Yin&Yang Blog interviewed me recently. You can read it all below (Read original post on yinnyang.co.uk)
A Chat With The Real Ben Hopper
If you have an interest in photography then you may have already heard of or seen work from Ben Hopper. Originally living in Israel, he’s a London based photographer and his work spans many styles. I met up with Ben for a chat recently, read the full interview below where he talks life, inspirations and upcoming projects!
I’m Ben hopper and I’m a freelance photographer, living in London. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of photography around contemporary performing arts, burlesque dancers, and circus performance. It’s quite a big network so I’m really tied into that, but it’s starting to evolve into other visuals like film and interactive arts. That’s me in a nutshell at the moment.
Talk us through how you became Ben Hopper the photographer?
Well when I was 15 I started playing the guitar, by 18/19 I became pretty good. I would play anything from jazz to rock- taking private lessons. But then I had to join the army in Israel (my homeland) and so I didn’t have time to practice. After the army I started doing different kinds of jobs until I ended up working for a company dealing with imports and exports of photography equipment- one of the largest in Israel at the time. I was the PA to the CEO and it was a really intense full time+ business job. I did it for about 3.5 years till I was 25. It pretty much ruined me, it took all of my spare time, and I didn’t have a life! After 3.5 years I wanted to leave but my boss was adamant on making me stay as I became a key player in the company. But anyway I managed to leave and since I always liked photography, I thought I would just get myself a nice Nikon DSLR and started taking photos.One of my friends’ was also experimenting with photography at the time and we both had this goal of becoming fashion photographers. So we decided to pool our heads together and start out with wedding photography which would enable us to save some money and get some lighting equipment and get into fashion photography. We started a business together doing events which went really well up until we started to fall out. We were really good friends but when money got involved…it screwed up our relationship and business.I always wanted to leave Israel so as my photography started to pick up I decided to move to London and become a photographer here.
Must have been tough moving to whole new surroundings and not knowing anyone!
I’ve always been a big networking whore so by the time I got to London, some people had already known about me and liked my stuff plus I knew few people who lived here. That is where I stayed when I moved.
Who were some of your first clients when you came over?
The first job I did was 2 weeks after I arrived, I did an editorial for a digital magazine- i’m not sure if they are still around. It was called Supersweet We did a fashion editorial in Aldgate.
My London friend Sarah Jane, she introduced me to Torture Garden and that was a big turning point for me at the time and influenced where I took my photography. It was their Halloween party and I remember thinking ‘wow I have to photograph this party’. So I came back and did the Christmas party and since then I’ve had a good relationship with the people at Torture Garden and that whole scene behind the club.
Also, I was introduced to a girl called Mayka Finkelstein Amrami, she’s a really cool artist- a designer and an illustrator. She works at the Royal Opera doing all the costumes for the ballet- she did a video installation and wanted stills, so I did them for her. Couple weeks later we worked together again and produced some work which ended up in Kurv magazine.
Sounds like you did alright for yourself there! What were some of the challenges you faced as a freelance photographer?
Well honestly, the real challenge is just making sure I have enough money to pay bills… I usually prefer to do personal work but every now and then you have to branch out. I try to make money off my personal work by selling prints or getting them exhibited. So yes it’s just the challenge of making sure that you have enough work all the time.
What would you say has been your most successful project?
Definitely ‘Naked Girls with Masks’…well it got the most attention and quite obviously because it is literally naked girls…
Can you tell us a bit about the project and how it came about?
I did a photoshoot back in 2009 with a girl called Cat Chappell – had this idea to photograph her and her girlfriend standing next to each other holding hands, Cat was ok but her girlfriend wasn’t too comfortable so we ended up playing around with masks. Cat has a big tattoo on her back, so I got her to have her back to me wearing the mask back to front; I thought it would make a really cool photo. So later on I Met up with two guys who run Act Art and they wanted to me to submit something to their exhibition which was about censorship, so I showed them the photo I did with Cat and said I would do an entire exhibition based on that…they were happy with it! And that’s really how it happened.
What has been your favourite project?
I don’t really have a favourite but I did a project called ‘Nightlife’ which is a compilation of photos I have taken at parties over the last three years; mostly in alternative, gothic and burlesque clubs. At the time I was just having fun and meeting new people.
At the moment I’m working on one called ‘Natural Beauty‘ and this one is about beautiful women with long armpit hair- it has a lot of cultural saying and it’s about personal preferences. I also really enjoyed ‘Naked girls with Masks’.
So what’s on the horizon, any future projects?
Naked men with masks! Also other stuff with masks, might not all be nude though. Perhaps one will be a scene in a restaurant where everyone is naked and wearing masks.
You really have a thing for masks….
Haha! I just want to experiment with masks! There is another in the pipeline actually…without masks. I’ve been working on a project where I will get illustrators to take my photography and play around with it using their skills to create a whole new composition. That’s quite exciting for me because I don’t draw, illustrate or paint but I have always wanted to. I can do a bit of typography but I always wanted to know how to illustrate. So in a way it is a way for me to do that- I’ve been looking at illustrators from around the world so if anyone is interested…
Sounds interesting, maybe we’ll do some Yin&Yang x Ben Hopper pieces! You mentioned before that your work is “starting to evolve into other visuals like film and interactive arts”. Is this something you’ll be working on soon?
There will be short feature films and music video clips… that’s all I can say at the moment
Cool, we look forward! Tell us what you think makes a good photographer?
That’s a really difficult one! There are so many photographers and everyone has access to a camera- you need to do more than just technically take photos, you need to understand. I think you also need to be original, edgy and honest. Recently I decided that I am only going to photograph for myself and not think too much about what people will think- perhaps being controversial can be a good thing. As long as my work makes me happy. It’s also really important to know how to deal with clients- this shouldn’t be the way but you have to be quite business minded.
Any photographers out there that you like their work?
There are loads but these ones pop straight into my head, make sure you Look them up!
So what advice can you give to anyone looking to become photographer?
The most important thing is to do things that you love…if you don’t want to photograph weddings, then don’t! Within reason though… bills are not going to pay themselves!
Thanks for the interview Ben, you’ve been great! Got any exhibitions coming up that we can pop down to?
My pleasure! Yes, there are 3 exhibitions coming up this month and April. 2 solo and 1 group, all in London. They are all contemporary circus photography and a part of The Roundhouse CircusFest (a London theatre that dedicates all April 2012 to contemporary circus shows)
Hello beautiful people! Today I’m very excited to introduce you the work of Ben Hopper, the “HOTTER-THAN-WASABI up-and-coming London-based fine art photographer”.
He created a lot of buzz around himself a few months ago when he launched the serie: “Naked girls with masks”, a bold bodily communication, a parody of the self-censorship we all succumb to everyday. The serie features nude models wearing surprising, comical, and sometimes grotesque full-head masks. “You’ve heard of masked balls… but these shots are all about masked boobies! (…) a parody of the way in which human beings usually present themselves, they beg the question – why do we reveal our faces, yet hide our bodies from view? And what happens when that arrangement is turned on its (masked) head?”
Reading about this project lit me up with curiosity about Ben and his work and in no time at all I was contacting him to with a few questions about his vision and inspiration. And, why not?, some hot tips about London’s nightlife!
Ben Hopper is on a mission to create as many remarkable timeless images designed to overwhelm; his work has featured in magazines and exhibitions everywhere from Spain to Jordan, Switzerland, France, Germany and Italy. He lives in London, and originally hails from Israel, but has no desire for his projects to be weighed down with the heavy politics and negativity that’s sadly often associated with the region; instead, he wants to forge new, positive connotations by taking pictures filled with explosive movement, stylish humor, and intriguingly odd-yet-stunning scenarios. He’s bold and sharp photography includes scenery, movement and mood. It mainly involves conceptual fashion images, portraits of dancers, circus artists, musicians and pretty girls. He is currently in-house photographer for two of the UK’s most notoriously trend-setting alternative clubs: Bête-Noire (PKA The Last Days of Decadence) and White Mischief.
You are originally from Israel and you are living in London. How does the city and its people inspire you?
London’s population is almost the same as Israel. It’s the population of my whole country in one city. It opened my mind to so many things, both philosophical and practical. If I want to travel around for work or pleasure everything is closer. If I want to find more photography work or have a bigger audience for what I do, it’s right here. I can go to Europe or NYC or I can just use the existing 7.5 million people who keep this city alive and changing with a huge mixture of cultures. When I first moved here I was walking around for about a month only thinking to myself “This is it. This is where trends are made. This is what everybody are talking about”. I guess you could say that about any other global city but living in Israel is SO different. If I’d compare Tel Aviv (which is the centre of culture and progress in Israel); Tel Aviv would be a city, London would be a state.
The funny thing about British people (and Londoners in particular) is that somehow with their British restraint and manners, come a very perverted and naughty alter-ego. I find that fact extremely constructive for the things that I photograph. People here are more than willing to make up a good party. Dress up. I sometimes feel like I am observing a culture and doing my imaginary PhD in anthropology. There’s another aspect that I find interesting; my young brother is a circus performer and he lives in Madrid. He does contemporary circus. It’s mostly about creative theatre and outstanding technical skills. In London, the technical level of the performers is not as good as the one you will find in Europe – Spain or France BUT the British performers KNOW how to give a show. They blow you away with their stage presence.
How would you describe your aesthetic in five words?
At the moment I would say perhaps: movement, concept, scenery, performance and controversy.
If you ask me that question in 2 years I think I would probably only mention controversy where the rest would be my obvious style. I don’t know really. I am trying to move people. To make them think. I think I am slowly getting there. I’ve been doing this for 3 years only and it changes all the time. I am also getting exposed to more and more things; culture, people, societies.
At the end, I am trying to make stuff I’d be proud of myself. I always think to myself; “if I saw that picture in a magazine or a gallery would I find it cool or beautiful?” –I try to make it for myself, then friends – then the client. And at the moment the goal is to merge all 3.
How do you choose your models and how do you like them to pose when you are directing the shoots?
Going back to the previous question; myself/friends/client – I always say that I photograph 3 types of things: things that I’m attracted to, things that I find as being cool and things I’m getting paid for.
If it’s a female model I’d probably look for my ideal type of woman or in other words, women I find attractive myself – and that can be anywhere from a model I spot in a magazine, model agency, on the street, on facebook or in a party – it will usually be tall, thin, beautiful women. Yes, I know – typical. But I do find androgyny looks fascinating. I’m slowly photographing a series of beautiful women with armpit hair. The idea is to have women that are SO beautiful – you would never be able to imagine them with hairy armpits – which is something that usually being associated with butch feminine unattractive lesbians. I approach specific women I want to photograph and ask them if they could grow it out for the picture. If I had a choice I would go for people like Freja Beha Erichsen, Eliza Cummings and also porn stars Sasha Grey and Stoya.
If there’s any directions I give during a photoshoot it will be trying to make them look more beautiful I think. Bring out the beauty in their face, bodies – whatever it is – it will be however my beauty or how I see beauty so that might be a little bizarre to some people 🙂
I also tend to ask people to move in different ways. Maybe dance sometimes or pretend they’re dancing. I’d usually photograph them in movement and try to capture unnatural poses and movements.
Which was the most exciting project you had been working on?
My most exciting project up to date is a new experimental project I call for now: “Post Face Fuck Portraits”. It’s the most vulgar thing I have ever done. It’s basically pictures of beautiful women with a look that seems like they just gave a very intense and messy blow job but there are no semen traces so you look at the picture and ask yourself: “did she just…?!” -The exciting part is the creation of that look. It is far more stressing than photographing a naked women in a public place.
I don’t even know if I should do it or speak about it. This whole thing is so wrong but this is why I think something good might come out of it.
Which is the magazine you love the most?
I love Vice Magazine. I learned a lot from their approach in the recent year. I also like magazines like 125 Magazine and Dazed & Confused and i-D. I haven’t done any work with all 4 yet. I think 2011 would be a good time to start.
Is there any celebrity you would really love to shoot?
There are a bunch of them. Tom Waits would be an obvious choice. I’d love to photograph Paul Simon as well. Bob Dylan. All these people I grew up getting inspired of and now getting old and if I won’t be quick I’ll miss my chance. I already lost it with George Carlin. There’s this book project I’ve been thinking of lately; it’s a book I’d like to call Legends and it will contain portraits that I’ll photograph of people I consider as “legends”. However, they don’t have to be real celebrities like Bob Dylan. Even though most of them are quite known. All the guys from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. I guess a lot of musicians but there’s also Philippe Petit (the High wire artist from the movie Man on Wire); to me he represents everything that circus and performance stands for. I cry every time I’m watching that movie.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve ever taken?
Every new project is a challenge. I’m trying to be pretentious with the ideas for my projects. A lot of the models on my series Naked Girls with Masks were hard if not impossible to convince to pose naked even with a mask on. I knew that when I first approached them. Then I would ask them to grow their pubes for the photos because I thought it would be more interesting. Most of them almost vomited in my face just by the thought of it…hehe
There’s also the hairy armpits. It’s VERY hard to convince beautiful women to grow their armpit hair for a photograph! Not to mention the ‘Post Face Fuck’…I am just becoming more and more hard on myself.
What is in your ipod?
It’s varied and changing. I used to play a lot of guitar when I was younger so there are a lot of influences. To give a few it’s stuff like: Neil Young, The Avettt Brothers, Nada Surf, Bert Janch, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Deus, Captain Beefheart, Venetian Snares, Eli Degibri (jazz), Jaga Jazzist, Frank Zappa, Mice Parade, Night Ark, John Frusciante, Animal Collective, The Band, Paul Simon, The Presidents of the United States of America, Peter Gabriel, Radiohead, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Shuggie Otis, Tom Waits and 100% collègues (which is a great French band from Toulouse I recently discovered by my host, Julien, when I couchsurfed at his in Auch, France while photographing CIRCA Contemporary Circus Festival last October. They sing in French, Spanish and Arabic. Just great!).
Who are your fantasy dinner party guests?
To be honest it’s the same people I want to photograph. The so-called celebrities. They happen to be celebrities as I see it. I am fascinated by people like that and would love to be able to call them my friends. I wish Sebastian Horsley was still alive. I didn’t get a chance to meet him.
Do you watch cartoons?
I watched some animations by Studio Ghibli lately. Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away. My favourite was Princess Mononoke. Growing up I LOVED Ren & Stimpy. But also Beavis and Butt-head, Freakazoid!, Animaniacs, Futurama, Family Guy, The Moomins and of course The Simpsons.
If I’d think of any cartoons as in “classic cartoons” I would say Charlie Chaplin. It makes sense to me. I would watch a Charlie Chaplin movie any time.
What is an absolute ‘must do’ in London?
I would say… go to a club called Torture Garden. It’s the most interesting club here. The best vibe of all clubs. There’s also White Mischief. Torture Garden is the biggest fetish/dress-up club in the world. White Mischief throw big Steampunk & dress-up parties. Both have live performances and amazing music and scenery…and attract thousands of clubbers each party.
What’s inspiring to you at the moment and how does the future look?
I’m inspired from a lot of film material. I think I will start experimenting more with film and music slowly. Music was always something close to my heart.
I am inspired by thin beautiful women, large spaces and open areas. I also fascinated by contemporary circus. There will be more of all of that. I hope I could travel more for my photography.
I think it will have more essence. I am trying to make myself proud. I’d like to become the next David LaChapelle. The next Terry Richardson / Helmut Newton / Rembrandt / Bach / Tom Waits … I don’t know 🙂 I guess it will include more gallery work and more commercial work. More dance and circus. More nudity and more familiar faces. More risqué and stuff that will make people think it’s wrong, when it’s right.
Thank you Ben!