Alex Israel: Let’s just get started with a few basics. I came to know you as @gangculture on Instagram, but what’s your real name? Are you a native Angeleno? Where did you grow up?
Trevor Hernandez: My name is Trevor Hernandez, and I am a native Angeleno. I lived in Burbank when I was really young, spent some time in the valley, then moved north to the suburbs. During and after college I lived on the Eastside, Westside and currently live in Northeast LA.
AI: Have you always made art? Did you go to art school? I know you worked for Jason Rhoades—something we have in common, although we never overlapped. What was that experience like for you?
TH: I have always had an interest in art, but it was a causal relationship prior to my education at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. While attending ArtCenter, Rachel Khedoori introduced me to Jason, and I started working in his studio soon after. The experience was educational and entertaining. It was very helpful to watch and participate in his process at a time when I was immersed in a rigorous program at school. Working with him was a great counterbalance to academic life.
AI: How did you become @gangculture? How did the account begin, and what can you tell me about the name?
TH: I created my Instagram account in 2012 for fun. The name @gangculture was initially intended as a title for publication, but I decided to abandon the idea once I saw the potential in posting directly to the app. I originally thought of the title as a cultural critique of tribalism—not street gangs—but the politics of the original project have nothing to do with my account now. It’s just a name that stands for something larger than myself.
AI: Tell me about your process. Do you go out looking for things to photograph, or do you just happen upon them when you least expect it?
TH: I’m always searching for things to shoot, but I try to dedicate at least a day a week to wandering around unfamiliar places. The most effective method begins by traveling solo in an environment with few distractions.
AI: What’s your criteria for a good image? Do you ever stage your work or components of it?
TH: The images are never staged or manipulated. I don’t find that very interesting. My criteria continues to shift, but I’m generally searching for moments that disrupt a space in a compelling way.
AI: Do you spot most of your photographic subjects from the car or while walking?
TH: Both. The search generally begins in the car, but if I spot something, I will usually explore on foot in search of additional shots once I’m walking around.
AI: Has the work changed the way you move around the city?
TH: The habits I’ve developed make it difficult to navigate the city at times. I’m easily distracted and end up taking detours that extend my travel time. I find the new routes beneficial in terms of having a better understanding of the city itself.
AI: Since you started posting, Instagram has undergone a number of changes—I sometimes find myself having to take a break from it. What are your thoughts about the platform as it stands today?
TH: I prefer the early experience over the new. It was nice when Instagram was just a photo feed with no algorithm in place or additional features that consume so much time if you attempt to view it all.
AI: What are your favorite Instagram accounts?
AI: Does @gangculture have a life after Instagram? Will the work leap from the digital world into the physical world?
TH: I’ve had books published and photos curated in shows, but my intention for the work has always been to live on Instagram. I have no desire to make a transition to the physical world unless the work calls for it.
AI: How is LA banality different than banality everywhere else?
TH: The layout of the city allows things to accumulate in various places, which is different from most large cities. I have a difficult time in San Francisco and New York due to the close proximity of the buildings and homes. But if you spend enough time exploring, you can discover a few gems anywhere.
AI: Have you always found beauty in the mundane?
TH: Beauty exists in everything. The bigger challenge for me is finding something interesting.
AI: Do you filter your images?
TH: All my photos are phone-to-feed. In the early days of Instagram, there were times when a filter was needed to brighten an image. Once Instagram updated the app to include additional editing features, there was no longer a need for a filter.
AI: What do you do when you’re not taking or posting photographs?
TH: I’m trying to live a happy and healthy life. I have a full- time job so it can be a challenge if I want to feed the feed.
AI: Is @gangculture a counterbalancing mechanism for your full- time-job life?
TH: The work has become a part of my routine, so I don’t think of it as a counterbalance, but the process is a great creative departure from my full-time-job life.
AI: Do the photographs go up as soon as you get them, or do you stockpile them and then curate the feed with deliberate, non-linear timing?
TH: I prefer to post the photos soon after they are taken, but sometimes I’ll live with them for a while prior to posting. I don’t have a stockpile, but I’ll hold images for a later date to avoid clogging the feed.
AI: What LA voices or visionaries inspire you most?
TH: The list of influential individuals associated with LA is extensive, so I’ll limit my answer to a few of the artists I enjoy who were born in LA: Michael Asher, Frances Stark and Christopher Williams. I’m also really interested in the A-Z West work by Andrea Zittel and projects created or organized by Wendy Yao.