Great little magazine about all things Southern.
As photography has moved out of the pages of magazines and onto gallery walls, so it’s been forced to compete with the world of conceptual art. Here research, analysis and self-reflexivity (art about art) supersede aesthetics, narrative, and intuition. An image that inspires wonderment at first glance is rarely accorded the same level of respect as one that features a large tract of text that explains how the work interrogates time, or challenges the notion of authorship, or explores the fragility of memory. This approach contains within it the implicit questions: ‘why are you doing what you are doing?’ and ‘how does it contribute to the development of the medium?’ It’s an approach to art that assumes that, like physics, there’s a level of advancement to be made through persistent inquiry.
But should photography really be approached in this way? If we view the work instead in the context of other art forms, the approach might seem a little strange. Music at its most intuitive level produces a physical response to a set of carefully choreographed vibrations. Most musicians would struggle to articulate exactly why they’d strung together a range of chords in a particular way or chosen to finish a track with a thirty second guitar solo. It just sounds good. It feels good. It expresses something from within. And you’d hope someone somewhere is made of similar stuff so that they might well enjoy the results. This is not to say that music isn’t created in context or doesn’t require originality but that its creation and reception needn’t be based on intellectual inquiry.
The same could be said of poetry. Even for those mediums that incorporate more rational thought in the use of narrative, such as literature or cinema, is it fair to ask the author or director the point of their story, what it’s trying to achieve or how it moves their world forward? For many artists working in these genres the creation of the work is an end in itself and while they might return to particularly personal themes, be it loss or kinship or obsession, they rarely make choices that are designed purely to ‘interrogate the medium’, even outside of the big studio models. Instead they wrestle with the fabric of life and in the process hold up a mirror to their audience that might equally inspire, horrify, educate and entertain. And the best manage to combine layers of visual beauty in the process.
Originality and depth are not qualities that require engagement with philosophically-laden concepts as any music, cinema, or literature fan will attest. They require a love for the medium (or indeed any medium) and a gift to be able to see and express some truth about life that will somehow enrich the lives of others, painful as it sometimes may be. Photography has the power to resonate on a purely visual level but it also has enormous power to tell stories in an infinite number of ways. And these stories can and do tell the world something about itself. What a tragedy if the medium went the way of conceptual art; an intellectual guessing game for a tiny minority more interested in testing their knowledge of art history than in seeing the world through somebody else’s lens.
Pleased to take first place in the International Photo Awards in the Advertising:Music category for my work with Bat For Lashes. We beat a large selection of entrants including work of Daft Punk, Primal Scream and 50 Cent : )
An interview I did a while back with Severine Morel for La Journal de la Photographie. Forgot to post so here’s the text….
Matt Henry photographs stories inspired by the 60s and 70s like photographic ideograms. Three decades of an addiction to American cinema and television have led him to create a world where narrative fiction draws the viewer in.
Where does your photography come from ?
M. Henry : All my photography is shot in the UK. It’s American-inspired so I build sets using props I’ve sourced from America to recreate that US feel.
When is your decisive moment for taking photographs ?
M. H : My work is very staged so I don’t think decisive moment is a term that perhaps applies. There’s a harmony in the frame in terms of composition or colour that might encourage me to press the shutter, but I’ll examine the result and go back time and time again until I feel that I’ve got something right.
What inspired you work/your series ?
M. H : Each series is different but the overriding theme is the politics and culture of the USA, and most often during the period of 1960s and 1970s; it was a theme I focused on during my undergraduate degree in Political Theory. The 1960s as an integral point in our political history is of great interest to me; that all these movements arose in such a small space of time and fought and won the rights that we take for granted now. Free speech, civil rights, women’s rights; the right to argue that a government shouldn’t go to war in our name. Those movements got so far, then they kind of imploded and Nixon came to power. I’m working on long term projects that focus on these issues but so far I’ve only hinted at them in my work which has been based on the popular culture of that period, though I don’t think you can separate one from the other. Much of the cultural influences come from a diet of American films and television growing up as a kid and I think that eventually pushed my interests in the politics of the nation. I’m happy producing pop-style imagery, but like to explore some subjects in depth too. I’m currently working on an extended series about Hunter S Thompson during the period of the Watergate scandal. There’s a lot of research involved which I’m really getting into. After that’s finished I’ll probably shoot a few pretty pop pictures for relief!
What is the link between your commercial work and your personal work ?
M. H : One pays for the other! But I carry my style and my interest in narrative over to my commercial work. I’m interested in leaving traces of stories where possible that leave some sort of ambiguity to the reader. Viewers like to be challenged and they switch off when an image contains all the answers. So I try and push this approach in my commercial work when possible. Quite often I think people make the mistake of assuming that ad imagery has to provide everything immediately but some of the best ads have that ambiguity. You force people to think and it slows them down in front of your image. They have to give it more time. That can only be a good thing for advertising!
Which is a bigger priority for you : a great ad campaign or an exhibition at a famous gallery ?
M. H : I think anyone who says a great ad campaign should hang up their camera now, but I don’t have a lot of time for the big galleries either. They don’t really take many risks with their shows as they’re stuck in reliving the history of photography or fine art as created by a select group of academics and curators. There’s a lot more interesting works to be found in smaller galleries who can take more risks and get involved with contemporary work, or online of course. That’s the great thing about the internet; that is wrests some control from the gallery system and allows us all to be curators – the Tumblr generation who can simply say… I’ve seen this, it did something for me, take a look…
What are the current photographic trends for you ?
M. H : I don’t have any interest in stylistic trends but I think there’s a move away from realism and supposed ‘objective’ documentary practice towards fictional work with some sort of narrative. For me I think this work contains more honesty in lots of ways. It doesn’t pretend that the photographer isn’t in the equation. It says yes I’m here, I have a viewpoint, and this is my take on the world… this is what I want to communicate. There’s room for both approaches of course, but photography has been limited by its fixation on the real in the way that film hasn’t.
The world experience has changed drastically. Its representation has evolved. Has digital become inevitable in the photographic creative process ?
M. H : Film is still pushed in the universities, at least in the UK, but the debate doesn’t interest me much. I’m interested in telling a story, or communicating something. And I like to get there as quickly as possible so I can move onto the next, and digital allows me to do that. The medium doesn’t matter too much; paint, film, sculpture; as long as you’re able to say what you want with it!
Interview by Séverine Morel
Would like to introduce a new show that I’ve curated at One Eyed Jacks gallery called Blue Collar, Red Dust. Absolutely loving the work of all three of these guys and a real privilege to have them in the gallery. Please check out the catalogue link to see the full pics on show, or pay us a visit if you’re in Brighton!
I’ve promised in earlier posts to discuss my predilection for all things American after going some way to explaining my preoccupation with the 1960s and 1970s here. I’m often accused of being an Americanophile, which is not an uncommon label here in the UK given the multitude of groups celebrating American cars and culture, including the dominant 50s-focused Rockabilly movement. I often visit many of these events looking for potential photographic subjects but feel rarely able to share the enthusiasm of participants which is something I’ve been at a loss to explain. Perhaps it’s my role as lone photographer/voyeur patrolling what are essentially social and group focused events; the discomfort and detachment of the inveterate outsider. But I also sense a creeping lack of fulfilment at what seems little more than object fetishisation. When I buy props from the USA and recreate my scenes here, I’m immersed in a fictional world that feels to me altogether real. The tight crop and singularity of the photographic frame allow the possibility of a world beyond the frame edges, and a world with a story to tell. Seeing outside that frame and an English landscape behind neatly parked Chervolets dissolves any real opportunity to suspend one’s disbelief.
But all this tells me is that an object alone, without context or story, isn’t enough to excite and inspire. It explains little about the draw of Americana itself. Having lived and travelled around the East Coast I can testify to the fact that this draw is very partially situated in the reality of contemporary America, most of which (though not all) is a poor reflection of my expectations (more travel required). So it’s the source of these expectations that holds the key to the story, and this is a relatively easy puzzle to solve, given the sheer volume of American cultural exports that I ingested as a child and beyond. A steady diet of American television and film promising endless action and excitement contrasted strongly not only with the realities of 80s Britain, but also the realities of British television and film, alternating between endless aristocratic tropes and experiments in social realism. Perhaps in America the thrills and spills of its moving media failed to produce the same excitement on account of cultural familiarity; here in the UK we glimpsed a world that was enticing precisely because its exaggerated cultural difference was made plausible through common language.
Which brings us to the implicit power and pervasiveness of the American media; that there are few countries that remain untouched by the reach of American programming is a truth that hardly needs to be acknowledged. Just how well they manage to sell their cultural language, signs and symbols is remarkable testament to their incredible abilities as storytellers; no-one else can induce such shock, awe, excitement and wonderment like the American film and TV industries. It was their ability to fire up my childhood imagination that made the American signs and symbols the language of my own internal dreamscape. It’s not America itself that I’m drawn to but that dreamscape where my desires, conscious or otherwise are free roam as they please. Those signs and symbols that I choose to propagate in my own dystopian / utopian creations are a product of my own beliefs and drives as a social and political being; the fact that they originate from American culture is simple testament to the success of Marty McFly, Daniel LeRusso, Ferris Bueller, Chunk, Hans Solo and the rest…
Great link for all you 80s kids here
America: part 2 to further explore these signs and symbols in terms of my own usage….
My gallery One Eyed Jacks has finally been launched in Brighton and has now open a grand total of four days. So far, so good! Showing my work till after Christmas then hoping to bring in some of my favourite photographers for a series of solo shows in 2013. Come see us if you’re in the area!