If you have an interest in photography then you may have already heard of or seen work from Ben Hopper. Originally living in Israel, he’s a London based photographer and his work spans many styles. I met up with Ben for a chat recently, read the full interview below where he talks life, inspirations and upcoming projects!
I’m Ben hopper and I’m a freelance photographer, living in London. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of photography around contemporary performing arts, burlesque dancers, and circus performance. It’s quite a big network so I’m really tied into that, but it’s starting to evolve into other visuals like film and interactive arts. That’s me in a nutshell at the moment.
Talk us through how you became Ben Hopper the photographer?
Well when I was 15 I started playing the guitar, by 18/19 I became pretty good. I would play anything from jazz to rock- taking private lessons. But then I had to join the army in Israel (my homeland) and so I didn’t have time to practice. After the army I started doing different kinds of jobs until I ended up working for a company dealing with imports and exports of photography equipment- one of the largest in Israel at the time. I was the PA to the CEO and it was a really intense full time+ business job. I did it for about 3.5 years till I was 25. It pretty much ruined me, it took all of my spare time, and I didn’t have a life! After 3.5 years I wanted to leave but my boss was adamant on making me stay as I became a key player in the company. But anyway I managed to leave and since I always liked photography, I thought I would just get myself a nice Nikon DSLR and started taking photos.
One of my friends’ was also experimenting with photography at the time and we both had this goal of becoming fashion photographers. So we decided to pool our heads together and start out with wedding photography which would enable us to save some money and get some lighting equipment and get into fashion photography. We started a business together doing events which went really well up until we started to fall out. We were really good friends but when money got involved…it screwed up our relationship and business.
I always wanted to leave Israel so as my photography started to pick up I decided to move to London and become a photographer here.
Must have been tough moving to whole new surroundings and not knowing anyone!
I’ve always been a big networking whore so by the time I got to London, some people had already known about me and liked my stuff plus I knew few people who lived here. That is where I stayed when I moved.
Who were some of your first clients when you came over?
The first job I did was 2 weeks after I arrived, I did an editorial for a digital magazine- i’m not sure if they are still around. It was called Supersweet We did a fashion editorial in Aldgate.
My London friend Sarah Jane, she introduced me to Torture Garden and that was a big turning point for me at the time and influenced where I took my photography. It was their Halloween party and I remember thinking ‘wow I have to photograph this party’. So I came back and did the Christmas party and since then I’ve had a good relationship with the people at Torture Garden and that whole scene behind the club.
Also, I was introduced to a girl called Mayka Finkelstein Amrami, she’s a really cool artist- a designer and an illustrator. She works at the Royal Opera doing all the costumes for the ballet- she did a video installation and wanted stills, so I did them for her. Couple weeks later we worked together again and produced some work which ended up in Kurv magazine.
Sounds like you did alright for yourself there! What were some of the challenges you faced as a freelance photographer?
Well honestly, the real challenge is just making sure I have enough money to pay bills… I usually prefer to do personal work but every now and then you have to branch out. I try to make money off my personal work by selling prints or getting them exhibited. So yes it’s just the challenge of making sure that you have enough work all the time.
What would you say has been your most successful project?
Definitely ‘Naked Girls with Masks’…well it got the most attention and quite obviously because it is literally naked girls…
Can you tell us a bit about the project and how it came about?
I did a photoshoot back in 2009 with a girl called Cat Chappell – had this idea to photograph her and her girlfriend standing next to each other holding hands, Cat was ok but her girlfriend wasn’t too comfortable so we ended up playing around with masks. Cat has a big tattoo on her back, so I got her to have her back to me wearing the mask back to front; I thought it would make a really cool photo. So later on I Met up with two guys who run Act Art and they wanted to me to submit something to their exhibition which was about censorship, so I showed them the photo I did with Cat and said I would do an entire exhibition based on that…they were happy with it! And that’s really how it happened.
What has been your favourite project?
I don’t really have a favourite but I did a project called ‘Nightlife’ which is a compilation of photos I have taken at parties over the last three years; mostly in alternative, gothic and burlesque clubs. At the time I was just having fun and meeting new people.
At the moment I’m working on one called ‘Natural Beauty‘ and this one is about beautiful women with long armpit hair- it has a lot of cultural saying and it’s about personal preferences. I also really enjoyed ‘Naked girls with Masks’.
So what’s on the horizon, any future projects?
Naked men with masks! Also other stuff with masks, might not all be nude though. Perhaps one will be a scene in a restaurant where everyone is naked and wearing masks.
You really have a thing for masks….
Haha! I just want to experiment with masks! There is another in the pipeline actually…without masks. I’ve been working on a project where I will get illustrators to take my photography and play around with it using their skills to create a whole new composition. That’s quite exciting for me because I don’t draw, illustrate or paint but I have always wanted to. I can do a bit of typography but I always wanted to know how to illustrate. So in a way it is a way for me to do that- I’ve been looking at illustrators from around the world so if anyone is interested…
Sounds interesting, maybe we’ll do some Yin&Yang x Ben Hopper pieces! You mentioned before that your work is “starting to evolve into other visuals like film and interactive arts”. Is this something you’ll be working on soon?
There will be short feature films and music video clips… that’s all I can say at the moment
Cool, we look forward! Tell us what you think makes a good photographer?
That’s a really difficult one! There are so many photographers and everyone has access to a camera- you need to do more than just technically take photos, you need to understand. I think you also need to be original, edgy and honest. Recently I decided that I am only going to photograph for myself and not think too much about what people will think- perhaps being controversial can be a good thing. As long as my work makes me happy. It’s also really important to know how to deal with clients- this shouldn’t be the way but you have to be quite business minded.
Any photographers out there that you like their work?
There are loads but these ones pop straight into my head, make sure you Look them up!
So what advice can you give to anyone looking to become photographer?
The most important thing is to do things that you love…if you don’t want to photograph weddings, then don’t! Within reason though… bills are not going to pay themselves!
Thanks for the interview Ben, you’ve been great! Got any exhibitions coming up that we can pop down to?
My pleasure! Yes, there are 3 exhibitions coming up this month and April. 2 solo and 1 group, all in London. They are all contemporary circus photography and a part of The Roundhouse CircusFest (a London theatre that dedicates all April 2012 to contemporary circus shows)