All images by Ben Hopper. Used with permission.
Photographer Ben Hopper has always done very cool, creative and weird projects. It’s what genuinely makes his work fun; and his latest piece looks to observe the way that people can play together on camera. It’s called Transfiguration, and it studies what happens when you take performers, cover them in dust and powder to the point where they don’t recognize themselves in the mirror, and let them have creative freedom.
The project is not only a study in shapes, but in psychology too.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.
Ben: I was born and raised in Israel. Since the age of 15 I just really wanted to leave. I didn’t know exactly what or how but towards the age of 20, after playing guitar for 5 years I kinda realised that doing something creative with my life was worth aspiring to. My grandfather was Hungarian and through this connection, in my early 20s, my mom managed to issue us Hungarian passports.
When I was 25, after working 3.5 years as Imports Department Manager and PA in a business that imported and sold photography equipment, I quit and bought a Nikon D80 DSLR. That camera made me start taking my photography hobby seriously.
My young brother started training in the circus and he introduced me to this world. Quickly my portfolio became a mash-up of unique movement oriented portraits.
Fast forward a year later, after setting up a business with my best friend who also started approaching photography in a more serious way and after photographing mainly weddings, events and architecture. I left Israel by myself and moved to London. I had enough money for 2 months. I told myself that if I have to wash dishes for 6 months I’ll do it. As long as I work in photography eventually.
I ended up working for an Israeli company that did security for Jewish schools and synagogues. I worked there for 5 months until I knew I had enough money for the coming 2 months from few Bar Mitzvahs I photographed and I quit. I’ve only worked in photography since.
Phoblographer: What got you into portraiture?
Ben: I was always fascinated by humans. The human form and faces. Actually, I was quite bored by landscape photography when I first started 7 years ago. I’m much more comfortable and fascinated by it now.
The fascination with portraiture is also to do with attraction and beauty appreciation. It’s that intimate moment with a person that let’s you steal a fragment from their life. Gives you their trust to take their picture. I’m addicted to that.
Phoblographer: Lots of your work is conceptual portraiture, how do you feel this helps you express yourself as an artist.
Ben: I’m not really sure how or why I’m doing what I do. It just feels right. I don’t tend to analyse what’s the best way to express a message or story. It’s much more impulsive. I have an idea and I do it.
Phoblographer: For Transfiguration, you said that you wanted to do a series where someone covered themselves in dust and powder and then did interesting poses. But it was done in such a way that the person doesn’t even recognize themselves anymore. So what was the motivation for this project and how do you feel that it goes hand in hand with the way that the human mind interprets shapes and colors?
Ben: The whole concept of the project is going back to what I described in the previous question – I just really find it fascinating. What the body paint can do in performance related aspects. Performance for the camera. Another thing that I wasn’t so much into is abstract. Abstract and landscapes bore me. I’m so much into that stuff now. If I can take a picture of a person and you wouldn’t be able to tell arm from leg, I’m a happy man.
Phoblographer: Because this project is all about shapes and structure, why shoot it in color? Why not create the images in black and white?
Ben: The hint of colour, even if it’s some browns and dark orange skin tones still adds a lot to the images. I displayed some of them in black and white, it always feels like a compromise.
Phoblographer: Why the artistic choice to use contortionists and circus performers?
Ben: The things these guys do with their bodies is phenomenal! And in that context… It just becomes a surreal. I love creating contradictions and working with circus artists and dancers for years, it felt so right for this one.
Phoblographer: So what’s your plan for the project? You’re going to shoot it, but talk to us about the marketing, distribution, promotion, etc. What’s your plan?
Ben: I started working on the the project in 2012. Earlier this year I published it online. Right now I’m running a Kickstarter campaign to fund 3 exhibitions of the project in Paris (Jan) and London (Apr). In July I’m planning to visit Montreal to photograph more circus artists for it, especially Cirque du Soleil artists. Then finally, in 2017, I hope to publish a book with this work.
Right now everything I do is self organized but I’m hoping to team up with galleries / publications / agent who can help me push it further.
Phoblographer: Do you feel that the artistic choice to have very shadowless light adds to the creative vision that you’re trying to put forth? What creative decisions are going through your mind as you’re not only concepting these images via sketches, but also shooting?
Ben: Personally, this lighting setup felt right. It’s simple and doesn’t distract from the content which is already so busy and complex. It also creates a painting feeling. Someone saw the prints on display in an arts centre in London and told me that they look very photographic, thinking they’re paintings …so I think it works!