Moisés Arias is a 21-year-old actor based in Los Angeles. He started out on television in his teens, scoring regular gigs on monumentally successful Disney Channel shows like Hannah Montana and The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, and later transitioned into more grown-up parts, like in the upcoming The Land, a film starring Erykah Badu premiering at the Sundance Film Festival next week. While acting pays the bills, Arias is also moonlighting as a photographer and, like the actor Dennis Hopper before him, his pictures offer a window into the private lives of people he describes as friends, who just happen to be some of the most famous celebrities today: Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, Willow and Jaden Smith (and girlfriend Sarah Snyder), Justin Bieber. In one of his pictures, the entire brood sits around a dining room table playing "Cards Against Humanity," Kanye is even laughing—a rare moment. In another, Kylie playfully balances a spoon on her nose. If you haven't heard his name yet, his famous friends are helping to change that. That recent Kendall nip-slip photo? Yeah, Arias took it. "My favorite photo," she wrote. "For all 40 mill of you."
Let's start from the beginning. How did you go from Hannah Montana to photographing all these celebrities and starring in big movies?
If we’re going to start from the beginning, it’s me coming from Atlanta to Los Angeles at the age of ten. I did a couple of jobs: I did Nacho Libre, The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, and then Hannah Montana came about. I was a regular by the second season, and then did it for like five years. Then, fifteen comes around and I’m in that pocket where I’m trying to figure out what the intelligent move for me is. I had been making videos on YouTube since I was around ten. I started to study photography and direction. I focused my attention, because if I wasn’t going to work as an actor anymore, I wanted to at least develop what I loved. My brother did music, and we were just creative kids. When I was eighteen, I did Ender’s Game and The Kings of Summer, which showed me a different light of individuals. At that time as well, I started 490tx.com, which was where I released my creativity in an overflowing manner instead of it being like Instagram, which has an agenda in itself. Instagram has its own propelling engine, I feel. The community of Tumblr is a more artful community, so I felt it was a great place to release film photography. It became an overflowing of whatever I happened to be doing, whether it was on set, at home, in studios, at Coachella…On Instagram, @490tx became for when I couldn’t develop my film for a while. It’s a challenge. The film stuff just evolved. I started creating stuff for homies or people who are interested in the style; the organic and naturalness of what I feel.
What are your thoughts on Instagram? Do you hate it? Love it? Both?
I do it whenever I’m feeling it. There are no producers or friends telling me to post something. It’s very uncomfortable, honestly. Jokers ask you to follow them, and I’d rather to say to their face that I’m not going to—I don’t really follow people on Insta. I have a really love/hate relationship with [it]. I think it’s an awesome medium that gives people a lot of creativity, but it also gives people an ego boost. It’s just one of those things that people are over-saturating, and it makes me very annoyed. I’m so not down with posting my film photography on Insta. Maybe every once in a while, but for the most part, I plan to keep the film photography and the iPhone photography separate.
When did you start using film, rather than digital?
When I was eleven I did a film, and there were no kids on set, so I befriended the stills photographer. There was a point when I switched to film, but I’ve always been playing with cameras.
Why do you prefer film now?
The reason I got into photography more heavily later on, as opposed to when I was younger was because of wanting to direct films. Because I don’t write, it’s a lot harder to direct a film. So, doing storytelling with photography is a way to do a pseudo, mini film. I switched to film because it teaches you a lot more than rapid fire shooting and picking the best one. It’s timing. It’s understanding light, because the camera is completely manual. It’s understanding the actual film that you’re getting, which is equivalent to ISO on digital cameras. I can get hella technical with it, but essentially it’s because it teaches you through experience that you learn your style, the moments to capture, framing—all these elements that give it an added mystery.
You’ve taken pictures of some of the most photographed people on the planet. Do you think they’re more comfortable in front of your film camera?
It depends. Most of the people on there are really close friends. Through film photography, it’s been a sort of evolution for me of how to seem invisible, and how to not make someone be uncomfortable. So it’s mostly on me if I get the shot. I put that pressure on myself. I think the film element definitely allows the naturalness of it. The changing of the film and the actual physical process, it actually changes the psychology of it. If someone came up to me with a digital camera and started popping seven photographs a second, I would be very, very uncomfortable. I definitely think it is because of how it’s shot, but I think I could still be doing the same thing with a digital camera if I was discrete about it.
When you’re hanging out and taking pictures of your friends, are you trying to say something about celebrity and who these people are with your images, or are you not really thinking about that?
If I am, it’s subconscious. It’s mostly just me living my life and what I’m doing. It’s not stepping out of life to capture everything around me. It’s definitely something that’s integrated, which is why it feels so personal, I think.
How did you meet Kendall, Kylie, Jaden, Willow, etc.? Do you travel in the same circles in Los Angeles, or have you known each other since you were little?
We’ve mixed our entire lives. The Kid’s Choice Awards is where I met Jaden. Disney Channel Games is where I met Kylie and Kendall Jenner. Time is where you meet people. And some of them become your best friends through creative collaboration.
I love your photo of Kanye West with his eyes closed. He looks so peaceful. Can you tell me about it?
That photo of Ye is him getting a haircut. In my eyes, he’s camouflaged. That’s a great example of me not just taking my camera out and shooting. With Ye, I’m never really around him like that. It’s a moment. I would feel very uncomfortable someone photographing my haircut. Those are times when you want to create a space where it’s still free-flowing creativity, but you allow the person to feel more comfortable, like with their eyes closed. I shoot super wide, so I get really close. It’s easy for people to feel uncomfortable, and you never want to put someone in that position.
Do you see yourself doing anything with these photos in the future? They’re such cultural artifacts. People will look back on them as glimpses into the private lives of today’s celebrities.
I honestly have no idea. Things do a quick switch-up whenever they want to. I’m just going to keep being creative. I love to photograph. I love spending time with people. As long as I love this shit, I’m still going to do my thing. With acting, same thing. With directing, same thing. It’s funny that you mentioned Ye, because he’s one of the biggest inspirations of this generation. He’s gone through so many outlets and proved himself in so many different aspects. When I’m 35 years old, what am I going to be doing? It’s going to have to be something that is inspired by Ye and maybe an evolution of his work.