Saturday, February 9, 2008

Flint Portraits: Eric Koziol

It’s not easy to categorize Eric Koziol’s career.

Let’s start with the basics. He’s a media artist whose work has appeared everywhere from San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum to Lincoln Center in New York, not to mention exhibitions in Europe and Asia. He’s also a director and cinematographer who has created music videos for dozens of bands, including Public Enemy, Soundgarden, and Nine Inch Nails, along with commercials for Clearasil and Red Stripe Beer, to name a few. Eric’s interest in choreography and live performance inspired him to create “inter-active video environments” to accompany staged dance, theater, and musical events. Then there’s his experimental videos, fashion photography, and work with corporate clients like Cisco, Marriot, Jansport and Eddie Bauer.

But his eclectic pursuits are underpinned by a fundamental theme: “I like working with ideas and turning them into pictures and sound,” he explains. “My focus as an artist is to reveal the hidden or invisible. I use technological tools in order to see, hear, and express things in a new way. I often work collaboratively with dancer/choreographers, as the expressivity of the human body is my primary material.”

Eric traces his interest in film and video back to Flint. His grandfather, Charlie Koziol, was a master mechanic at AC Spark Plug known as “Crowbar Charlie” for his ability to fix the massive machinery at the plant. But Charlie also loved shooting film, starting with a Super 8 before moving on to 16 mm and, eventually, video. Charlie used to show 16mm films outdoors in Ballenger Park, and he set up the P.A. and lighting system for the polka bands at the Polish Legion of American Veterans summer fests. He introduced his grandson to the equipment, and Eric quickly put it to use in a project for an American history class at Power’s High School.

Flint was also helping shape Eric’s aesthetic. He remembers going to Family Day at AC with his grandfather and being awed by the assembly line that stretched for blocks. Flint’s industrial history — its rise and fall — has definitely played a role in his work; he admits he’s still “obsessed” with machinery. The unique aspects of life in Flint influenced him as well. Eric grew up on Crest Court near the IMA sports arena, one of those incongruously rural and industrial areas in the city.

“As a kid, I could wake up to the screech of a pheasant or the sound of a freight train, and I held both in equal esteem,” he says.

After graduating from high school in 1984, Eric attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where his grandfather continued to motivate him. Charlie, who died the year Eric went off to college, had collected a huge library of 16 mm industrial films — everything from NASA training films to highway safety footage starring crash-test dummies. Eric used them to splice together collage films for school assignments and project them as a backdrop for a band he was involved with called Ungh!

“My grandpa basically p
rovided me with all the materials I needed for my first year of art school,” Eric says.

The band eventually morphed into H-Gun Labs in 1989, a broadcast production company that embraced a gritty filmmaking style and relied heavily on material traditionally left on the cutting room floor. As a founder, Eric was part of team that helped H-Gun evolve from making cutting edge music videos to encompass experimental live action, animation and what has come to be known as broadcast design. By the time Eric and his partners dissolved H-Gun in 2000 to pursue other interests, the company had worked with an extensive list of clients ranging from MTV to the San Francisco Opera to Michael Moore.

Eric worked directly with Moore in 1998 to create the opening titles and on-air identity for Moore’s series “The Awful Truth” which was broadcast on BRAVO in the U.S. and Channel 4 in the U.K.

Now living in San Francisco, Eric continues to pursue an array of projects. He’s consulting with the innovation design firm IDEO, collaborating with various choreographers, and putting together a book of his still photography — “a visual anthropology” taken in a “sketchbook spirit” over that past five years. And like much of his work, you can catch an echo of Flint in the images.

“Flint still resonates with me,” he says. “My sensibility was definitely formed there.”


  1. Great juxtaposition of the old and new Flintoid. If only there were a way for people like Eric to stay in Flint, or even Michigan, to create art. And Charlie was clearly an artist, too, although he might not of had the opportunity to pursue it completely.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at