can’t really work if I’m in a messy or loud environment. So my studio needs to be immaculately tidy and quiet. That’s the first thing.

Secondly, I’m very sensitive, and so often a creative block means an unresolved emotional conflict. Taking the time to journal, find closure in a relationship, or talk to my therapist are all good things. 

Finally, I get over creative blocks by making new work (that may not be great) and not judging myself for it. Creative block happens when my standards get so high that I become fearful of not meeting some expectation and get paralyzed. The important thing I have to keep reminding myself is to have fun and to not take everything so seriously, because nothing really matters and we’re all going to die!

The ‘Last Photo’ Project is an ongoing video series where Ivan asks strangers in different cities to share the last photo on their phones.

How do you see the world in 2078?

Optimistic version: We’ll live in a post-digital age where we've gone back to appreciate the simpler things like nature and meditation. Our lives will still be digitally integrated, but it'll be much more seamless and we’ll place greater value on taking breaks from tech.

Dystopic version: Life will be lived within a virtual reality headset and/or brands will be more invasive than they are now. On cars. On skin. In our homes. We will make money by consuming ads.

Ivan Cash Card

Who are you (creative) crushing on lately?

My dancer/choreographer friend Jacob Jonas who is killing it right now.

Moonlight director Barry Jenkins.

Valerie Luu and Andria Lo’s photography project Chinatown Pretty.

American Honey director Andrea Arnold.

  • Devin Peek

    Design + Visual Storytelling, IDEO San Francisco
    Devin is a designer and visual storyteller who recharges by sleeping under the stars. She's fascinated by people and their stories. She is at her happiest with a camera in one hand and chopsticks in the other.

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