Inside the chaotic, playful world of LA photographer prettypuke
Each month, Alternative Press Gallery explores the work of photographers, directors and other creatives who help shape the music world from behind the scenes. With each issue, we explore the stories behind the shoots and take deep dives into the most compelling media, asking about the vision as well as the happy accidents that create some of the most powerful moments in music. Along the way, we talk to rising stars as well as legendary artists, all of whom work to construct a visual story of your favorite artists.
Making art and capturing moments is all that matters to Miller Rodriguez. In fact, Rodriguez — who works under the moniker prettypuke — candidly admits that it is the only thing that has kept him alive. prettypuke is an established photographer, conceptual artist and creative director based in Los Angeles who has captured some of alternative culture’s best. Having amassed nearly 100,000 Instagram followers and viral success in the early days of Tumblr, while having photographed everyone from Bring Me The Horizon and Girlpool to capturing iconic photos of the late Lil Peep, prettypuke has made a significant cultural impact.
In 2022, the young artist is experiencing a major comeback and artistic renaissance after a lengthy hiatus due to internal struggles. prettypuke is today pumping out his signature brand of raw, transgressive and inclusive art that not only pushes boundaries but takes risks, even if detractors try to shut him down. A large majority of prettypuke’s photographs and art capture life’s bizarre moments, putting a spotlight on those who were deemed the “misfits” of society and in turn create something beautiful and forward-thinking. However, this artistic talent and success came from a great degree of hardship and struggle, which is the backbone of his drive to create.
prettypuke has undoubtedly experienced struggles and hardships, ranging from drug addiction, mental health issues, extreme poverty and being displaced by a broken system that fails to help those who need aid the most. At a young age, prettypuke felt like an outsider who wanted so desperately to find his place and passion, and thankfully with the help of a few key figures, found his calling to create experimental high art.
Through every struggle, prettypuke has made it clear that he will never take life for granted and is reinvigorated in every sense of the word. With plans to make his most compelling and impactful art to date, the world will only further get a glimpse through the lens of the universe he has created through his work.
What did the world of prettypuke look like during your formative years when you were a kid?
My first language was Spanish. We lived in Hollywood and didn’t know how to speak proper English, but wanted to fit in. We would move on the first of every month because we couldn’t afford rent. I would assimilate [into] every subculture, hanging out with the cholos, punk rockers and basketball players, and as a kid, I had no control over my environment changing constantly. I had to build my own world, and that’s why I’m so creative because I was always in my head. I remember hanging out outside of my house seeing skateboarders and wanting to join them, but I couldn’t afford a skateboard. I was a loner, a sticky kid on the playground, picking his nose and daydreaming. I came up with this concept, and here I am today. prettypuke is an ongoing art project that’s built on collaboration and inclusivity. prettypuke is a world of misfits who don’t fit in, but it’s a world that I created where I could be king of the hill.
I don’t necessarily see you as king of the hill, but more so having your own party and inviting everyone, while being super inclusive.
Exactly, it’s all about collaboration. When I am working with artists, I’m taking into account their identity and how they express themselves to create iconic images.
[Photo by prettypuke]
What I love about your work is the artistic vulnerability and willingness to take risks. Where does that come from?
I’m not afraid to work with things that people throw shade at. It’s also the Latino aspect of me. I grew up watching Spanish news and soap operas, watching death constantly, women crying, and I’m just a very emotional guy. I’m a lost boy who didn’t have a dad, and in general, my upbringing is the root of me as an artist.
Your work really blurs the line between fine art and the bizarre or risque. I understand you went to California Institute of the Arts to study; I’m curious what that process was like, learning techniques but also diving into more experimental things?
In high school, I was in special education most of the time. I didn’t want to be the dumb kid, so I was the bad, weird kid. I was the kid that was left behind, but I was a daydreamer. In math class, I had a teacher named Ms. Lee who encouraged me to be an artist since she could tell that I had a love for it. It was crazy that my math teacher had a BFA in art, and she helped me put together a portfolio to get me into art school.
I was the comeback kid and started to get my shit together with her, and she got me into college. I stopped doing drugs and hanging out with idiots and got into CalArts. I wanted to learn the basics of everything, and I went into a program for experimental animation that Tim Burton created. I took acting classes, animation, production design... I know and understand the language of every art form, yet can’t do it all perfectly, but the fact that I can convey all my ideas collaborating with other creatives, I’m almost like a Steve Jobs creative director now.
[Photo by prettypuke]
I think people who do all different kinds of productive art find themselves in situations where they do not know exactly what they are looking for, but when people find and collaborate with you, they are able to execute what they are trying to accomplish.
Everything I do is controlled chaos, but everything that I do is from the perspective of a 17-year-old me. On one of my last shoots, I broke into a middle school library — literally broke the door in — and did the shoot there. I’m still creating the same way that I was when I was 17, and now I’m 34, but it’s all I’ve ever known. It’s that youthful, misfit idea, and there’s no money in it because I’m a risk. People come to me to be weird with their art.
What’s your favorite artistic medium within photography? I ask this because you obviously can do so many different styles and have a wide knowledge of camera techniques.
My favorite medium is collage. I am a tangible person who loves to pull from my environment. I have ADHD and constantly need to be moving while expressing myself. I can’t sit in front of a computer doing 3D art for eight hours, even if I love it, so I’ll have someone else do it. Photography is the easiest and hardest thing at the same time. The beauty behind it is that you can master it technically, but you can’t master capturing a moment in time. My learning has all been trial and error.
How did you come up with the name prettypuke?
It started as the name of my blog but became my artistic moniker eventually. It rolls off the tongue and is fun to say. I remember hanging out with Rose McGowan, and I remember my friend trying to have me take her picture, and she was like, “I like the name, but I also don’t like it.” [Laughs.] The dichotomy of that is exactly what my brand is.
[Photo by prettypuke]
What’s your creative process like at any given moment?
As soon as someone tells me to bring a mood board, I always say fuck that, I want to create something that’s never been done before. I create on the spot and never have my ideas planned, and for the most part, I’m freestyling the whole time. People shouldn’t be scared. The first idea is the best idea.
I also want to highlight that you are very loving, caring and protective of artists. Why do you think that is?
I think it’s because I know what it’s like to not be taken seriously and when no one believes in you or gives you help.
I understand that you took some time away from photography and art, essentially giving it up when the pandemic started. What was this time like for you?
I was out of the psych ward, on the couch naked, playing video games, and just giving up on art. I eventually started to work with people again through encouragement. It saved my life working and collaborating with people again. Everyone can see how genuine my photos are. I used to think I was a bad portrait photographer, but I am beginning to realize that it is a strength of mine that everyone wants, especially working with musicians.
[Photo by prettypuke]
It’s interesting to hear you say that you weren’t always comfortable with portrait photography because you have done some truly incredible work with bands and artists recently.
I am shooting a lot of bands, and I see how important it is to work with bands. I am expanding to shooting more than just one person at a time as well. I’ve shot Girlpool, girlfriends, Joyce Manor, Lil Peep and so many others.
What do you think the future holds for prettypuke now? Where do you see yourself heading creatively?
I’m still young, and I have so much more work to do. I want to make books, movies, zines, shorts, conceptual art and so many different things. I want to be the dad I never had, be the coolest dad to my son, and go hard. There’s a lot of eyes on me and opportunity, and I’m not gonna fuck that up. I’m so grateful that I have my sanity, and I have never been this realized as an artist than ever before. There were times when I would run around Hollywood, high on meth talking to myself, and I’m so happy I came back from that. I’ve come so far and am so thankful. Having people recognize me is a blessing and helps me keep moving forward. I want to expand the brand with fashion as well, and almost be like [streetwear brand] Supreme, but done in a cooler fucking way.
Are there any bands or artists, new or old, that you would like to shout out that are currently inspiring you?
I listen to a lot of Chet Baker, the Strokes, Elvis Costello and really just everything. I also still love the stuff I grew up listening to like Rx Bandits and Coheed and Cambria. I was a scene kid growing up. I am a product of my environment and feed off the energy of life.
[Photo by prettypuke]
What do you have to say about those who dismiss you as an artist or think your work is too left-field?
I recently worked with an artist whose creative director won’t let them post the photos I took because they are “off-brand.” They already paid me $5,000 but are still scared to post the photos. For every person that is hating or leaving negative comments on my page, I gain thousands of followers. The false outrage only feeds the beast and brings more eyeballs to what I’m trying to share.
What do you want people to know about you as a person and the legacy you will leave behind one day?
You can put it on record, but I am homeless. I have no savings, no property and no assets. I have money to survive but can’t afford to live. I’m a real artist, and I want everyone to know that everything I do is pure of heart. I am the definition of a starving artist, yet I’m a world-renowned artist and have worked with some of the biggest creators, yet I’m still homeless. I want people to know that my work is not salacious; it’s playful.
prettypuke is me looking at culture and getting it pregnant with ideas, and it’s all I have to keep me going. As an artist and dad, I need to be a serious dude so my son can know that I am dependable. Everyone is going into that 3D, metaphysical space, but fuck that. I’m an urban artist and street photographer. I’ve always had so much support, but I’ve always been self-destructive, insecure and shy. What keeps me alive is my art, and it’s all that I have that hasn’t abandoned me. I’m not going to take things for granted, and I see things clearer now. I just want to fucking keep painting the picture until the portrait is done.
[Photo by prettypuke]
This story appeared in issue #406, available below.