Q&A: Brooklyn Photographer Jason Shaltz on His Photo Show “The Juggalo,” Which Opens Tonight at Mishka


Brooklyn photographer Jason Shaltz wants you to know that he’s been working on The Juggalo, his debut photography show that opens tonight, since this past February. That is, before Insane Clown Posse’s “Miracles” video went viral, before the unruly Juggalo masses hurled rocks, bottles, and dildos at Tila Tequila, before The Men Who Stare At Goats author informed the Internet the six-year-old revelation that Insane Clown Posse followed God, before, oh you know, this. What’s more, Shaltz has considered himself a Juggalo for over a decade, so when WNYC’s Soundcheck wanted a bona fide “Juggalo” to speak on the air about Insane Clown Posse for a segment, he’s the only local guy any of us could find to represent the culture. So he’ll hear your criticisms that the world doesn’t need any more Juggalo-documenting opportunists, but for Shaltz, his project has nothing to do with a meme, but his life.

How did you first get into Insane Clown Posse?

When I was in eighth grade, I had heard of ICP–being from Flint Michigan, I was not too far removed [from Detroit]. I’ll never forget, I was 17-years-old and I was driving a car with someone and they were like, “You gotta hear this song.” They played “A Little Something Something” which is on Riddlebox. I was like, “This is fun, this is crazy, this is taboo, it’s everything.” That was right the summer when The Great Milenko came out. And it was one of those times when ICP made it into the mainstream again. They were signed to Disney, and the [label] dropped them, and it was this big media circus. It was awesome and I believed in it. Without getting too in-depth, I was going though what at that time I thought was the worst break-up of my life, and there was this angry outlet. It was this music. It was dark and they were saying “Fuck,” they were talking about killing–all things I don’t advocate–but it was a good outlet. I’ve always been a huge fan of horror movies, and it sort of brought my love of horror movies, and my love of music together. It allowed me to disconnect–that “things could be worse” mentality.

My first concert when I was 19, was Cobo Hall, Detriot, Michigan. And it was an amazing show. My buddy and I drove down there. I painted my face like Shaggy and he painted his face like Violent J. And then I’ll never forget, [ICP proteges] Twiztid, they were sort of like the roadies for ICP. They opened up for them. Three quarters into it, I was like, “Sold.” I was, from that part on, a Juggalo.

What was the genesis of this particular project?

Fast forward to New York. It was 2007, I believe. I sort of gravitated a little more towards Twiztid because they had a little more gritty, and a little more angry tone, and ICP gets a little more jokey. Twiztid was playing at BB King’s. I was like, “I’m there.” And none of my friends would go with me. I went 2008, 2009–I went by myself.

So this year, I got a press pass and I brought my camera and I took some awesome pictures of the fans. I got home and I was looking at the pictures late one night. And it was again very serendipitous, I was going through another tough time, and I was like, “I gotta get away for a little bit.” I looked up Twiztid, saw that New York was the first leg of their 40 city tour. I basically plotted out 10 cities: “I’m gonna document this culture that I’ve loved for so many years and whatever happens, happens.” I reached out to [ICP’s label, which Twiztid are also on] Psychopathic [Records], they weren’t too into it. I was like, “Whatever, I’ll see you in Dallas.” So I went to Dallas, St. Antonio, Petaluma, Santa Ana, Ventura, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, NYC, Detroit, and Chicago was the last one. I just did my thing.

What else are you into musically?

In a past life–or still in my current life–I’m a Parrothead. I love Jimmy Buffett, been to 11 Jimmy Buffett concerts, and it’s the same concept. The [fans are] there to tailgate, they’re there to have fun, they’re there to celebrate something they believe in.

You don’t see anything contradictory about identifying as a Parrothead and Juggalo?

I don’t. I’m a Midwesterner from Flint, Michigan. I’m well-spoken, I’m a happy guy, I like to party, but there’s an angry side to me, and there’s an angry side to a lot of people. People don’t want to admit that. That’s why they can’t see past it. You have good days, you have bad days, and for me, I need music to go along with both.

What identifying as a “Juggalo” mean to you?

I think it’s having that little piece of you that just knows that you gotta stand up for yourself. You’ve gotta be independent. And you can’t let what people think affect you too much. Whether you’re poor and you’re a Juggalo and you get picked on, or you’re rich and you have to deal with other life problems, it’s just knowing you gotta look out for yourself. [Psychopathic] teaches this through song–and it’s hard and ugly rap music. People who identify with this culture have had some relatively turbulent times in their lives and it helps them deal with it.

After all of this year’s press, do you think Juggalo culture is overexposed?

No, I don’t. I started this project in February. I am not in any way trying to piggyback this. I’ve never seen a photo show about Juggalos, and I happen to be a photographer, and I took pictures of this, I’m not trying to get anything out of it besides have a party and mark one of my first shows for my sister and . Plus, actually, I think this has come at a perfect time where it’s been more of a positive spin on the culture, just to show the people behind the paint, this is actually the face of these people.

We’ve talked about this before, but have you met other Juggalos in New York?

I just met someone at Mishka with a Twiztid tattoo, actually, and we got along immediately. I saw some guy on the Long Island Expressway with a Psychopathic tattoo, and some kid near Jay Street-Borough Hall stop with a Twiztid shirt. That’s about it.