• Hero5

    Matt Henry: The King

Photography

Photography: Tales of a 60s American dream through the eyes of photographer Matt Henry

Posted by Sophia Epstein,

As the age-old saying goes: a picture’s worth a thousand words, and in the case of Brighton-based photographer Matt Henry, those thousand words come together to tell a powerful story.

In his series’ Short Stories and Blue River Falls Matt places two images beside one another, setting up a beginning and an end, with the gap in the middle just begging to be filled. These simple yet strong images give the audience’s imaginations room to run wild. It might sound like he’s making us do all the work, but it’s extraordinary how quickly these pairings cause a full-length feature film to just spring into your head. Trust me, he’s done all the heavy lifting.

When looking through Matt’s work, his fascination with America in the 60s and 70s is as difficult to miss as Elvis’ pelvis would be to anyone in the front row. But as a 36-year-old, born and raised in a Welsh town amusingly named Mold, it’s safe to say he’s never experienced the swinging 60s first hand. His knowledge comes purely from his education, and he must have been paying attention because he doesn’t skimp on the details. His ongoing project 1964-1974 focuses on people, as well as the things around them, to give a fullfledged impression of America at that time, and it’s a beautiful impression indeed.

  • Mh

    Matt Henry: 1964-1974

How did you come up with the idea for Short Stories?

They developed fairly organically rather than as a story-boarded body of work like my next project, Blue River Falls. I was conscious of the narrative limitations of photography as a medium when set against literature, or cinema, but didn’t want to get bogged down in shooting a full series for each concept. It takes so long to construct staged photographs in this manner, so I had the idea of working in diptych as a way of extending the story-telling potential of a single image without having to move into a full blown series. Then I’d just consider a storyline and try to show some fragment of narrative, usually avoiding the temptation to show the climax of a scene. I think the narrative strength of photography is in its ambiguity – show a little and trust the viewer’s imagination to develop their own thread. Photography, and history painting for that matter, often fails by trying to do too much.

How did you develop your style of photography? Did you do lots of different things as you honed your approach?

I began many years ago with the intention of shooting fashion as I enjoyed the fact that the images were arranged in stories. But I quickly became frustrated with the limitations of having to work with a beautiful girl in beautiful clothes – imagine if every film you saw had the same constrictions. It’s also a genre that’s heavily commodified, and not a pleasant culture to work in. But I learned a lot about hard, directional lighting working in the studio and this quickly became part of my style. It’s a light that gives very even tones across large areas of colour, giving that overtly graphic feel. But yes, of course there was a lot of experimentation, but once you find your eye I think it’s hard to avoid a personal style. It’s not something I ever think about now.

  • 1964-1974-6

    Matt Henry: 1964-1974

  • 1964-1974-3

    Matt Henry: 1964-1974

What is it about America that you are so drawn to? How often have you visited the USA?

I’m often accused of being an Americanophile, but really I’m a cinephile, and most of the cinema that I consumed as a child and beyond originates in the States. They really are exceptional story-tellers and are well-practised in working the emotions of viewers on a level that somehow supersedes their geography. So it’s more the imaginary construct of America I’m interested in, rather than the place itself. I love the pioneer mentality that originates from the relative newness of the nation and the vastness of its space and wilderness, and this sentiment runs through much of its cinema and literature.

The classic symbols of Americana are so loaded. Sit a photograph of a manual labourer from any part of the world against a weathered American in denim, lumberjack shirt, baseball hat and logger boots and they’ll set off such different emotions. There’s a conception of freedom that runs through American narratives that makes them hard to resist. I have lived there for a period of months but I’m not sure if I could have a permanent base there. I feel temperamentally European. Visiting the place is very strange. It’s almost like walking onto a film set. It’s an uncanny feeling that brings me an equal amount of unease and pleasure.

Is your 1964-1974 series making a statement about the past or is it relevant to the present?

I don’t think it’s possible to make a statement about the past without also making a statement about the present, coming as you are from a period with a different social lens. But yes it’s a conscious attempt on my part to draw attention to a period that was marked with a real utopian spirit: the belief that people and protest could really change the world. This was a period that gave us the Civil Rights movement, the anti-war or peace movement, the second wave of feminism, and the Free Speech movement. Incredible things were achieved in a very short period of time.

Contrast that with today’s cynicism about the capacity for change. The neo-liberals are currently in a period of great ascendancy. They’ve convinced the world that there really is no alternative to a system underpinned by the idea that greed is good, even after a catastrophic financial collapse, and in full view of impending ecological disaster. We need to re-discover a counter-cultural voice, and one way to do this is to look to successes in history. My photographic project about the period is ongoing though and still in its infancy. It will take one to two years to finish I think.

  • King2

    Matt Henry: The King

  • King

    Matt Henry: The King

  • King4

    Matt Henry: The King

  • Mh1

    Matt Henry: 1964-1974

  • Mh5

    Matt Henry: Portraits

Who or what has had the biggest impact on your career?

“What” would probably be growing up in a rural environment in North Wales. This has guided a real belief in the power of simplicity in life and a love for the outdoors. But the American outdoors seemed like my own surroundings magnified – a place with actual bears and wolves! Plus the American wilderness is real wilderness. I visited the Adirondack National Park recently on the back of a job in New York and met a park ranger who said: “Son, seven out of 10 people that get lost in this park, stay lost.” Britain’s forest is farmed, landscaped and manicured and if you get lost, you only have to walk an hour or so to find some sort of dwelling. There’s not the same level of romance.

So set this against nature-based American literature from the likes of John Steinbeck, Raymond Carver, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Throw in Bukowski for the stubborn non-conformity. And then mix in some contemporary cinema; especially anything that explores the outlaw, the underdog, those that live on the margins of society. Early work by Jim Jarmusch, Harmony Korine, Larry Clarke, Gus Van Sant and a host of documentaries: the documentary Hobo by John T. Davies inspired me like nothing else. So nature, film, anarchy; generally not too much photography with the exception of the usual suspects – Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld, Eggleston – and some contemporary guys like Bryan Schutmaat, Ari Gabel and Thomas Gardiner. They’re all people that work in a very different manner to me, but they inspire me greatly.

  • 1964-1974-8

    Matt Henry: 1964-1974

  • 1964-1974-10

    Matt Henry: 1964-1974

Nice

Posted by Sophia Epstein

Sophia spent two weeks with It’s Nice That as part of her postgraduate journalism studies at Cardiff University in April 2014.
@sophstein

Most Recent: Photography View Archive

  1. List-p.48-9-st-benedictus-%c2%a9-paul-koudounaris

    Ever wondered what happens when you die? Do our souls live on in heaven, frolicking about with those of our lost loved ones? Is there a dark, black nothingness? Or do we get stuffed to the eyeballs with gems and a big shiny crown thrust on our heads until we’re all trussed up like a little skeleton Liberace?

  2. List

    These photographs in the latest issue of the ultra-slick men’s fashion mag, Arena Homme+, are so incredibly perfect, never have I felt so giddy at the combination of slouched, neutral knitwear and ambiguous, colourful props.

  3. List

    With a portfolio bursting with fashion, editorial and portrait photography, it’s no surprise Tung Walsh’s client list is constantly growing having shot for big-wigs including A.P.C, Dolce and Gabbana, BON and W magazine among others. Capturing a mixture of models and famous folk, his style is cool, edgy and setting the standard in achieving that originality and freshness many photographers can only imitate.

  4. List-1-dai-kannon.-sendai_-japan_-100m-(330-ft).-built-in1991

    Statues are an eternal recognition of a person or event’s impact on society – once erected they become a symbol and a part of the community forever. What interests photographer Fabrice Fouillet is when these effigies are on a monumental scale and take over towns, becoming just as exceptional at the political or religious power they’re representing.

  5. List-conorbeary-3

    When these flaming barrels rolled into our consciousness, we were instantly intrigued. While it’s nothing new to see photographic documentation of strange customs and traditions (James Pearson-Howes, for instance, has captured British Folk traditions to brilliant effect), these images by Conor Beary are no less fascinating. The photographs document a 200-year-old tradition in the wonderfully-named village of Ottery Saint Mary in Devon, which sees the streets filled with fire and wild enthusiasm.

  6. List

    There’s a real appetite here on the internet for old black and white photos being presented in colour, but in the main they tend to focus on historic or social themes. It’s less common to see sports photography undergoing this treatment, which is why we were so struck by the work of Gooner Frog when we came across it on Facebook.

  7. List

    It’s hard to tell at what point Julian Faulhaber’s images are captured; if he’s the first person on site after the completion of a new modernist structure or whether he employs the skills of some exceptionally talented retouchers to clean up all the human detritus that clutters the purity of manmade structures. Either way his images evoke a sense of futuristic newness; of ultra-sleek new buildings awaiting their human occupants. They pay homage to the craft of architecture, celebrate the artistry of interiors and simultaneously poke fun at the absurdity of our aesthetic tastes – seriously, who thought purple, yellow and green stripes was a good idea? They’re also exceptionally visually arresting, so gawp on at the work of this talented chap.

  8. List-tagd10

    Nick Turpin succinctly captures some of Londoners’ least comfortable moments – cooped up in the hot breath and bad smells of a sweltering bus in winter. It’s sticky, it’s awful, and time seems to stop still as the wheels crawl wheezily along. The beauty of Nick Turpin’s work is that it almost makes you forget all that, instead turning these seemingly endless minutes into painterly portraits of Londoners at their most bored, tired and exasperated.

  9. List

    It’s one thing slapping a Valencia Instagram filter on a photo of your roast dinner and mentally patting yourself on the back for your old school photography skills, but it’s quite another to have your subjects dressed up like they’ve just been zapped in from another era and then photograph them to an extremely high standard accordingly. Photographer Robbie Augspurger describes the motivation behind his practice thus – “I like to think of what I wished existed, and then make it” – which is very admirable, really. Especially as what he wishes existed is a series of glamorous headshots so decidedly retro in both styling and format that you wouldn’t think twice if you found them in an old shoebox in your loft.

  10. List

    Kids are weird. Granted I say this as a 30-year-old man with no children, no nieces and nephews and no godchildren, but in the limited dealings I have had with babies and toddlers and whatever you call those ones that are older than toddlers, they are all pretty bizarre. Artist and longtime friend of the site Lenka Clayton has confirmed my suspicions with her project called 63 Objects Taken From My Son’s Mouth..

  11. Main

    No one photographs teenagers like Jamie Hawkesworth. For years we’ve been posting about his ability to capture the infinitely curious in-between stage of adolescence, and quietly knowing that he’s the guy who’s currently got the monopoly on this topic. Recently though, alongside shooting youngsters for mags such as AnOther and The New York Times Style, Jamie’s has been lending his skills to some corporate magazines and brands – a far cry from his time roaming the bus shelters of northern England or the Whitby Goth Festival. This year Jamie was approached by Lexus’ magazine Beyond to follow two chocolatiers on a journey into deepest Vietnam on the hunt for a rare cacao bean. Slight change of scenery.

  12. List-tungsten_beach_6

    When darkness falls, the beach is usually reserved for inebriated frolics and skinnydipping, but photographer Marco Andres Arguello gives our twilight coastlines a new context with his series, Tungsten Beach. Marco focuses on the lifeguard stands and other structures that litter the sandy shores of South Beach in Miami, Florida but timed his photographs to coincide with Urban Beach Week, a hip­hop event notorious for wild parties and mischief. As a precaution, local police have started to set up tungsten floodlights around these structures for security during the event.

  13. Main

    Frank Bauer is a portrait photographer in the truest sense of the word, in that he is exceptionally, almost astoundingly good at photographing people. His skill has won him commissions photographing some of the most famous faces in modern pop culture, from Miranda July, Steve McQueen and Jane Goodall to Iggy Pop, Grayson Perry and Ai Weiwei. With each of his subjects he captures some new, as yet unseen angle, offering his viewers a novel glimpse into their untold stories; whether that be artist and director Steve McQueen trying to suppress a yawn, or primate expert Jane Goodall gazing hopefully into the distance, her features softening to the point of making her seem childlike.