Finding the Light with Matt Francisco

Light is what brought Matt Francisco to Los Angeles. Or, at least, it was learning lighting for large production film projects. And while he would realize that the movie business isn’t where his passion lies, the lessons of working on large sets would find their way into his photography. Originally from Northwest Boston, Francisco cherishes the consistency of LA sunshine, which enables photography work year-round. He describes the quality of the region’s light like a beauty dish, a photography tool used often in the fashion industry, which wraps subjects in concentrated light. It’s softer than a flash, but still has a unique intensity to it.

Paging through his portfolio, light is an ever-present force, not simply in technical ways, but often as a flourish or accent. Light acts as its own subject in Francisco’s intimate portraiture, functioning as a sort of connecting thread, illuminating his subjects beyond the obvious means, towards a deeper sense of honesty.

When asked about style, he bypasses any claim of allegiance to a particular aesthetic, instead defining his images by the way they are able to connect. “It’s hard to describe and put a finger on, but my favorite images are the ones that have a sense of truth to them,” he asserts.

That truth comes from a resonance and sense of comfort that is forged through building relationships. As a musician and DJ immersed in Los Angeles’ electronic music scene, Francisco has worked to build community with other musicians. Photography has given him an in with his peers, a way to connect to and exchange with fellow artists he respects.

“LA is such a pop music industry town that a lot of these smaller pockets of music get buried,” he suggests. “I’ve been trying to see how I can directly support other artists using my camera and using my photography.”

There is an atmosphere of ease that needs to be created during sittings, so that subjects can relax, and the walls can come down, and a connection can be made through the lens. Francisco does this in part by creating curated playlists for his subjects to build upon common ground. There is a therapeutic aspect to how he describes building trust from behind the camera, which he suggests is a similar process to DJing. “People are walking into this room and you’re trying to show them something new and exciting and interesting and open their mind up a little bit, but also make them feel comfortable,” he explains.

These points of connection are a through line he sees across his work, regardless of medium. It’s that interest in relationships that sets him apart, he says, and that requires patience. Growing up on the east coast of the United States, he internalized the go go go mentality, but the dependability of Los Angeles sunshine and committing to a studio practice has opened the possibilities of time and patience. In the studio he shares with friends, moments are able to unravel organically and intentionally, not function as heavily according to a set schedule of light and dark.

“It becomes more about: am I feeling good enough to create something today?” he allows. “I’m making that decision for myself, whereas in a place where you don’t have those consistent parameters you can rely on, you might not be able to do that as much.”

Francisco self-released his debut album Blurry in June under the moniker Without the San. The title suggests a dissolving of boundaries and, while electronic in focus, incorporates aspects of Francisco’s classical and jazz music background. It’s a value that one could connect back to Francisco’s wider artistic practice: the medium may change, but consistency remains. Fluid and bright, it’s very much road music — there’s momentum and forward progress to its sound, upbeat but not rushed, fitting for cross-country driving, your vehicle being the video game icon eating the miles of road as its propelled forward. It’s easy to imagine highways as a vein in the greater system of the body or standing in as a metaphor for relationships amidst an ecosystem. No matter where we’re from, we are always connected somehow.

In August, Francisco’s connective interests saw him releasing a single called “Give It Time (Fading)” for new electronic pop project Not the Ending, with singer-songwriter Julia Rose Segal. Longtime friends living on opposite coasts — Segal is based in New York City — they have an EP in the works, which has pushed them both out of their comfort zones. Segal adopted Francisco’s electronic palette and Francisco was tasked with exploring songwriting and structure in a new way. The blending aspect falls in line with Francisco’s creative trajectory, of his worlds coming together. It’s a sort of cyclical integration that seems to have been a long time coming, pushed perhaps by his move across the country. “[It] all started with music, which is why that’s kind of what I’ve been trying to bring back in my life since I moved to LA,” Francisco attests. A beginning begets a new beginning: his circle is complete upon a return.

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