Exclusive: Tony Stamolis’s Stark Vision of Suburbia

Before we got in touch with our teenage side, last night we headed downtown to Stricola Contemporary in Manhattan to celebrate the launch of a new book, Frezno, from one of our favorite NY-based photographers, Tony Stamolis.

Stamolis spent six years documenting his hometown of Fresno, Calif. (which came in dead last in a government survey of towns with a high quality of life), and in his resultant tome, paints an honest portrait of urban decay that is at once provocative, humorous and disquieting.

Last night’s party — replete with a mariachi band, canned Bud, signature beer kozies and temporary tattoos, as well as a taco truck — was a fitting tribute to Freszno and Fresno alike. As much as we loved the free beer and marinated pork, the best things about the night were the oversize, color-saturated photographs printed on vinyl banners with grommets — and getting the chance to chat up the man of the night.

Check our interview with him after the jump.

Flavorwire: How long ago did you move away from Fresno?
Tony Stamolis: 21 years.

FW: How do you feel about going back now?
TS: I love going back! It does feel a bit weird now, because my mom moved away last year—it’s like my roots were torn out of the ground! Most friends I’m in touch with have moved away, but I met a bunch of very cool people because of this project. It will always be one of my homes.

FW: Have you always felt so positively about it?
TS: When I left, I was 17 and wanted nothing more than to get out, which I think is typical with any teenager and their hometown. It took me 12 years to get over that. Then during a visit in 1999, something just clicked and I became completely obsessed with it. Taking photos of the place and the people became a form of therapy to me. Most of my visits were to help my mom, who’s been in poor health for years. The project is what I did to escape on my downtime.

FW: What about have you come to appreciate?
TS: Fresno is an odd place — and most people would think it’s a third world shit-hole — but there is something so sweet about it to me. A lot of my love for it is just sense memory — I miss the insanely hot weather, the amazing food (my favorite is a place called Don Pepe’s, which is housed in an old KFC,) the car culture, the fine silty dust that is in the air (a constant reminder that it is still an ag town), the sound of freight trains all day and all night, and the flora and fauna that grows year-round in that climate.