Kala Mandrake’s Window to the Underground
Interview with the provocative photographer and filmmaker
Käla Mandrake is an unstoppable force of artistic passion.
Maybe this comes from her grandfather, the legendary Mandrake the Magician, and a family filled with Vaudeville performers. Maybe it’s simply a product of growing up in New York City. Whatever it was, Käla got the bug at a young age, and it seems she never looked back.
At 13, she got her first Ricoh 35mm camera, and started on her path of documenting life as she saw it. She soon found herself exploring the East Village, befriending and photographing punks, runaway teenagers, abandoned buildings, and everything else that caught her eye.
Since then, she’s continued to plow her way through New York’s Underground art scene, documenting what she sees via photography and video. She’s also worked as a producer for BBC America and HBO among others, as well as releasing two books: Fiction Story, a tale of love, loss, magic, murder, and a dream come true, and Underground, an intimate look into the lives of those who have chosen to carve their own unique paths in life.
Mandrake first appeared in our pages in 2002, with a photo gallery posted on Get Underground. We recently caught up with her again, to talk about working on Melody Sweet’s Slice of Heaven video (which will be showing at at the Museum of Sex on March 31st), and life as an artist in the Big Apple:
Käla Mandrake, “Underground”
2011 marks the launch of photographer Käla Mandrake’s decade long photographic project, “underground’, a glossy coffee table book, that portrays downtown New York.
The fact that Käla is the granddaughter of the famous vaudevillian, Mandrake the Magician, may have something to do with her ability to capture the theater of the City’s daily life (or more accurately night life). Her old school black & white 35 mm film shots, spanning from her late teens into her 30s, are an array of East Village characters from; musicians, performers, artists, burlesque dancers as well as squatters, punks, and runaway teenagers.
As a product of the East Village scene herself Mandrake intimately captures that slice of the City, so often romanticized by lesser artists—the gritty underground.
Velvetpark magazine had published Kala’s work back in the early aughts, so when she reached out to us recently we were delighted to find the development and realization of her work in a Folio format. Congratulations to the artist and her vision.
Here’s our conversation:
When did you decide to turn your photos into a book?
I decided to turn my photographs into a book many years ago. The idea emerged right after my first gallery exhibition in 2000 at CB’s Gallery. Seeing my photographs displayed next to each other for the first time, I thought the natural evolution of this project would be to have them made into a book.
The project’s theme and message being people that follow their own unique paths in life. Because I am always drawn to such people, I continued to shoot the amazing New Yorkers I met over the years, and expanded on my portfolio. Finally in 2009, I was able to start the process of having it published.
Was that the plan all along?
Yes, I had been feeling very strongly that these pictures belonged together in a book. I knew it would be called “UNDERGROUND” from the very beginning. It was the perfect title to me as everything that the word “underground” signifies fits perfectly with the concept, vibe and development of this project.
ARTICLES OF THE PAST:
NY ARTS MAGAZINE, 2007
SHOW BUSINESS WEEKLY, 2005
PICTURE MAGAZINE, 2002
—VELVETPARK MAGAZINE, 2001