SWEATY AND DELIRIOUS Jeff Antebi

The photojournalist shares
his
Fever Dream.

 

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

“I did sort of drop out.”  

 

In order to become a photographer, something he never
intended to do, Jeff Antebi had to abandon his successful 15-year-old
label/management firm Waxploitation (Gnarls Barkley, Danger Mouse, Broken
Bells) and just shoot. It began as an
impulse buy en route to China
for a business trip. With his “simple camera” Antebi was the usual tourist
shutterbug for a few minutes before wandering into deeper, darker places. “I
would get onto buses and get off at random stops and continue to purposely get
farther away from my starting point, very much wanting to become lost before
taking photographs.”

 

Captivated by the scenes inside alleys, doorways, and
cul-de-sacs, Antebi braved the hard stares of strangers and kept clicking the
shutter. “The more lost I felt, the more enjoyable it was,” he recalls. “Something
about the experience made me feel closer to people, more in touch with life
around me. It’s hard to express what a life-changing thing it was for me.”

 

That feeling led Antebi deeper into the rabbit hole. He
bought better gear and booked more trips. After a 2009 trip to Haiti, he
realized his heart wasn’t in entertainment anymore. “The non-entertainment world
seemed to have more urgency to it. Every time I read about something compelling
happening ‘out there,’ I wanted to [go].”

 

After much soul-searching, Antebi boarded up Waxploitation
and split for Afghanistan.
There, he shot scenes of strife like those of photojournalists Sebastião Salgado, James
Nachtwey and Paula Bronstein. In Juarez, Mexico he snapped shots of drug cartel murders (pictured
below) and elections; in Thailand,
Malay holy war. Similar pictures developed from shoots in Havana, Cuba
and Los Angeles.
Together, they comprise Antebi’s debut photography book, Fever Dream (JeffAntebi.com).

 

 

 

 

The gorgeous, strikingly composed shots evoke compassion,
anger, fear and joy in a way that creates that titular feeling. Antebi puts you
in his subjects’ shoes, then his own, back and forth until you’re sweaty and
delirious. How does anyone live like this? How could Antebi go from music big
shot to risking his life documenting people in such dire straits? That’s an
easy one: Once you see it, you can’t forget it. Antebi shares these photos as
catharsis.

 

Now back in the States, Antebi has revived Waxploitation.
“It was impossible to stay away for too long.” One reckons he feels the same
about photography. No matter how hard or harrowing it was in these
poverty-stricken or war-torn places, “the hardest part was knowing that I’ll be
leaving, and the people around me usually can’t. It’s very hard to be
face-to-face with anyone’s suffering. There’s so little you can do, but as a
photographer, I think you can hope that a photograph might somehow create more
positive outcomes.”

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