Image above: Portrait of Huger Foote.
The photographs in Huger Foote's book, Now Here Then, published by Dashwood Books,were taken all over the world, and later archived, stored, and then finally unpacked and furiously edited over a period of several years in a breathless, hopeful search for great images. Compiled in this book for the first time, and appearing as if from a series of dreams, they reveal the narrative of a life unfolding.
Images above: © Huger Foote, from Now Here Then | Courtesy of Huger Foote.
Foote was born in 1961, in Memphis, Tennessee, and has held numerous solo exhibitions in London, New York, Paris, and other cities, including his hometown of Memphis. His work hangs in many public and private collections. This is his second monograph since “My Friend from Memphis”, published by Booth Clibborn Editions in 2001. He resides in NYC and upstate NY.
Editor-in-Chief, Andrea Blanch had the opportunity to interview Foote about his most recent publication.
Image above: Huger Foote, from Now Here Then | Courtesy of Huger Foote.
Andrea Blanch: Why have you titled the book Now, Here, Then?
Huger Foote: Let’s see. I think the title conveys the theme of time and how it relates to these images.
AB: How long have you been photographing?
HF: Most of my life. I started when I was a kid. It was something I realized, when I looked back years later, that it was obviously what I was meant to be doing. I was obsessed with my dad’s camera, which he had in a shoebox in his closet. He gave it to me when I kept pointing to it. By that time I was 10 or 12, and started taking photos of everything around me: my dog, the house, my parents, my feet, planes flying overhead. It would end up becoming my approach to fine art 30 years later, but it started young. There’s actually an image in the book that dates back to that time. It’s the photograph of my mother lying in the yard in our house in Memphis between two rows of azaleas. I took that from a balcony with that first camera when I was probably 13 or 14.
AB: How did that lead to your career as a professional photographer?
HF: It was a circuitous route. Again, I look back and think how nicely guided I was through all these twists and turns. I had graduated from college and moved to Paris in 1984, and wanted to stay. So, I called my friends in Paris and one of them put me in touch with someone who was opening a photography studio there. They hired me to be their assistant at the studio, very briefly. I ended up working personally for individual photographers that came through there. And suddenly it was like an apprenticeship. Just being around that world, you learn all that you could in any school.
When I had moved back to New York, I put together a portfolio and began to do portrait and fashion work. Then, later, in London, in the 90s, I had an agent there, and did some fashion work where I was approaching fashion from the same perspective as my fine art work; a more compositional approach, rather than focusing on an object in the center of the image and having that be the point of it. I worked for magazines like i-D and Dazed and Confused and things like that.
AB: Why did you change direction?
HF: I wouldn’t say that I quit it. It was just my fine art career got very busy. I would have an exhibition, and be producing book. My first monograph was with Booth-Clibborn Editions. It was called My Friend from Memphis. So I got busier and busier working as an artist. I didn’t have as much time for fashion.
AB: Is more portraiture in your future?
HF: This book does have several portraits in it, which is unusual compared to my previous monograph, which has no people at all. I do enjoy the process of portraiture. And when I take a portrait, there’s a lot more going on than just a picture of the person. They seem to have the quality of movie stills; there is a story. You don’t know what the story is but there something occurring. They are snapshots from someone’s life. I’m not repulsed to doing portraiture or working with people again. It does interest me. When you’re moving through time, the end of a period, and you’re preparing for an exhibition, during that time you’re exploring all kinds of creative avenues. A lot of those pictures don’t end up in those spaces, so they accumulate. Those are the things I went back to with an open mind, thinking that maybe some of my most beautiful images hadn’t made it into any of those projects.
AB: Are you a self-taught photographer?
HF: The six or seven years I was assisting and working with photographers and all that was like a schooling for me. I took a little bit of photography at Sarah Lawrence College while I was there, but my most formative and educational experiences were with people I worked with or artists I was friends with who demonstrated by example. It was an interesting juxtaposition to be working in a commercial world of fashion as an assistant and then to meet someone who is lying in his front yard with a glass of lemonade, looking at clouds and taking pictures of them, who was doing something that was more important, somehow.
AB: The prints in your book are excellent. What process was used?
HF: The images in this book come from several different photographic processes. They have gone through a series of stages. The overall process is they are originally created on negative film and then work prints were made, and those work prints were damaged in the editing process. Today, I wouldn’t have allowed them to become damaged in that way. But during that two or three-year period, they were.
AB: Were you in a self-destructive state of mind that year?
HF: No, I wouldn’t say that. I knew the negatives were safe and preserved separately, so I could afford to be cavalier about these images. But there is a story in that which could be metaphorical. There is a kind of redemption occurring as you’re taking images that were treated as throwaways but have actually been revived and restored in this beautiful book, and they’re more beautiful for having gone through that fiery furnace process. This is actually shot on polograph and I had a little thing called a poloprinter. So I took a polograph, because its quite grainy, mounted it on a plastic thing, stuck it in my poloprinter and printed it and that little print is what gives a unique image patina. Because some of this is the surface is torn and you can see the fibers of the polaroid paper there but some other images have a little bit of blue which is what happens to these polaroid prints from aging. It wasn’t just damage. That kind of cracking comes from age. Every single one of these images has a story.
Image above: © Huger Foote, from Now Here Then | Courtesy of Huger Foote.
AB: You think you’ll ever use digital?
HF: I do have digital cameras. Using the Fuji, I have. Working on this book showed me that there is an alchemy of photography. There is something that can’t be captured in zeros and ones for me. It’s light and light sensitive material happening inside the world and not inside a chip. And the actual object itself becoming the final piece is also stepping further into the 3D world as part of the creative process. And none of this could have happened with files. Looking at this I feel film is wonderful. The chemistry of it all.
AB: What would you like people to take away from your book?
HF: I’d like for them to enjoy the mystery of what can happen when you are open to chance and the element of freedom in the creative process. Also, I’d like for them to find these photos moving and lyrical. I’d like for them to hear music when they look at the pictures. To hear the same music I did.
AB: Normally, your colors are muted. Does your eye naturally go there, or do you underexpose?
HF: Each one of these pictures has a unique combination of technical elements going on. For example, there’s a picture where I’ve used a movie light and a polaroid film and that’s the only one in the book that’s taken with that combination of materials. It’s really about finding these moments when light does something extraordinary, and being present at that.
AB: Do you think your eye has changed or evolved?
HF: The process of evolution occurred where the pictures led me. Just being disciplined and showing up each day having had good sleep and breakfast and being fully present, the pictures occur and new ways of composing elements occur, and you see them in a picture and say, “Wow, I really landed on something there that I hadn’t before.” Pictures lead me through the process of evolving a way of seeing. Over the years, you have a million of these things that are part of your arsenal.
AB: Can you remember a photographic moment you missed?
HF: Ah, that’s an interesting question. Yes, this morning, on the subway, a woman got on with her dog on a leash. The dog was low on the floor, and there are people standing around it in a circle, and it was looking up going from face to face, pretty terrified. I had a camera with me but just decided to watch it instead of photographing it.
AB: You say that your book has three covers. Why?
HF: Actually that was a concept the designer, Hans Seeger, proposed. He presented us with the three different covers and they were all beautiful to me. I thought, “How wonderful to have the book have three covers and to get to see three different combinations of color, background, and cover image.”
AB: What photographers or artists do you most admire now?
HF: Well, there are so many and I’d hate to single some out. I’ll put it this way: photography is such a young medium. In the short time that it’s been around, only a handful of very great artists have intersected with the medium and created work that’s just like mountain tops above peaks, high above most of what’s out there. If I had to mention some, I love Brady’s photographic portraits of the Civil War. Those things have haunted me my whole life. Element of time and decay plays a part in beauty of those images. As a child, I grew up around them because my dad was a war historian. Somehow they informed my appreciation of what was happening with these prints. It was unconscious.
AB: What’s next?
HF: One thing is very exciting. The publisher I’m working with was giving me a list of the possible bookstores around the world where the book will probably be sold. I didn’t realize this at the outset; my goal was just to produce a beautiful book. Which was a very narrow perspective on the grand scheme of things. This book is going out into the world. It will be in Tokyo, London, and Paris. The scale of where this book is going has dawned on me only recently. I have a beautiful exhibition of large prints of the images in this book available for sale through galleries. I’m excited about doing exhibitions of this work. I’m shooting all the time. So, the next body of work is in process. When you zero in and focus on an exhibition or book, you learn so much about what you’re doing. You find out what themes are running through your images. So this process is informing what I’m doing currently and that will be revealed to me soon. Average time between exhibitions is 1.5 to two years.