All That Jazz

Lisa Eisner Catches Up With Photographer Paul "Jazzy" Jasmin at His LA Home

Photographer Paul Jasmin grew up in Helena, Montana, enchanted by the fantasy world of movies. “When I was 16, I remember getting lost in the ravishing two-shot of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift kissing in George Steven’s A Place in the Sun,” he says. “At that moment I was transported into a world that I desperately wanted to experience.” The 75-year-old, now based in Los Angeles, has been pursuing it ever since. To celebrate the release of his third book of photographs, California Dreaming, artist, photographer, fashion guru and fellow Golden State devotee Lisa Eisner sat down with the Jasmin to talk about palm trees and his own fountain of youth.

I must say that I love all your work and all your books but I really love this book so much. I feel like it is the most “Jazzy”—the most intimate book you’ve done.

I’m in my 70s now and this is about reflecting on the years and all the people I took pictures of, and the things I wanted to be when I was their age. LA is really a city of dreamers. The light’s just a little bit nicer, the sky is just a little bit bluer, and you still have a dream or you wouldn’t be here. The book is recognizing those kids and their dreams.

Every 20-year-old I know wants to hang out with you. What’s the secret?

Inspiring! That’s why I teach. I think the 21st century is totally lacking in anything inspirational—it’s a “Dancing with the Stars” mentality. Young people do have dreams but they repress them. I try to get people to dream again. I’m kind of vampiric. I get energy from young people. People my age are so fucking boring. It’s all in your head. That’s why I love the eccentrics. You’ve got to find soul.
Everywhere I go I meet people you’ve taught. Did you ever think you would be a teacher?

Never. I have no degrees––my education was the world. When I moved to Paris in the late 50s—oh God!—everything was out of a Godard movie, everyone in silhouette. I was always a visualist. I decided if I wasn’t inspired by something I’d move on.

I can tell this book was pictures you took for yourself. It feels way more personal.

[It’s the same with] what you’re doing. I loved your show Psychonaut. You can see the psychedelics of escapism. Everybody has to escape today. You made people look and it gave them an—ah!—a little jolt. What I wanted to do with this [book] is show things as a little more glamorous than they were. These glasses I have on are rose-colored. The 21st century is bumming me out. I don’t like the way it looks. So, the rose-colored glasses; I wanted to show people what it looks like through them.

That’s the thing with you. You—and Bruce [Weber] is like that too—dream up a whole world in your head. It’s like, I live in LA, but I’d rather be in Morocco, so you bring Morocco here. No one else lives like this in LA.

If you look out my window it’s nothing but the tops of palm trees, so I’m not in LA. I can go anywhere in my head. It’s kinda like old style… because there’s not a lot of style these days.

You started off as an illustrator? You moved from Montana to New York?

Acting. I was so bad. I just wanted to do anything to be around movies.

What about [when you supplied] the voice of Norman Bates’s mother in Psycho?

When I did that I was trying to be a serious actor. [Then] I realized I wasn’t a serious actor. So in my late 20s I decided to go back to painting. And I did that for about ten years. I always took Polaroids for the paintings and sometimes I loved what happened. I began to think, 'Look, you can paint with a camera.' That’s what I try to do with photography. But it’s always about making something romantic of reality. I grew up in a housing project in Montana but to me it was heaven because I was always dreaming.

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