David Henningsen January 2016 featured Photographer
January 2016 featured Photographer
Bare Bulb Collection
by Belladonna Del Rio and Damali Conceptuals
This is one of the hardest editorials I have ever written about a photographer. I have never heard of this featured photographer David Henningsen until I received his submission request. Yet, no other photographer has caused such an up-roar at Soft Screams Magazine either. The moment I laid eyes on his work, I wished that he would let me publish his work and I wished to find out some more about the man behind these creations. The entire publication of David Henningsen had me reminiscent of the adage from the classic W.W. Jacobs story, the Monkey’s Paw “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it”.
David Henningsen’s artistry and talents were way too easy to spot immediately. Deciding to bump January’s featured photographer for David was pretty much a “no brainer”. Having to choose which images to feature? That task had Damali Conceptuals sweating bullets, especially since he was on assignment in Atlanta and had no idea that I completely changed the publication for January without any warning. That caused a LOTOF ISSUES here at Soft Screams Magazine. No, the real problems in the office and online between our editors popped up when we reviewed this interview.
The great psychoanalyst Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs is a pivotal theory on human development, culminating in the final level called “Self-Actualization”. David Henningsen’s existential and incredibly self-actualized responses created debate after debate after freaking debate that made it hard to get our real work done these past couple of weeks. David Henningsen’s interview dropped so much knowledge and so many great quotes that I couldn’t even blame them.
What you are going to find to be the most fascinating aspect of this feature is the stark juxtaposition between a highly disciplined, educated, and existential man and his expressions of creativity that you will see in his imagery. David Henningsen explains in this interview how he is influenced by photography legends such as Man Ray, Helmut Newton, Robert Mapplethorpe and Annie Leibovitz and my gawd you can see it! The darkness, the intensity, the fearlessness, the shock and awe, lighting and composition, everything; David is able to embody it.
This feature just scratches the surface of what he composes and I implore you to view his website and his blogs to marinate in his brilliance. Honestly, it’s as if David is able to channel the spirits of these great aforementioned artists and like a kid in a candy store, he simply picks and chooses what elements from these artists he wants to express himself with and wraps them up neatly in a shiny dark David Henningsen wrapper. I love his work so much that I honestly cannot visualize starting this year’s Soft Screams Magazine off with any other photographer.
Belladonna Del Rio
“Bare Bulb Collection” by David Henningsen
What’s your background in Photography? When and why did you get started? Was it for the glamour? The money? Pure kicks?
I began in the fine arts, studying animation then film. After college I started doing photo retouching and airbrushing, which led me to a greater interest in photography. I worked for a while doing special effects animation and photography for corporate events, which gave me access to a studio and equipment. I began to create my own projects to work on in my off hours. I never considered the why of it, you just do it. You’re drawn to it.
I never thought of what I was doing as glamorous, my interest was, and is, the interaction – the creative intermixing between model and photographer – the whole process. As to the money; what money? Somebody show me the money! Please.
As the world of digital content has exploded, there is so much imagery available for free or a small cost and so many ways to take an existing image and make it into the desired image. It’s become a buyers’ market and buyers seem to be commissioning a lot less commercial and stock imagery than they used to. Making a living as a photographer is difficult. As an artist, I shoot for myself and not for money, though without money, not much can happen. My focus is not for kicks; there always needs to be a playful, exploratory attitude when shooting but I take what I do very seriously as silly as that sounds.
You are a graduate of the prestigious Museum of Fine Art’s in Boston as well as educated from the world famous M.I.T. We live in an age where technology is moving faster than artistry.
·What gives you more personal enjoyment and satisfaction, teaching photography or actually practicing it?
” First I do not teach photography professionally (though I could.) I teach old school airbrushing. Back in another part of my life doing animation I taught myself how to use then airbrush for my own art, then I made good cash retouching and doing the things I now use Photoshop to do. I have airbrushed jackets, motor cycles, people, what ever for fun & profit. So I teach that to pre high school kids in the summer, which a blast is. But teaching and doing are two very different disciplines and I can’t imagine doing one without the other.”
Would you still recommend that a person should attend an institution of higher learning to prior to becoming a photographer, or do you recommend they learn from a more traditional model such as the usual “apprenticeship” learning model?
Learn by any means possible! Remember you are a visionary – you have your unique perception, you have your own internal sense of light and have your own acquired way of interacting and dealing with and confronting the world around you. You must believe you have something to share, to “make seen” for others to enjoy, to consider, to lust after, to question. I was exposed (that’s a pun) to photography at the Museum School; after that it’s kind of like pin ball – you put your ball in play and from then on there are detours, trapdoors, boosters – things that can propel you to the jackpot or end the game before you even got a chance to begin. You must keep alert, watch the game, think ahead and keep your fingers on the flipper trigger, always.
What is fun and rewarding about photography?
What’s fun & rewarding about photography? “Nothing!” is the first thing that pops into my head. Photography is a means to a greater end, not itself the reward, though it can be fun in the moment. At the end of the day when the pre planning is done, the shoot is complete, weeding through the shots, making choices on which images to bring along further, working with a particular image to bring it to that point that says it all (we hope); that’s rewarding and deeply satisfying to me.
What do you dislike about photography?
As a medium photography is sometimes still the bastard child in art. I get a little annoyed about that.
Who are some of your favorite photographers? Why?
As to my favorite photographers, those who continue to inspire and touch me deeply, the list would be: First, Man Ray, second Helmet Newton third Robert Mapplethorpe, fourth Annie Leibovitz and Jock Sturges. There are many others but these folk cut to my bone. I could write a book, maybe two, about these photographers and not only how they affected my photographic worldview but also challenged the world and themselves with the images they created.
Man Ray – always an outside-the-box innovator-artist who crossed over many boundaries between art and commerce in the portrait, fashion and art world.
Helmet Newton – could tell a story with just one image did not look away but made a viewer deliciously uncomfortable with his intertwining of fashion, eroticism and S&M in the 60s and 70s.
Robert Mapplethorpe – master of light and shadow, his portraiture and composition of the human form was exquisite. His book “Lady” featuring the collaboration between him and model-bodybuilder Lisa Lyon, continually inspires me. And I turn to his photography of flowers for his sense of lighting and design.
Annie Leibovitz – creates images in which I always wish hear what’s being said, I always feel there’s a conversation going on between her and the subject that is key to their success.
Jock Sturges – large format black & white image he has taken over the years covers such scope of humanity from childhood to old age. He creates a sense of beauty in all he captures.
How would you describe your style? Consider anything and everything from color to historical eras and more.
I have no idea or concern about my style – some call it “branding,” I think. I understand that the volume of work I have produced and will continue to produce over time will suggest what some call a “style” but it’s just me trying as hard as I can to be the best me I can be. I focus on refining things I have done and wish to revisit while keeping myself open to new ideas and challenges and encounters. I try to be open to many influences from dance to theater and music, to art in museums and on the street.
We noticed that you shoot very beautiful landscapes, judging by the intensity and quality; we assume a lot of them are HDR.
Which do you prefer? The landscapes or the human subject portraits?
- Thank you for the kind words on the landscape work. I have been really enjoying using the multi exposure technique (HDR) in the field. At some point when money and time permit I have a series all carved out in my head to bring the landscape, the nude and the HDR process together in a collection. As to which do I prefer? I need both. One with out the other would feel like something was missing from my life. I have been asked before what I like to photograph best and as I have thought about it, I would say “I like to shoot nouns and live my life as a verb,” with credit to Buckminster Fuller, another hero of mine.
In conducting our research about you, we came across your “Fire” images in your website, as well as other images in your Deviant Art and Model mayhem accounts. We couldn’t help notice one strong characteristic about you and your photography and that is your ability and talents to create such sharp detail in low light situations such as the breath taking “bare bulb” series shown in this magazine’s feature. However, the “Fire series” for example, not only did you capture such detail in low light, you did so with the subject in motion!
Do you have a preference for this type of low light shooting, if so, why?
Thank you again for enjoying my “Fire Angel” image. That was such a blast to create. Danielle, the model is such an amazing fire dancer and hoola-hoop dancer. I am so lucky she is willing and able to put in the time and effort to work with me! (It’s all about trust.)
To the question about preferring to shoot in low light, it’s not that I prefer low light but the quality of the light affects everything so if the light is low, as in the bulb series, then it glows like candlelight and the color temperature is in the warm range. The women feel it as a sort of warm candle / fire light and that affects their attitude toward the light and how they interact with it. When your lighting is up full blast at 1000 watts, it’s crazy bright (and hot) – a much whiter light and the models tend to stay away from it, they recoil from the intensity and I get a whole different feel to the picture.
Can you offer any technical tips or advice on how you are able to consistently capture so much detail and depth in your low light shoots?
- If possible shoot with a full frame sensor. I shoot with a Canon 7D and at times 6D (full frame.) I go no higher than ISO 1600 with the 7D crop sensor and 3200 on a full frame sensor.
- I try to use a tripod as much as I can and never shoot below a 60th of a second, though I prefer to be at 125th of a second shutter speed.
- I try to keep my F stop no lower than F4 even if I can go to F2.8. I like to be at F5,6 or F 8 for better depth of field.
- Use the best lens you can afford. This is more important than the cost of the camera body (to me anyway.) I had a low quality lens on a good camera and got soft images. Then I shot with a great lens on a less expensive camera body got the sharp, nice images I love.
- When shooting with fire or any kind of motion, I will rehearse the shot first to set up the framing for a particular move and then lock down the camera and shoot, shoot, shoot.
Describe the atmosphere when you’re on a shoot. Do you play music? Do you talk with the models between shots?
For me, the atmosphere on a shoot should be a bit of an adventure even if it’s just a studio and a backdrop. All the models need to know they are safe, comfortable in a professional environment. Even if it’s a home a hotel, we are there to create images first and foremost, always have an idea planned out clearly to begin with and then see where that leads.
I always ask the model to bring with them music they like to listen to, I want them to feel as much as possible the space is their own. I am a chatty guy anyway so I am always talking to the models, they are some of the most interesting and daring people I have ever meet.
I know there are a lot of technical aspects, but personally, what distinguishes a good photographer from a bad one?
As to what distinguishes a good photographer from a bad one……. To me that’s like asking what’s the difference between a good person and a bad person. So the simple answer has to be “intent” why are you a “photographer” in the first place. What are your motivations? When asked what I will shoot or not shoot, I would say as long as what is being shot is not done to hurt, harm or make the model uncomfortable.
How do you communicate with people? Are you patient? Are you friendly? How open are you to clients’ requirements?
When it comes to communicating with people I try to be friendly and thoughtful of their needs, listen to what they have to say, be as patient as time will allow. When I am working on commission, I am always open to my clients’ wishes and requests. I prefer they have an interest and ideas about the shoot we are engaged in – it lets me know they care about what we are creating and they want to be an active participant in making the best images we can.
Within this collection of images, what is your favorite piece and why?
Oh the crazy question “what is your favorite piece in this series and why? So here’s my crazy answer -the very first shot I took with the bulb in someone’s hand. It’s not included here because I did the first pictures of the light bulb in my yard with some children. I just let them play with the light, but I saw the first frame from that test shoot and in it I saw all the possibilities that would grow to become the “Bare Bulb” series.
In your opinion, why do I love this image so much?
I’m supposed to tell you why you like this image! I know way too little about you to come close to knowing why this image strikes you…..but I’ll throw some darts blindfolded (just for fun).
First thing that comes across is there is no face, the bulb as face speaks to iconic ideas about humanity over all. Second, the head as electricity seems a hallmark of the 19th and 20th century and going forward like the symbol of gears stands for the era of industrialization. Third, the geometry – the triangle of spheres between her head and breasts and then a larger triangle suggested by her arms and hands. Fourth – you just like the way the light falls on the model’s breasts. Or all of the above.
Could you tell our readers the inspiration behind this artwork? Would you share with us, just a little technical information behind this gorgeous art piece?
- As to the making of this image, I’ll start with the model, Niamh. She is not a model per se, she is a friend and a great artist in her own right. It is her sense of design that created that image. Once I saw what she was trying to do, I would help center things up to get the symmetry right. The image was shot at 100 ISO F stop 5.6 at 1/80th sec. Almost no Photoshop work needed. I just burned out the face a bit and there you go.
Let’s assume you can travel in time.
What advice would you give today, to David Henningsen , the day before his first shoot?
The advice I would give myself today before my very first shoot ever is put the camera down, get your ass back into school and learn a trade that you can make a dependable living on. Since I most likely would not take my own good advice, all I could tell him is try as hard as you can to make every shot, every shoot, count for something to yourself and to the people around you and to the world at large.
Where do you want to see David Henningsen, five years from now?
My life as an artist and a photographer, as successful as feel I’ve been in creating imagery, has always been a struggle to survive economically. I would love to experience the feeling of being able to dream it and just be able to do it. I have aspirations to see the Bare Bulb as a large gallery experience with an interactive component including dance and movement. I also have a wish to travel from Greenland to Iceland and ending in Norway shooting both landscapes and people along the way.
I also do love to teach, so if in 5 years I was traveling from city to city doing seminars for other interested photographers on not just how to shoot but why do we shoot, that would be a blast.
Where don’t you want to see David Henningsen, five years from now?
- Standing still. Still standing, but not standing still.