Photographer Eddie Rehfeldt has launched a photography exhibit called “Contact High” at The Piranha Shop in Sodo. The photos capture people while they are in the midst of humanity, but connected only to technology.
Until his father brought the camera home, Eddie Rehfeldt was an only child who spent a lot of time on his own. In the Nikon F2, he found a sibling, a companion. A passion.
He wandered the streets of Taiwan, where his father was working, taking photos of dumpling stands, stray dogs, people stacked on mopeds. Grave sites.
After his parents split up, Rehfeldt moved back to the States with his mother, and spent the school year photographing his life in Nashville, Tennessee.
The camera, and the act of taking photos, helped bridged a life torn between two very different cultures and two separate parents. And it helped fight off Rehfeldt’s feeling of loneliness.
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“It was comforting that there was a specific way of seeing the experiences I was having,” Rehfeldt said the other day. “It was a way to make sense of it, but also to normalize it.”
Decades later, Rehfeldt, 53, has picked up his old friend again to find those same frames of isolation he felt and photographed as a 10-year-old — but with a technological twist.
He has launched a photography exhibit called “Contact High” at The Piranha Shop in Sodo. The photos capture people while they are in the midst of humanity, but connected only to technology.
A kid rises from a sea of people at Bumbershoot like a buoy, but despite all the faces, he sees only one: His own, in the phone he holds in front of his face.
A vendor selling roasted nuts on a New York street is surrounded by people, traffic, skyscrapers. But his only connection in that moment: His phone.
“The biggest pandemic we’re going to have is isolation,” Rehfeldt said. “Social media makes us feel we’re connected, but we’re really not.”
The 35 photos — including one mural, and some printed on watercolor paper — stand on their own, even without a theme.
There is one rock star: Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready, who stands with his guitar slung across his middle, but his arms aloft and his head tilted back and his own world. He, too, is isolated, but connected to music, the fans. His amp. Something otherworldly.
“There’s no more isolating moment than when a musician is onstage, lost in the music,” Rehfeldt said. “We’re just witnesses.”
By day, Rehfeldt is the regional executive creative director at Edelman, a global communications-marketing firm. In this context, though, he calls himself Fatforehead.
“It’s funny and irreverent,” he said of his artistic moniker. “It’s the opposite of conceit.”
His work is inspired by photographer Robert Frank, whose most famous work, “The Americans,” consisted of portraits of postwar society — both the working and upper classes — in the style of a Beat poet (Jack Kerouac wrote the book’s introduction).
He also relates to the late Vivian Maier — a nanny whose street photography was only discovered 11 years ago when the contents of her storage locker were auctioned off, and a massive collection of negatives were discovered, along with her talent.
“I identified with Vivian Maier,” Rehfeldt said. “I wasn’t sure if anyone was ever going to see my stuff.”
It’s quite possible, though, that they have seen some of his other work.
Rehfeldt’s early relationship with that Nikon camera fueled his love of film, which led him to New York University, then a job as an assistant to director Martin Scorsese. He worked on Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video, among others, then moved to Seattle in 1991 to form Cowboy Films with director Josh Taft. They made music videos for bands such as Cypress Hill, A Tribe Called Quest, Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam.
In 1997, Rehfeldt wrote and directed a film called “After,” which was accepted to the Sundance and Seattle International film festivals.
That same year, when his wife, Lisa, became ill, he took a stable job with a health plan at Microsoft, and his time with his camera was squeezed — even more so when the couple had two children, Jake and Lily.
In 2010, his friends Adam Zacks and Lynn Resnick — founders of the Sasquatch! Music Festival — gave him a press pass. Shoot whatever you want, Zacks told him.
Rehfeldt photographed some of the musicians as they performed, but he was more inclined to take pictures of the audience, or walk through the crowd and talk to the fans.
“Why are you here?” he would ask. “Is this your first?”
All the while, he would hold his camera below his chest.
“And just when they’re giggling and showing that connection, I’d shoot,” Rehfeldt said. “The empathic thread has to pass between the photographer and the subject.
“It was more fun than shooting the bands,” he said. “It was like an awakening. You can tell a huge story inside the frame.”
The photos landed on the festival’s Instagram, were projected on the sides of the stage during the shows and published by Rolling Stone and Spin.
And when the Seattle band Thunderpussy needed a photo for the single of their new song, “Speed Queen,” Rehfeldt got the job, thanks to his friend, McCready, who has been the band’s champion.
Rehfeldt is thrilled to be shooting again, spending time with his old friend the camera in a new, yet familiar way. Returning to what he knows, and what comforts him.
“It was only when my kids grew up when I realized I had so much to say,” he said. “We take for granted the things that fulfill us. The tools are sharp … we just don’t know when to pull them out.
“A different context gives them new meaning. New life.”