• 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-kurt

    Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain is easily one of the most mythologised, eulogised and conspiracy-theorised musicians of the last century. Whether we consider his sad induction into the 27-club, his tumultuous relationship with Malaysia Airlines mystery-solving wallflower Courtney Love or the various mental and physical ailments that manifested themselves so intensely through his songs, Kurt’s was a life destined for scrutiny.

  2. List

    To say that Rebecca Reeve enjoys a magnificent view is not to do her work justice. The British-born, New York-based photographer has long been occupied with framing landscapes with domestic devices in her work, from placing a pair of translucent curtains around a mountain range and invoking the Dutch custom of covering paintings at the wakes of deceased family members to help them make the transition to the afterlife, to hanging a blind in front of a swamp to oddly effective ends. On an aesthetic level this unusual use of the prop partially obscures her chosen view, bringing a curious sense of mystery to the image, but the subversion of that familiar sense of domesticity resonates much further than surface level, creating an odd feeling of displacement with a surrealist slant.

  3. List

    A couple of weeks ago, Channel 4 aired a documentary (below) which saw photographer Giles Duley (himself a triple amputee) meet some of the disabled victims of the war in Syria. It was a difficult watch but an extremely important story to tell, and one that meant a lot to Giles. He got in touch to say that although The Guardian ran an in-depth piece on the same theme, he had some photographs which weren’t used that he was really keen to get out there.

  4. Main1

    Every once in a while it’s worth having a good old stare at the architecture around us. Often we simply stop noticing buildings because they’re so good at doing what they’re supposed to do; which is a shame because as well as functionality, there’s an overlooked beauty within those structures we can all appreciate.

  5. List

    If you ask me, the beauty of Maciek Pozoga’s work lies in the fact that it can’t be pinned down. He’s eternally “juggling between documentary, art and fashion,” as his website explains, resulting in a style which grows “from a specific conception of documentary images, naturalistic and authentic but tinged with poetry and humour.”

  6. Main

    I’m super into these portraits by Maya Fuhr, I think I spent about 45 seconds staring into the pond-coloured eyes of the guy two pics down. Maya’s got this magic touch when it comes to photography, her work is so simultaneously humble and powerful, making her the perfect candidate for quietly strong editorial and personal work. We’ve covered her editorial before – a brilliant photo shoot of girls in messy bedrooms – but something about the power of her portraits made us want to write about her again. She also recently opened up to us about her days as college a fresher, and the perils of choosing the wrong degree (with some brilliant photographs of her in 2008 to accompany it, naturally).

  7. List

    In December last year we received a zine in the post from Yorkshire-based photographer Christopher Nunn that documented a small selection of images he’d gathered in Ukraine. Kalush offered a unique perspective on a region that was thrust suddenly and violently into the public consciousness, showing us the quiet, everyday side of a place that – from television coverage at least – you’d have been forgiven for assuming was razed to the ground.

  8. Main_15.08.13

    Another one pilfered off Haw-Lin here I’m afraid, (I can’t help it if their taste is better than everyone else’s can I?). This charming selection of photographs of aesthetically-blessed chaps hanging out with pedigree dogs is by Philippe Jarrigeon, the man who once charmed us with square oranges back in the day. This shoot was commissioned by the spectacular Double Magazine, and is testament to why they’re currently on their 27th issue – they clearly know what they’re doing content-wise. If you think cute boys and pups are click-bait then I’d be inclined to disagree – the world needs happy photography, and you don’t get much more joy in an editorial than this. Like what you see? Let me point you this way to another fantastic shoot with a similar concept from 2012.

  9. List

    Unless you have self-consciously wacky parents, it’s likely you’ll have met someone with the same name first name as you. When you’re younger this can make you feel a less special but these days we just have to grin and bear it. The commonality of first names is a theme Tim Morris has focused on in his George series, which brilliantly catalogues famous Georges in visual form.

  10. .jpg?1413390909

    All too often these days we stumble across a jaw-dropping example of set design, only to discover the impressive final image is actually the result of some clever visual trickery and digital manipulation. That’s an impressive art unto itself, don’t get me wrong, but pure CGI can leave me feeling a little shortchanged.

  11. List

    The Daily Nice is one of those online phenomenons that’s been sizzling away in the big internet frying pan since 2004, and this month sees it celebrate its tenth birthday. If you’re not familiar with site (where have you been??), the idea is simple: every day its creator Jason Evans uploads one photograph of something that made him happy. There’s no archive, no social media feeds – just that picture taken by Jason on the site for 24 hours.

  12. Main

    Anyone who’s worked for Ryan McGinley is probably covered in a lil’ pinch of magic dust when it comes to photography. Eric Chakeen proves this point – his personal and commissioned shots are a wild mix of humour and professionalism that is hard to come by. Working in New York, Eric’s skill lies in his ability to roam the streets and take portraits of people with true personality. From a guy munching on a cigar on a scooter to a dog in a post-vet neck cone, anything he turns his lens on turns to gold. You could argue that it doesn’t take much to get a good shot of Alexa Chung, but would many people choose to photograph her in such a stripped-back way? I think not. How great to see someone doing something that so many people are experimenting with right now, but adding that extra bit of style and wit. Cool guy.

  13. List

    I’ve had a soft spot for Akos Major’s photography for a long time now and his project Waters has been added to my virtual ‘like’ pile with no hesitation.