KT: Your work is a wild blend of raw artistic approach which touches upon important societal subjects. What is photography for you? When/what was your first encounter with photography?
JH: In the first place photography is a way to get in touch with all those beautiful people you otherwise wouldn’t connect with so easily. For example: when I see an elderly lady on the street who made a fantastic dress of plastic shopping bags, then I immediately want to know how her life is, how her house looks like and what the story behind it is.
If you are not a photographer and you ask: ‘Wow u look so cool, can I join u to your house?’ she will think I am totally crazy. But if u are a photographer you have a sort of secret key with which it’s much more likely to enter many different worlds on this planet.
KT: You have worked on many important projects and added your personal psychedelic element to them, ranging from Heroin addicted girl who dreamt of being a super-model, to ‘Sistaaz of the Castle’ which is about Cape-town transexuals to funky portraits of sex-tourism of Pattaya and recent one being a project that features the artist in the Kings County psychiatric hospital in Brooklyn. On what basis do you select your subjects? What is your definition of and fascination with the ‘Outside World’?
JH: Since I was young I always felt that outsiders were the coolest people on earth. I developed a belief that they had some kind of superpower other people didn’t. I remember that when I was a boy on the back of my mother’s bike we passed by a bridge near the central station and I saw a man coming out of his cardboard box. He was wearing a hat made of leaves and cigarette stubs and the inside of his box, I saw, was adorned with porn and Christmas decorations. Since then he was my new role model, where other people dressed like superheroes like Superman or Batman, I dressed myself up as that homeless man.
Still, I don’t choose my subjects because they are outsiders, but because I think they are the coolest people on earth and that I think that more people should see that.
KT: We appreciate your fetish with photobooks. You have published many powerful/mad/beautiful books including “Me & my models”, “New Ways of Photographing the New Masai”, “The Pattaya sex bubble” and recent one “My Maasai” which is about fighting the stereotype image of the semi-nomadic tribe of Kenya: Maasai. What do you like about photography in a book format?
JH: In contrast with the internet, a book asks for more concentration. My pictures are always telling a story, and it’s never the single picture that tells the story because I always like to show many perspectives in one project. So one picture never tells the whole story. In a book, people see more of that.
KT: We feel that photobooks are democratic in nature yet very limited to the privileged and art-loving audiences only. Your views? Why do you think that photobook world is still dominated by a handful of people?
JH: Yes, that’s very true. Photo books are so expensive! Both to make and to buy. I want to experiment more with different price ranges of the books for different communities, but its extremely difficult to make that happen.
KT: Your upcoming photobook “Mental Superpowers”, published by Art Paper Editions, is exploring an important subject where you are comparing mental illness with superpowers. You ended up living for three months in a psychiatric hospital in Brooklyn, collaborating with the hospital’s clients you met in New York. Why did you decide to work on this project? How did the idea originate?
JH: Well I’m a bit mental myself as well. I do great work in my manic periods. I don’t feel fearful like other people which is also good for my work but of course, it has its downsides.
So with the project, I wanted to research if u can see a mental condition also as a superpower. So when I was in the psychiatric clinic the first conclusion was that there was not really a clear line between me being an artist and them being psychiatric patients. I think a lot of them also had superpowers, and a unique brain the most artists would be jealous of.
KT: With your social observational photography and multi-layered artistic approach, what do you do you want to achieve with your photography in the end?
JH: Poeh, that’s a big question!
Profile Photo©Diane van der Marel