“Of course you can find beauty in everything… It goes to the base of our structure. It is the foundation of our existence and reproduction. The survival of our species.”
“Life’s purpose is to be happy.” it says on the tumblr blog of London based photographer, filmmaker and artist Ben Hopper. Exactly. So we had an interesting deep chat with him about his wonderful on-going project “Natural Beauty”, about society´s standards for beauty and about realizing more and more that we are part of nature.
Your main purpose of doing art is…
To entertain myself, to entertain others. To be happy, to make others happy.
“Overnight success is a myth. Dig into almost every overnight success story and you’ll find about a decade’s worth of hard work and perseverance.” – Austin Kleon. Is a quote on your fb site. What besides things such as making money out of your work defines success for you?
Mostly freedom. Freedom to do the things I want both personally and creatively. Success is not necassarily about money to me. Money will be there, subsequently and inevitably, but it’s what the money enables you to do. It’s a tool.
I think anyone who wants money for the sake of having money, is missing the whole point.
Let´s talk about your project „Natural Beauty”. “I don’t want to say that I want women to start growing their armpit hair. I just think that it’s a possibility and people shouldn’t dismiss it. I’d like people to just question [beauty standards], the whole thing.” Is your quote out of an interview with the Huffington Post, that summarizes pretty well what your intention is. You got a lot of attention for it – how about criticism?
The project received a lot of attention and a good chunk of it was criticism.
A lot of it circulated around integrity. It’s a very sensitive issue and I think the virality of the project was due to the fact that everyone had something to say about it whether they agreed or disagreed with it.
Overall my intention with the project was a good one. It made people a bit more aware and perhaps accepting. I think it made a good change.
Even Madonna has shown her interest in it. How does that make you feel, besides that you could see you are on the right track…
Madonna has nude photographs from the beginning of her career with fully grown underarm hair and pubes. That’s not new.
I’ve been working on this project for years but couldn’t find the right visual aesthetics that felt right until the beginning of 2014. I knew I was on the right track because I saw how it was increasingly becoming fashionable again on Tumblr, for instance. When Madonna posted her Instagram photo in March 2014 it made me realise it was the perfect time to publish Natural Beauty. The following month, I premiered the project on Huffington Post.
You started it in 2007. Did you already release a few of those images back then and if, how was the reaction of people at that time? If not, why did you chose to continue and wait so long to show it to the public?
I have a few of those images on my website and blog. Anything that isn’t a black background studio photograph is from that period.
Some people understood it, some people didn’t – same as today. I like to think it’s more positive response then negative. The most viral and ‘liked’ images on my fb page are those images.
As I said in the previous question – I waited because the images just weren’t good enough. Something was missing. It was a collection of different photos of different subjects, different locations – they didn’t feel connected enough. The same studio set up solved it. I actually avoided it thinking it’ll be too obvious and eventually came back to it. Same lighting, same background, similar white tops – it looks like some sort of mini campaign. It plays with all the things we are used to see in fashion… and twists it around with the unconventional look of the hair.
Why do you think society always falls into the trap of having certain standards for beauty?
I don’t think it is a trap. Some companies who make related products might abuse it to sell products but I think we are naturally attracted to beauty.
All we have to do is go to nature and look at flowers and animals. It’s all embedded into the system. Of course you can find beauty in everything. I find beauty in derelict demolished building sites. It also changes with fashion over centuries and sometimes months or weeks, but there is unquestionable beauty in symmetry, proportion, harmony, and healthy youthful looking when it comes to people, – these are just general consensus guidelines that the majority of us can relate to. It goes to the base of our structure. It is the foundation of our existence and reproduction. The survival of our species.
Is there another strong subject you already have in mind that you want to create a similar project with? Something you want society to question…
I’m planning new work with my mask photographs. It will be more social and story based. More about the subjects themselves. More questions about nudity and identity, I guess in a more mature way – or at least that’s how it feels to me.
There are few other projects in the works. Not necessarily about making society question things, some of them will just have interesting photos, I hope.
The latest project you published is called „The Forest Project“, where you spent 3 days in a forest in with 2 female circus artists. What was the most interesting part of this experience or something new you learned from it?
Being away from the city, in that place particularly – which happened to be a distant Finnish forest, next to the Russian border, no running water, a cold lake to wash in after a sauna, eating healthy organic food – this whole experience was new to me. I’ve never been to Finland or anywhere like this. The two artists I worked with, Sade Kamppila and Viivi Roiha are extremely interesting to work with. They’re both Finnish and the project is very important to them. Finnish people have a special relationship and appreciation for forests. The older I get the more I realise we are a part of nature. Cities are a luxury but we mustn’t forget nature.
What are your ambitions for your work as an artist within the next years?
I’d like to travel more and do bigger projects. I’d like to do more work with contemporary performance. I also want to explore new disciplines; painting, sculpture, film, digital multi-media, choreography perhaps, music hopefully and maybe have more personal involvement in my own work – being in front of the camera – because right now it feels super weird for me.
By the way, did you spent the year 2014 in the U.S. as planned?
I didn’t. I was hoping to raise some funds to go to Montreal to work on Transfiguration and stick around in the US for a 3 months trip but the money didn’t come through. I figured I’ll postpone it for now and do it in the near future, with more planning. I can’t wait to make it happen!
Are you still playing the guitar from time to time?
Very rarely. I really hope it will ‘come back to me’ – the will to play music. I want it to come naturally like it does with the camera. I don’t want to force it. Maybe I’ll do that at the end though, I really miss playing music.
Do you feel home in London and what do you miss about Israel?
I feel more at home in London but neither feel like a true home to me. It makes me happy right now actually, I guess because I’m still young and don’t have the urge to settle down but I also hope it stays that way. The world is too big to stay in one place.
I miss the weather in Israel, and the places. My family of course, and my friends. I also miss the music, there are some amazing jazz musicians in Israel.
Every time I go there I just go mental trying to photograph in as many places as possible. It’s such a diverse beautiful country.
all images by therealbenhopper.com