September 5, 2014

Spotlight: Hobbes Ginsberg

Inherently Hobbes.

A few months back I found myself flipping through an online album titled, "People Smiling Like They're Dead Inside." It was horrendous, filled with celebrities and awkward families seemingly without life or spark behind their eyes. I was struck with how obviously bland these people looked, and how simple it was to decipher them from photos and images depicting people with a real life to them. This is perhaps what struck me first and most strongly when looking at photographer Hobbes Ginsberg's work--there is a certain and undeniable electricity coursing through her images, one that zaps you instantly and keeps you zinging throughout. 

This is perhaps due to the bold colors or piercing gazes of her subjects, or perhaps it's due to the fact that every image is inherently Hobbes (even if she isn't the focus). Just speaking with her briefly has revealed the same passion, boldness and vibrancy emanating from her work. The same electricity coursing through her art seems to be the same volts coursing through her--a feat not always simple, but massively admirable. I spoke with Hobbes about still lifes, selfies and a familiar (and favorite) witchy collective.

THE LE SIGH: A great deal of your photos use very vivid color, with the subjects also being very colorful (colorful packaging, or if a portrait, people with vibrant hair or tattoos or clothing). Do you find you're more drawn to subjects or to creating scenes with vivid color? What do you think color can or cannot do to an image?

Hobbes Ginsberg: I definitely feel very drawn towards bold color these days, which is really interesting to think about because when I first started photography, I shot almost exclusively black and white. So maybe that’s why it calls to me now. I like that I can create a cohesive vibe with my photos because I like a certain “brand” of colors that I always use and that bring a distinct feel to my work. I've been really into blues and purples lately and I like to use soothing and beautiful color in my work because it makes me feel better.

TLS: What, in your opinion, makes a great portrait?

HG: I like when things look pretty. I like when there's emotion being expressed. I like when there's a connection between viewer and subject. I like when the lighting is so good I get mad looking at it. I like when everything seems purposeful and works together harmoniously. I like when people are able to bring vulnerability out of strangers. I value candidness and vulnerability a lot in portraiture and power.

TLS: A lot of people in your portraits are making eye contact with the camera, seeming to convey a very strong message that may or may not be in tandem with what the viewer thinks they're trying to say. What do you try to convey to your audience through a subject's portrait, or do you try to leave it up to the viewer?

HG: I'm not usually trying to portray a specific message, more so an aura or essence of the person(a). I like people to engage with my work and I like my subject to portray power and beauty and strength, even if they don't always feel that way outside of the photo.

TLS: I might be completely naive (this is utterly possible) but I can't remember ever having seen still lifes (lives?) done in a modern way. You've brought life back to them! Can you explain how you got into creating this type of scene, and then elaborate on how a typical session might go, from inception to creation?

HG: That's a really sweet thing to say! But I can't take all the credit. There are a bunch of really amazing people doing crazy good still life work out there currently, all of whom I have taken inspiration from for the ones I've done. Rachel Stern, Stephanie Gonot, Laurence Philomene (who is part of the coven with me), Andrew B. Myers, Roxana Azar, just to name a few. After seeing what was possible from people like this and more around the Internet, I decided to take a stab at it myself, using the colors and patterns and what not that I was working with in my portraits. With all of my work I'm really inspired by Renaissance-style paintings and vaguely religious looking imagery, so I took a classically-inspired approach to my setups, but changed all the elements around to fit the kind of vibes I like, and it all kind of builds itself from there. I just play around with different shapes and colors until I find something I like. The process is really fun for me and it lets out my creativity in a new way.

TLS: If there was a still life entitled "The Essential Hobbes Ginsberg," what would that still life include?

HG: I think this question is a lot of what goes into what I think about when creating still lives, so I don't know if I can answer that yet. This is probably my most literal interpretation of that so far. I'm not very object based but it would have to have my spiked choker in it. I think these days it would be very blue and purple with flowers and lighters and dirty dishes.

TLS: Selfie culture has become a full blown movement, less regarded as a form of teenage narcissism, and more so thought of as a really interesting photo type that has a ton of meaning to its subjects and creators. What do selfies mean to you, particularly? What do you aim to capture?

HG: I think self portraiture has always been an important medium for expression and one that has been taken seriously when created and performed by the artists that have historically been taken seriously. What's important about the current “selfie culture” movement, and partially the reason I almost always refer to my self portraits as selfies is that it aims to encourage and empower people who have historically not been valued or taken seriously. That politicization is something that is important to me as a queer artist and I think is fundamental to the movement. That being said, when I approach my own work it is definitely a personal experience. I use selfies to explore my identity, to explore my fashion sense, to experiment with myself and with my craft. And I use it as a way to guide myself through my depression and my anxieties. I try to capture myself as fully as I can in that moment, in a way that (like I mentioned before) is candid and vulnerable but still very surreal and beautiful. This to me is a catharsis.

TLS: A lot of your selfies seem to have been taken by other people, or on a timer, though the photos are clearly inherently yours and of your style. How do you direct others to take images of yourself, or how do capture the ideal image without looking through the lens? Can you explain that process?

HG: I always take them myself with a tripod (or stacked on a backpack or a chair or some other precariously balanced item) and a self timer. I'm super self conscious when it comes to creating my work so I wouldn't want anyone else to see, much less be behind the camera. I just run back and forth a lot and try to sit super still. Luckily my camera has one of those screens that flips backwards so you can see yourself, which is a nice trick even though it can be deceiving sometimes.  

TLS: You're also part of the Coven, one of our favorite girl power art collectives. How do you feel you as an individual artist work to support other members of the collective and build off of one another to be this one cohesive entity? How has being part of a group of artists altered your work or process, if at all?

HG: I'm still pretty new to being in the Coven, though I'm extremely excited for what could come of it. All the other girls are incredibly talented and amazing and are constantly putting together great projects. In the couple months I've been a part of it, there has been a group show in Montreal, a zine we all participated in and multiple side projects (like the PINK’D photobook) that I've been a part of. It's been really great. I hope in the future to take greater advantage of such a wonderful group with more collaborative efforts, though I do know that other members are already doing this among themselves. I love them all.

TLS: I also read that you release a monthly zine of images you've snapped over the past month--a genius idea to get your work out and about in print! Are you still doing this? If so, what do those zines usually contain? How do you decide what makes the cut?

HG: I am! I just released my second issue titled skin 2 skin which you can view/purchase here. This project has been really fun so far and I plan to continue it for the near future. The zines are made up of point and shoot images taken during my day to day life over the period of the month prior to release (in this case July 2014) as well as poems and other texts. For this issue I also collaborated with my girlfriend Chloe who contributed illustrations made during the month. It's a really great way to keep myself on my toes artistically and it's nice to be able to look back on a month of life and of work and be able to romanticize it in a way. I think that's what the final product ends up being.

See more of Hobbes' work here.

Written by Molly Morris