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Bandit Photographer Cory Piehowicz – Exclusive Interview Pt. 2

See Part One of our interview with Cory here.

It didn’t take me long to find out how to irritate Cory Piehowicz. Browsing through the thousands of photos that he has from his denim journeys, he showed off some of the core friends he accompanies on trips to the desert. There’s Mike and Charla Harris, along with Charla’s dad Russ. The Harris clan was most recently responsible for a wonderful display during this year’s Denim Bruin.

There’s Piehowicz’s longtime friend Eric, who often models in his photographs. Brit Eaton, aka Indiana Jeans, joins the group at events but hunts on his own. Viktor, a Swedish collector of denim goods that will purchase a bunch of items from the Harris’s and Eaton, pops up in some photos as well. In one such photo, Piehowicz and Co. are sporting found apparel covered in wax from miner’s candles.

“A lot of people think it’s bird shit,” Piehowicz said bitterly. “But it’s not bird shit, it’s 1800’s candle wax. We’re not going to walk around with bird shit all over us so I hate it when people say that.”

It's Candle Wax. Image Courtesy of Cory PIehowicz

It’s Candle Wax. Image Courtesy of Cory PIehowicz

Bird droppings aside, Piehowicz had an anecdote for every photograph he pulled up. Over and over again he and his friends would be garnished in clothing that has – or just as easily could have – been reproduced by Heller’s Cafe, Levi’s Vintage Clothing, Blue Blanket and other repro denim brands. It’s a very exclusive club that has dug up museum-worthy denim artifacts, and Piehowicz is right in the middle of it.

So how does a guy from Ohio end up hanging out with people nicknamed Indiana Jeans? Read on for part two of our Q&A, which highlights Piehowicz’s desert adventures, denimhead origins, his book project and more.

Heddels (Forrest Old): So how’d you get into (raw denim)?

Cory Piehowicz: Through pictures. I basically collected old photos, and I thought, you know, I liked how these guys dress, and then I got into the denim. Then I was on SuperFuture and I found Mike (Harris) on the thread he had started, Jeans of the Old West. I thought, this is everything that I love and went from there. Mike invited me out and we’ve been super good friends since.

You know, I was into Diesel and stuff way, way back. But that’s what you get exposed to first and you get more and more hardcore, and then you’re into it. It’s a fad for some, but the people who are truly into it are always going to be a part of the culture

RD: That’s the benefit of places such as SuperFuture and DenimBro, you get to learn stuff a little faster than you used to.

CP: Right, for sure, and then you go to [vintage tradeshow] Inspiration and think, “these are my people!” And it’s great. My parents think that I’m a little crazy but I’m sure if they showed up there they would look at it differently.

RD: They would still think you’re a little crazy though.

CP: Crazy, yeah, but you’re not alone. They think I’m just crazy for the photos. It’s getting out of control. Collecting ten or so a week, and this for years. I’ve probably got four or five thousand photos now.


A photo from Piehowicz's collection

A stereoscopic photo from Piehowicz’s collection

RD: Do you target anything specific for your collection?

CP: Definitely portraits, and pictures that display their clothes. Anything that doesn’t really give a clear look at their clothes I won’t buy. 8x10s or tin types that show off a guy in Levi’s or something, that’s what I like.  And for the book; I don’t know if you know anything about the book?

RD: I don’t.

CP: The book is going to be titled Worker and is going to be anywhere between 350 to 400 pages of portraits of workers from 1860s to 1940. A collection of stuff that’s never been seen before. The problem I have now is that you look at Japanese magazines and it’s the same historical photos that you’ve seen over and over again. So I want to do a book of images that have never been seen before and stuff that’s one off or at least not mass reproduced.

RD: Less commercial stuff.

CP: Less commercial for sure, stuff that maybe came from family albums, some that have been maybe ripped out, tin types, postcards, etc… It’s going to be a photography book, but I’m going to mix it up with artifacts, miner helmets, miner candles, henleys, and jean jackets – some of which Mike’s found and that I’ve found – stuff with character. There may be one or two items in the book that are deadstock, but I prefer things that are dirty, that have created their own character.

You’re looking the picture of this guy working, and I’m trying to match up what he’s wearing with and item of clothing that we found. It’s not going to be possible to get it exactly right – unless it came from a family and you’ve got them saying ‘well this is Uncle Ted’ or what not – but it kinda takes it to another level because the items haven’t been seen. There are other vintage books out there, but not like this. People have done dead stock, done raw, but this is what I really wanted to do. And some of these items will be things that people haven’t seen before in this kind of condition.

RD: When might we see this?

CP: I’m aiming for February for Inspiration. But I’m also self publishing and self funding it. And since I’ll be using my own money, I didn’t want to go with a publisher because I wanted to control layout. I’m doing my own layouts with the help of my buddy Tomo Adachi, who lives down the street. He does design work for some clothing companies around here. We’ll get it out.

It’s probably going to be a limited edition of 500 and 100 or 150 will be limited with a silver gelatin print from a glass negative that I have. It’s just a pain to cut down thousands of pictures down to a few hundred and for me, being a photographer to begin with, my biggest thing is editing, so it’s out of control.

RD: Not to mention out of control to begin with with your collection.

CP: Yeah. I’m not going to make a bunch of money from doing this, but I hope I’ll make some since I’ve already got two or three book ideas lined up for after this.

RD: Will this be your first book?

CP: Yeah, and the hope is that maybe a Japanese publisher will pick it up to do a run over there. It might happen, it might not, but we’ll find out. There’s not going to be too many words so they won’t have to translate much other than the forwards. Right now the plan is to have two people do the forwards and then just some details for each picture, but for some of these we don’t even have an idea on the dates, so there’s not much we can do. Postcards are nice because they’ve got different indicators but who knows.

One of Piehowicz's favorites

One of Piehowicz’s favorites

RD: Like an old pair of Levi’s.

CP: Exactly.

RD: Who do you want to do the forwards?

CP: I want to get Christophe [Loiron of Mister Freedom] to do one. The thing I love about what Christophe’s doing is he gets to make clothes that he likes and he wants to wear and he has nobody to really answer to other than Toyo Enterprises. This year he did the Sea Hunt theme and made a very different collections with a couple of swimsuits. People had no idea it was coming but it turned out incredible.


The Mister Freedom Sea Hunt Collection.

RD: So for you with jeans, are you solely focused on the past with denim, or do you like exploring what’s offered today?

CP: I love what some companies are doing these days.

RD: Do you follow companies like Samurai?

CP: Not so much, but that’s since there’s so many of them. But it’s also because I’m going for that 1870’s style. I guess my biggest mistake with the new stuff is that I’ve gotten so much and you want to wear it all but there’s you can only wear one thing at a time. And the only reason that I’ve been able to wear these (indicates the jeans he’s wearing now) is that these are my repros from Blue Blanket.

RD: Not from Lower 48?

CP: No these are the Blue Blanket ones, these will be out in the fall. Mine are just some samples and they’re not quite right, but they’ll be right when they come out.

RD: I like the details from what I can see.

CP: Yeah these are based off of a jean I found with Mike and Russ on a trip last year. They’re late 1800s and it’s got the same stitching. It’s got the dart stitching instead of the rivets since they were a competitor of Levi’s and they couldn’t use them. It needs to get moved in a bit on the detail stitching but I’m not going to bitch.

RD: They actually look really good the way is now though.

CP: Good! (laughs) It’ll be right though in the fall. Other details: they’ll have metal buttons, no belt loops, just suspenders. They’ll also have a crotch reinforcement, dart stitching, and the bone style buckle-back.

RD: And one back pocket?

CP: Yeah one back pocket, though the ones I found didn’t have any pockets at all. We figured that wouldn’t make any sense though since who the hell’s going to wear jeans with no back pocket nowadays. We don’t know the exact company of these. We have theories but don’t know for sure.

Blue Blanket Repro Sample

Blue Blanket Repro Sample

RD: So there was a lot of experimentation happening at this time?

CP: Oh yeah, a whole lot.

RD: Maybe this was a concept piece?

CP: Yeah, maybe a concept piece. It might have been an alternative line manufactured for Levi’s. It’s got the dart stitching, but it doesn’t have the bone buckle-back. But anyways, bouncing back to the Blue Blanket jean, they did duck canvas with Mike’s pair last year, so they did denim this year. It’s a little lighter color and the denim’s real interesting, I believe sanforized.

RD: Where’s the denim itself from?

CP: I don’t actually know yet, I’m going to have to find out. Antonio didn’t tell that yet.

RD: How did the whole relationship spark up with Blue Blanket?

CP: Blue Blanket, I’ve been a big fan of them since the second Inspiration they did, and I would talk to Antonio and Nino and David every time that I went. I ended up getting some clothes from them and shot them so people could see what they look like.

Then they did pants with Britt, then the pants with Mike, and then the pants with me the year after. So I think they knew that I was a part of that world so they said sure, lets do these. Well they asked what we wanted to do, and Mike and I picked of these. There’s going to be 10 at Denim Bruin and then more later.

RD: So what’s the story with the Lower 48?

CP: The Lower 48 stuff is Ryan Martin from WH Ranch Dungarees, Jack from Old North and me. I think we’re going to be doing one thing a year for that. The pants were what we did last year. We made 12 pairs and sold all of them. I don’t know what’s next, I don’t know what we’re going to do.

Cory, Mike and Charla Harris

Cory, Mike, and Charla Harris outside a mine

RD: So what’s the bigger passion–making the clothes or the taking the photos?

CP: I think collecting and taking photos, for sure. There’s still a few huge projects that I have in mind to do that are art and history related with my photography. The repro stuff is fun, but we all know there’s no money in it. Nobody can really stay open doing that stuff. You have to make jeans like True Religion to get a completely different level

RD: Not to mention cut costs.

CP: Exactly. But all of this is fun. I’ve got a bandana that I found with Mike and Charla from the 1870s that LVC will be doing for this fall. I’ve got the sample, so I hope it’s coming out. (Note: the bandanna is now available) Plus, I’ve got some Bandit Photographer shirts being made through J.S. Apparel, which are ring spun and made in the US. I’m doing that for fun, making 50 shirts or something.

Image Courtesy of Unionmade Goods

Cory’s LVC bandanna. Image Courtesy of Unionmade Goods

RD: How do you take care of your jeans?

CP: When that whole thing came up with the Levi guy saying don’t wash your jeans… I don’t think the freezer thing works. My theory is, what you need to do, is put your jeans in the oven at 350 for ten minutes, make sure there’s no plastic and make sure they don’t catch on fire and you’re good because it kills all the bacteria.

RD: Do you ever take a photo right out of the shower?

CP: (Laughs) No, I definitely prefer dirt and I love the way it looks. The thing that made me laugh one time is there was this trip out to the desert and we were in the mines for awhile and we came out and I posted a picture that Charla took on the forums, and this guy started saying it was fake, with fake coal dust and whatnot.

First of all, we weren’t in a coal mine, we were in silver and gold mines. Nothing’s left in those mines, it’s destroyed and wet and dirty. And we were in those mines for a couple of days straight, no shower. And the thing that’s great is you really get to see why the miner’s clothing got so destroyed, because it’s so rough with these incredibly sharp rocks and stuff everywhere.

cory shoe

Image courtesy of Cory Piehowicz

RD: Not to mention the fact that nothing’s getting cleaned that easily. All the oil and dirt is getting into the cloth.

CP: Yeah, there’s no water around or at least very little. That was on Styleforum that that guy was saying things and we just trashed him. I think he felt a little bad afterwards. I don’t know if he knew who we were but we were pissed.

Stay tuned for the third and final installment of our interview with Cory where we delve further into his own photography.

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