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Still Alive: an interview with Hobbes Ginsberg about her solo show and photo book

Feb. 17, 2019
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Alex Free was lucky enough to meet with photographer and filmmaker Hobbes Ginsberg in preparation for her first solo photography show titled 'Still Alive' showing at the Los Angeles based gallery Nous Tous. The show opens tonight and will run until March 1st. This show is in conjunction with a photo book focusing on self portraits taken between 2014 - 2018. Still Alive acts as a sequel to the 2014 issue of MATTE Magazine that published a selection of self portraits from 2012-2014. MATTE will be publishing this follow up as well.

Image by Hobbes Ginsberg showing at Nous Tous

Alex Free: So was photography always your medium, then?

Hobbes Ginsberg: No, I’ve been doing photography since I was like 16, I guess. But I used to want to be a graphic designer for a bit—I feel like I came into photography a little bit late, at least in comparison to some other people who are like, ‘I’ve been doing photography since I was twelve.’ But since I started I’ve been kind of like, ‘Oh, that’s the one that works.’ You know? And I’ve been doing it since.

AF: And what is that kind of sensation? What’s the clicking point? The ‘this is the one that works for me?’

HG: As the medium? I don’t know, it just kind of felt good, you know? It felt like I was doing something right, or it felt like I was doing something actually good.

AF: And then, with the furniture building that’s going on, in the current show, the Nous Tous show running from February 17th-March 1st, do you have a background with physical objects as well or is this something new to you?

HG: No, that’s pretty new. I’ve just have been teaching myself from YouTube. I kind of stopped doing photography for a bit, after I started doing this new job and was like really busy, and I didn’t know what I was doing. I refocused my creative energy in a different direction I suppose, and decorated my apartment and learned how to build stuff and was really interested in that and figuring out wood working and all those kinds of things, so it’s been like a fun new diversion of how to take my aesthetic into something different.

I like being able to put my vibe on as many different things as possible, so that’s been fun to make physical stuff and I’m really interested in industrial design, interior design, all of those kinds of things, and being able to do it in my own way and do it for myself, and then taking all that and putting it back into the photographs again.

Image shot by Alex Free  

AF: Yeah, definitely. Do you feel like it’s kind of important for you to construct your own kind of universe?

HG: World, everything. I like that idea, of it all being interconnected and the same and my apartment looks like the pictures. It’s all the same work, essentially.

AF: But it’s your life, as well. Life is your work. Do you feel like it all radiates out from you? Everything that you’re attached to, all your interactions. I guess how much story is attached to your life?

HG: Only loosely. I said this recently too, talking about the series—this new stuff is an extension of a self-portrait series I’ve been doing for the past five years or whatever, and there’s not like any specific story there, plot, or anything, but there is some kind of internal narrative and they speak to each other in some ways. That’s there even if it is a little bit subtle. But I like that kind of hidden narrative in there.

AF: Can you talk about what that is? What that narrative is?  

HG: I mean just in general about growing and learning and evolving as a self and what that looks like. Things like that. But you know some of the pieces are self-referential to other pieces from years ago. I try to be really specific about what I’m wearing in all of the photos. If I’m wearing the same thing in multiple ones, then maybe that’s something.

AF: Would you say then that the persona in your work, that you present in your work, is more of a persona? Or at times is a persona, and there’s ones that are more aligned with how you identify.

HG: I think they’re all aligned with how I identify. I like that idea of playing with the artifice of it, because you know all of these are very constructed. But also I think that they all feel very candid and vulnerable. I like that kind of mishmash, or whatever. That dichotomy.

AF: Right. I think about this a lot, because I feel like sometimes vulnerability is sometimes very performative, and like sometimes you need the performance to be the most honest.

HG: Yeah. Like they’re all very heightened, but not fake.

AF: Where did the original inspiration for this particular series come from? Because you said you stopped taking photos and focused on constructing your apartment.

Image by Hobbes Ginsberg showing at Nous Tous 

HG: Yeah, so this is the first one that I took of the new series, the one with the yellow floor, and the blue. That’s from summer 2017. For the beginning half of the year I hadn’t made anything, I was just trying to like to figure what my life was. And I was just thinking about what it is to grow up and figure these things out and sustain yourself on your own and navigate through all those kinds of changes.

And over that summer I had like two months where I didn’t have a job and was figuring out what I was trying to do, and sitting with that. And that’s where that piece came from. Re-affirming for myself that figuring stuff out is what is happening. I was resolved to appreciate the time that I didn’t have a job for a second to be able to refocus on making things for a little bit.

So it kind of came from that, and with getting my current job, and being in a stable place with full time employment and knowing I could live here on my own. There was kind of a ‘Now I can nest here, and make this my own space.’ That was really important for me to be able to do. It kind came from that, too—I have this studio now: let me decorate it, let me make it my own. Take these ideas into new ways, making the furniture and doing that, and from there came the new portraits, because I wanted to make pictures with the stuff that I was making.

AF: It’s such a monumental testament to growth and maturity, I feel.

HG: That’s the hope, I guess.

AF: Right, and the show is called ‘Still Alive.’ And you had that tattooed on your cheek. Can you talk about the significance of that title?

Image by Hobbes Ginsberg showing at Nous Tous 

HG: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s just accepting that sometimes that’s the best that you can do. Not having killed yourself yet. And being like, ‘Okay, well I did that at least.’ That’s always good to remember.

AF: Still Alive.

HG: Yeah.

AF: A lot of life is just difficult, and you can have whole years that are bad. You know?

HG: I do know.

AF: But then, sometimes, even in the worst of life, or when it’s boring, or when you feel like you’re not doing anything, you make beautiful things. 

HG: Yeah, I think that does speak to what I was hoping for or trying to do. Also one thing that’s been interesting with this work is that I didn’t show it to anyone until now. So I made all of these portraits secretly, over the past year. It has been a little more like exploring all of these things, and now that I’m in a very different place than when I made them—I guess what I was getting at is that in doing that it has felt like for the past two years I haven’t done anything, and now it’s like, ‘Oh no, I actually did stuff,’ and this is what has come of all of the life that I’ve had.

Images shot by Alex Free  

AF: And what do you hope people see when they look, or do you have expectations for that? 

HG: I guess I just want people to see a beautiful end product. That’s really important to me in all that I make, is that the experience is one of aesthetic pleasure. And then just overall getting that sense of like a journey of a person. I’ve said of work in general, and of this too, I guess the idea is just: if I can do it, you can. And I did it. Whatever it was—this.

Image shot by Alex Free 

Hobbes's photo book will be sold online via her website, and later by Printed Matter, and in person at the launch party and book fairs where MATTE tables.