Friday, 13 July 2012

The Camera Around Your Neck

Dutch Landscapes © Mishka Henner
I have just arrived back from doing different talks around Europe where it was interesting to notice that people were asking me more questions and creating discussions about Appropriation and Self published books than before. Although I don't consider this as my territory, I thought it would be interesting do a short interview about this current topic with Mishka Henner for the FOAM blog. He is a fascinating and innovative artist. A real honest guy, with fresh and passionate views and has a lot of experience in this controversial field. We often meet up in Manchester (the city that we love) to drink some beers and talk endlessly about photography.

Seba Kurtis: We work in different ways, I usually think about my work as an exhibition. It could be a slow process from when I finish the project to finally hanging it on the walls. You think on a book-form mode. What's your next step after you finish a book?

Mishka Henner: After I finish one book I put it on-line and move on to the next project. The Web is like a wild fire. You light a match on the forest, you come back 4 hours later and the entire thing is a blaze. It's fascinating!

10 years ago if you wanted to make a photo book you would have to find a publisher or spend 4 years of your life walking the streets with a book in your hands. It would take a long time for you to find an audience. Now, when I'm looking at my students, I'm thinking: anyone of you can produce something really exceptional and make a name for yourself, already. I know that this has it's own dangers too.

But, you know, Gerry Badger tells us how you are supposed to sequence a photo book, what images are supposed to be after each image. He is using his knowledge of classical photo books. 3 years ago probably I followed it religiously, but now I just feel it's one more example of people telling us how things should be. We can figure it out by ourselves.

SK: What you say has a Punk feeling about it… Do you see any similarities with the Punk movement on the late 70's?

MH: Absolutely. It feels like artists are saying: We don't need you. We just need each other. We don't need sharks.

SK: Which book is your best selling?

MH: "Photography is…" about 250 copies. I think because the best place to read it is in the toilet, actually.

SK:'Less Americains' had a lot of coverage too, lots of good reviews…

Les Americains 01 © Mishka Henner

Les Americains 02 © Mishka Henner

MH: I sold 12. I think people assume that you sell a lot. But you are right; Less Americains had a lot of good reviews. And that's another contradiction; I know that most of the critics were made from a computer screen, not the actual book. Art critics often are looking at images on screen of the photo book.

SK: That's a book that you have to experience physically…

MH: Yes, it would be great if people could have it next to Robert Frank's The Americans and look at it at the same time.

SK:Do you care what Frank thinks about it?

MH: It's part homage to everything Robert Frank did after The Americans. So if there's anyone in the world who can empathise with Les Americains, I'd like to think it is the man himself.

SK: Let's talk about Appropriation, how do you feel about ownership?

MH:We live in an age where information is being bought and sold constantly, we don't even know about it. Information about you, your credit rate, where you live, how much you spend on your credit card every month, etc. Whether that's right or wrong is irrelevant, it's happening.  We are being photographed all the time, we are being filmed all the time. I think as an artist is absolutely right that I'm using similar methods to try to reflect back into the world. There's a lot of stuff going on that we can't see, in some ways what I do is to make visible what is often invisible.  That's what documentary photographers should do…

I mean, I don't see myself particularly exploiting anyone, I don't really sell many prints, I don't sell many books but I'm very serious about what I do.

SK: How do you describe using GSV with documentary photography?

MH: You can say that using Google Street View is Avant Garde, because it goes completely against what the purists of documentary photography says photography should be doing.

No Man's Land © Mishka Henner

SK: What they said? How you should work on documentary?

MH: Well, working with analog for a start, taking your time… Why should I take time? Why can't I create a profound piece of work in 5 minutes? Why should I have to burn thousands of tons of carbon dioxide to fly and view the world, when there are already 500 cars driving around photographing and nobody is looking at them?

If I have a camera around my neck and I go out into the world, the work that I bring back will be more meaningful than the work that I am making using all the technology that surrounds the world, for them has more value. It will be more authentic, a real social connection… that's what they say.

SK: Sometimes I feel that documentary photography is more about being concerned about the story or the subjects than any specific technique…

MH: Yes, that's it. Maybe that's the difference with other types of photography or other types of artists. I mean, I'm interested in a lot of things; I love looking at the world. I wish I had the ability to do a very personal story like you do.

At the moment I'm excited about the things I'm discovering.

My work is more looking outwards, not looking inwards, I'm not ready to look inwards, it demands a different discipline, a different sort of method.

Astronomical © Mishka Henner

SK: How do you feel with the camera now?

MH: I think we are all voyeurs in a way, I remember when I was a kid I used to love watching people, and it's no different now, I love working as a photographer, but at the same time I feel like working with the camera is such an alien thing in your relationship with people, it feels like a really strange thing… it's like now; you are recording me talking, and the machine it's changing things, its not the same as like we usually talk. It's a different interaction. Not just that, it's very imbalanced as YOU are recording ME and I don't have any control over it…It's the same when you have a camera around your neck, Photography sometimes feels so one sided".

SK: It already seems old the debate about if these new methods are moving photography forward, even for me when I'm shooting mainly on 5x4. What do you think?

MH: When photographers started to shoot with a 35mm camera, it wasn't taken seriously, it was like seeing this sort of fashionable, trendy, gimmicky photojournalism… they thought: this doesn't move photography forward, how could it? Photography was all about pictorialism, working with big cameras. You suddenly have a small camera and anyone can do it!

This debate happens every time any new optical technique comes out. It's not about moving forward, It's about reflecting the world that we live in and maybe trying to discover something new.

Seba Kurtis (Foam Magazine #25/Traces)


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