In the autumn issue of our Printed Pages magazine I wrote an essay about Americana and its enduring influence on British creatives. One of the people I interviewed was photographer Matt Henry, whose work has often focussed on retro symbols of 1960s and 70s America and the power with which we imbue them. His latest work takes that addiction (forged on TV shows like The A-Team and The Dukes of Hazzard) and uses it to create something of an altogether more ambitious magnitude.
The Trip is a 25-photo series shot in the Californian desert that aims to replicate the cinematic experience through stills photography. It tells the story of two couples who arrive at an out-of-the-way motel where a hippie drugs maverick uses them as guinea pigs for his new LSD cocktail. “As social and generational barriers melt,” Matt explains, “the guests finally get the mind-altering taste of the 1960s that had otherwise passed them by.”
"The photographic image is still seen as the poor relation to the moving image with regards to storytelling."Matt Henry
The project was four months in the making, and involved a huge amount of preparation before travelling to the States. Matt arranged costumes and casting and sent the actors detailed backstories so they could understand their characters in advance. He also spent many hours studying movie lighting techniques and had an experienced Hollywood lighting expert on set to help advise him too.
“I didn’t have the sort of budget filmmakers have at their disposal, so I had to organise everything, which meant buying the outfits and wigs over here and sending them across to the actors in Los Angeles for fitting,” Matt explains. “There was a surreal moment at Christmas when I was snowed in at my dad’s house in a tiny village in the hills of North Wales, casting Hollywood-based actors over the internet. But somehow it all came together.
“The photographic image is still seen as the poor relation to the moving image with regards to storytelling,” he continues. “But for me, stasis provides qualities that can advance narrative. On a purely aesthetic level, there’s the ability to consider composition, colour, shape, and form in a way not possible at 24 frames per second. To draw viewers into a static image and allow them to look around is to be given the opportunity to seduce. This is a gift, and the first step in involving them in your story. Then it’s the ambiguities of the still that can fire the imagination; to leave the viewer to fill in the blanks and construct their personal narrative.”