Q&A: Harvey Benge

© Harvey Benge

Harvey Benge is a New Zealand born camera artist who since the early 1990's has been working between Auckland and Paris. With an interest in the relationship between parallel lives - when one thing is happening here, something else is happening over there - his work examines the strange democracy of non-places in the knowledge that inevitably nothing is as it seems. The photobook is central to his practice and Harvey Benge has had realised numerous photobook works with publishers in Britain, France and Germany. He is also particularly interested in print-on-demand possibilities and has self-published a number of limited edition photobooks under his own imprint FAQEDITIONS.

fototazo: You live between Paris and Auckland, New Zealand. How has living between these two places and at times physically apart from a major photography community impacted your working process and photography generally? Advantages? Disadvantages?

Harvey Benge: Generally, distance and apparent isolation is not a problem for me. Geography is not a barrier. I sort of divide my working process up two compartments. In Europe, the US or Asia, wherever I might be, I'm making work and connections. I've been going every year to Paris Photo and this has proved very useful. Not so much to look at other peoples work but to renew friendships and meet new people. For example the ONE DAY project I did came about from a conversation I had at Paris Photo with Gerry Badger. And the design for my new book is being done by Dutch designer Jeroen Kummer whom I met last November at Paris Photo. The photographs I make while I'm travelling have no connection to place and are ideas based so this gives added flexibility.

Back in my studio in Auckland I'm working on post-production and the production and printing of the small bookworks I've been making like the Paris Diary series. Yes, those pictures are place specific but looking at the images they could have been made anywhere. I guess the advantage of mostly living here in Auckland is that it forces me to travel. This is not to say that I don't photograph here, I do, almost everyday. My travel has lead to me starting my workshop series which has been going for seven years now. I've had some special and amazing people here, Lewis Baltz, Slavica Perkovic, Paul Graham, Rineke Dijkstra, Alec Soth, John Gossage, Todd Hido, Pieter Hugo and MoMA curator Quentin Bajac. People seem intrigued by New Zealand and want to come here. So I'm sort of bringing Mahommed to the mountain. The world is very small and I like to quote Woody Allen when he says that 90% of life is showing up. It's true.

f: How does being a photographer and the editor of an online site interact for you? What has being very actively involved in the online community brought to your work?

HB: The blog sort of has a mind of it's own. I can't remember why I started it but now it's just something that's a key part of my practice. Not only does it force me to keep up to date with what's happening in the photo world, and that's a really important thing to do, it has introduced me to a whole lot of really interesting people. Doing the blog constantly reminds me of how small the photo world is and how easily one can make connections. It also reminds of how much there is to know, how little in fact we all know and that whatever we are doing we can always make it better. The blog is also a sort of personal diary, although I try not be forever posting my own work, I like to have a wider viewpoint.

It is a community out there and it's refreshing to be part of it.

© Harvey Benge

f: You've created a number of photobooks and they seem integral to your process. What do you believe are the strengths and inherent limitations of the photobook format? What draws you to it?

HB: Yes, photobooks are integral to my process. I like the book format for a number of reasons. For a start I think one could well mount an argument supporting the book as the only vehicle for photography. Here I could mention some of the third rate shows of photographs on the gallery wall I've seen, where the work simply doesn't work in that context. Photography is about building narrative, first within an individual image and then within a bookwork where the idea can be expanded into a much more satisfying, extended and layered dialogue. A finished bookwork also gives completion to a series and often a finished idea flows on to the next. Gallery shows are brief affairs, whereas a bookwork has legs and a lasting value. I use my bookworks sort of like calling cards, getting them into as many hands as possible. Limitations are mostly to do with production and distribution difficulties.

f: Is a photographer's style, voice or "sensibility" something equally apparent in their photobooks as in their images?

HB: Yes, I think style and voice generally transcends the individual image and flows into work series and into bookworks. This occurs with both the content and form of a photographer's work. In my case I'm most interested in more abstract personal ideas as against straight documentary concepts. And from a formal point of view I mostly shoot portrait shape images that often have a similar visual structure.

© Harvey Benge