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To See and Be Scene

COLUMN ONE | COLUMN ONE

With his camera, L.A.'s 'Cobra Snake' is both definer and darling of hipster subculture.

October 25, 2005|Daniel Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

With evident glee, Mark "The Cobra Snake" Hunter bypasses a long door line and climbs the steps to the packed upstairs level of the Hollywood club Cinespace, his digital Canon D20 camera at his side.

As soon as Hunter and his two female friends are in, hipsters in the crowd reach out to greet him, call out his name, give him high-fives. Hunter is frenetically taking pictures, complimenting strangers on their outfits, searching for the next shot almost before he finishes the first.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday October 26, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
'Cobra Snake' -- An article in Tuesday's Section A about Mark "The Cobra Snake" Hunter misspelled the name of music publicist Jonny Kaps as Jonny Kops. He also was misidentified as a music producer.

It is nearing midnight on a typical Tuesday for the city's most sought after self-made party photographer.

"I've met you before, I met you at that party. What was it? The Diesel party?" Hunter asks Jonny Kops, a 25-year-old Brooklyn music producer standing against a wall holding a beer.

Hunter is already snapping his portrait.

"He's all over the place," Kops says after Hunter disappears to look for another shot. "He's the Ron Jeremy of photography," a reference to the famously homely porn star.

In a minute, Hunter has made it to the club's stage, where he takes pictures of the band United States of Electronica as they prepare for their set. Hunter lifts a fist absently into the air and whoops to no one in particular: "Woo-hoo!"

*

By the scale of his lifestyle, Mark "The Cobra Snake" Hunter may be Los Angeles' preeminent hipster.

He hangs out with models, DJs, pro skaters, fashion designers, celebrities, rock musicians, the unbearably cool and the painfully fashionable. He wears the most outrageous designer and vintage fashions, which he often gets as gifts. He flies all over the world to attend parties. People, young women especially, recognize him wherever he goes.

And yet Hunter has no car, no steady job, and is barely 20 years old. He gets around on a bike. By his own admission, he is goofy and not exactly physically striking. He points at his wiry beard and the furry paunch of his stomach as evidence.

All Hunter does is go out at night, take pictures of people who catch his eye and then post the photos on his website, thecobrasnake.com.

Anybody could do it, of course, but Hunter has taken photo-blogging to the level of celebrity. His website is where Hunter, paparazzo to the unfamous, holds a mirror up to hipster culture and also helps manufacture it.

The images he posts feature drinking, dancing, posing, jumping, laughing, stuffing food in one's mouth, same-sex physical affection, falling down, smoking, funny faces, open-mouthed kissing, tattoos, cellphones, teeth jewelry, sweating, vomit, blood, smeared makeup and skin.

As a result, thecobrasnake.com attracts roughly 10,000 visitors a day and e-mails from all over the world.

Hunter has been taking pictures and sharing them with friends since his late teens. After graduating from Santa Monica High School and finding Santa Monica College of little interest, he dropped out and found a job as an apprentice to L.A.-based guerrilla artist Shepard Fairey.

In late 2003, an idea struck him. He drafted a manifesto, parts of which read: "Concept for the site: People try to look cool for a reason, to get noticed, but they put so much effort into their look and they should get more out of it.... This website will take pictures of all the hipsters in the scene, the scene could be a concert, a club, an art show or anything cool like that. So the way it goes is I'm goofy and like to talk to hot people, so I will ask to take their picture."

The website launched in early 2004. At first it was known as polaroidscene.com, but after a few threatening letters from the Polaroid company, Hunter switched it to reflect his nickname. Hunter describes it as a "marketing tool" with no other attachable meaning.

"Sharing the photos on the website is the only right thing to do," Hunter said at the start of a recent night out in Hollywood. "There's no reason I shouldn't be at somebody's party -- for the most part."

Hunter is sitting in his office in a workspace bungalow he shares with close friend and DJ Steve Aoki of Dim Mak Records. From his new digs on Cahuenga Boulevard, Hunter oversees two high school girls as unsalaried interns. He spends his time managing the site, organizing his nights, networking on his earpiece-enhanced cellphone and drawing.

"If you want to look at me in a bad way, I'm playing off people's vanity." Hunter says that in L.A. and New York "they're almost accustomed to the idea that they're going to get some sort of fame or something out of it, which is cool. It's sort of a win-win for me and them."

Jade Castrinos, a 19-year-old American Apparel employee and singer, arrives at the office. Castrinos is one of Hunter's most recognizable muses. His camera has captured her dancing, eating fast food, playing in the ocean, jumping, kicking, brushing her teeth, climbing out of fair rides, whipping her hair about and squeezing into a clothes dryer while smoking a cigarette among other things.

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