In our exclusive interview, One Management’s Christopher Michael sits down with the intrepid photographer for a spirited discussion about his varied inspirations and collaborations. For those seeking to experience Huseby’s work in its full glory, the artist has a show opening in Paris on Saturday (info at the end of this story).
Christopher Michael: You were born in Norway, your Father is Pakistani and you went to school in London…Where or when did Berlin come into the picture?
Benjamin: I moved to Berlin on a whim; I’ve always liked the city. Originally it was only going to be for three months but it ended up being hard to leave. Initially, I wanted to take a break from doing fashion full on; I studied fine art, and I kind of wanted to continue doing that. In London I always felt like I was really surrounded by fashion…Obviously I love doing it but I just needed to get away from being in the middle of it. Berlin is the perfect place… There, I have much more time to work on my art and such.
Christopher Michael: Everyone tends to obsess over art & fashion as a sort of team phrase..and you seem to really epitomize the mixture of those two things quite well…
Benjamin: Well I studied fine art, there was no study of photography. The reason why I got involved in fashion was because of Katy England and Alister Mackie. They saw one of my shows when I was in college and they asked me to do projects for Dazed and Confused. In the beginning, I was doing a lot of photography and drawing together..and from there I ended up doing a lot with Nicola. We were all friends from before but we started working together also. I never really studied photography- everything I know technically are things I just sort of accumulated over time. It’s funny to think back over the years and how “oh now I’m a photographer,” etc…
Benjamin: It just felt like a very natural thing. Fashion is so much collaboration between people and sometimes the brief or the idea or the styling is not exactly how you personally want it to be, and sometimes that can be interesting. This particular story felt very reminiscent of how I started photography… taking pictures of my friends, quite romantic, and in the forest… with my family and friends… It felt like a very natural approach…
Christopher Michael: Do you find it very hard to work within the constraints of having to include the right fashion credits and such when doing a story?
Benjamin: Well I think you just get used to it, but it has definitely become a lot worse. When I first started, it wasn’t the 90’s but it still felt a lot more free… It wasn’t so important what the credits were… Now, you just have to accept that this is the way it is, I guess. Even so, that can be a nice challenge. I also felt that, because of the way everything got so commercialized, I had to work on my “other side” and work in a realm with less constraint.
Christopher Michael: And what about this ever present “fog and mist” of yours,..Is that something that you’ve always loved in general or…?
Benjamin: I guess my pictures have always been very soft. I was joking the other day because I found out I have to start wearing glasses so I said, “I wonder if my pictures will start to be sharp from now on?” (laughs). My starting point was always sort of a documentary approach and then it became more elaborate and I started staging fashion shoots…but there is always that element of natural in there. I like natural lighting, etc…and even if that’s not possible, I like to at least have it look natural. I know people often say that my pictures are dreamy but for me it is more. I’m not so into fantasy…I actually like that people in my pictures are quite real and believable somehow; It may not always be so obvious but I like that they are real people. I am quite a spiritual person in some ways, not any kind of religious way but… friends always joke that I’m a new-age lesbian…I grew up in Norway on the country side so you just spend all the time in a forest, and that’s a very important part of me. In my teens I was always very political, very eco-warrior…chaining myself to railroad tracks, living in squats and being a very left and very politically involved person. I think that all still plays a part in how I try to approach fashion. There are lthings I’ve been asked to do that I couldn’t because I felt they were very wrong politically. For instance- shooting fur… which is a problem with Nicola because he loves fur (laughs)! I love fashion but I’m not too fond of capitalism, and obviously as a photographer, a lot of what you do is selling stuff and I’m just not so interested in the “stuff” somehow. I love fashion imagery but not necessarily everything else that comes with it…
Christopher Michael: People love to overanalyze and I think they clearly read too far into things, so I could be off, but I look at the way you shoot women and men and it seems you shoot them with the same perspective… showing the opposite gender qualities in both. Is that something you find true?
Benjamin: A lot of my work has a lot of play on androgyny; I did this story years ago with Nicola where we had this girl cast as a boy and everyone thought it was this homoerotic story between these two boys but actually it was a boy and a girl. Some of my best friends are trannies and drag queens and I photograph them a lot but with more of a sort of documentary approach. For me, fashion images are interesting when there is a play on gender in it, not drag necessarily but sexual ambiguity…I don’t think about it so much because it’s become such a part of the fashion aesthetic, the androgyny, but it’s definitely something that’s present in my work.
Christopher Michael: You have such a fantastic mix of talents and it seems as though artists will always reserve some of their works for their own ‘private lives’ or what not, but right now amongst your many mediums, photography is what is most in the public eye…Is there any other medium in which we will be seeing more of your work from in the time to come?
Benjamin: I did a video last summer that we shot in Ibiza with video artist Lars Laumann who lives here in New York actually. It was a triple projection video based around the death of Nico in Ibiza; so I definitely want to work more in film. That collaboration was really fun. I’m also working on a book; I’ve done some small sort of self-published things but I’m trying to do a real proper sort of book. I’m still young but I’ve kind of done quite a lot over a big period of time and I feel if I do a book people will get a better perspective of what I do. I take seasons off from fashion and work more on exhibitions and some people only know my exhibition work…The ones that don’t necessary follow fashion, they know that I do it, but don’t really see it. And most people from fashion don’t know that I do these exhibitions. I really would like to do something that brings the two sides together. So I’m working on doing that properly…within the next year, I’m thinking.
Christopher Michael: You’re very lucky to have success and not be enslaved by it. Many people get so caught up in what they love and the ambition, etc… For you to enjoy the success and still have time to enjoy your gardening in Berlin is a luxury that not many people can boast! You told me after the i-D shoot with Tanga that she was perfect for the story and it made me wonder what your trick is to casting… How do you come about making model decisions for a project?
Benjamin: Well I love the collaborative process, with the stylist and such. Everyone has their type of models that they like more than others. With Tanga, I thought she was perfect. I like people that are sort of characters, and that are women, and that’s what she is like…It also depends on the publication. A lot of the models I like, they may not be into… and what they really like is not always going to be what I’m into. I feel that I lean more towards the older girls. I think people are a little bored of the non-entity models and have become more interested in characters…When I started I was very much about prolonging my youth by photographing young people in a way; this was kind of like a documentary approach with teenagers. I feel as I’ve grown up more it feels a little fake to do this sort of youth culture, and when you say “older” models, it’s basically women around 30, which is my age, so I guess it makes sense.
May 29 – June 21, 2010
Opening reception Saturday, May 29, 2010 at 6 pm
75, rue Charlot