My effort to meet Henry for our interview started fairly typically for me. As per usual, I popped out of the dark subway only to spin around in circles trying to get my sense of direction. I was yet to confidently walk up and out onto the street heading the way I was meant to. Instead I would always stand with a virtual flashing arrow above my head screaming “Tourist!” while turning my map around in my hands. Probably accustomed to giving wayward New Zealanders easy to follow directions, Henry had made this manageable by saying “just look for the really tall brick smoke stack, that’s my building” and with “smoke stack” located, I made the quick 10 minute walk down the street.
He met me at the massive front doors (turns out this building was where air conditioning was invented) and led me to his huge, light, bright studio. Actually, my first thoughts were “this is just like in a movie” in the sense that it was the perfect balance of old, industrial, eclectic furniture, books, art supplies and large techy photography equipment. Pretty much the sort of space that any creative would dream of working in! Shared with another photographer, it is also on occasion made available to friends and their projects. There was a booking for the afternoon and the girls from Soludos (another awesome brand with an Aussie connection) had claimed a corner with their bags of gorgeous little espadrilles preparing them to shoot with Henry the next day. After I snooped around with my camera for a while, secretly imagining where my own work space could go, we then walked back down the road to take up a window spot in his favourite café and chew the fat.
On the completion of degrees in American Studies and Film Studies at Canterbury Uni, Christchurch, Henry set off, like so many kiwis do, toward the UK. While on a holiday stopover in South East Asia, he was approached by a stylist looking to recruit “western” models for a shoot. Ever the easy going character, he took up the opportunity which he then decided to pursue on his arrival in London. With bar tending in the evenings, he began visiting agencies but with few results. It wasn’t until an agent from Milan fashion week came over that he was noticed and then cast to walk for Gucci, Prada and then for Louis Vuitton at the Paris fashion week. I’m sure everyone wondered where this New Zealand guy had popped up from, but the modelling world wasn’t done with him yet. Following his catwalk success he then became the “face” of Prada, Hermes and Lacoste and subsequently splashed across magazines and billboards around the world!
He rode the modelling wave full time for 2.5 years before starting to itch for something else. It had been an amazing ride but really was just a great way to earn some money and explore the world and he was ready to move on. Not something his agents were happy to hear! Regardless, Henry dropped off the modelling world’s radar and popped up instead in New York where he rented a studio, put in a mezzanine where he could sleep and began to indulge his real passion of photography. Again bar tending was a great back stop and proved to be fantastic for networking and the sourcing of his first clients. With experience in front of the lense, he proved his worth behind and after three years he was a full time photographer.
During a snowstorm in the city, he braved the weather to shoot the strangely deserted streets and posted the images on his website with the photoshopped additions of Star War’s characters appearing from the blizzard. He emailed the link of the collection called “Hipster Strikes Back” out to a few blogs and saw his web stats shoot from nothing much to 30 000 unique visitors a day. This got his brain ticking and name resonating among the creative heads of the internet. It was around the same time that he had decided to ditch fashion photography in favour of creating work that was against the norm. Instead of trying to “read the market” he realised he could just do what he wanted and someone out there would love it!
Inspired by a fashion shoot he had done in 2008, Henry was keen to further explore the bounds of 3D photography and after some crazy brainstorming with a friend, settled on a project. Boobs. Not boobs in a pornographic sleazy way, more like edgy, fashion based and down right awesome way. After some shopping around with publishers, most of whom were way too scared to touch it, they met with Seven Footer Press and the project transformed into a glossy book called 3DD that was so popular, Marc Jacobs (the Marc Jacobs!) offered to hold the book launch in his flagship LA store. The book became the 1# Erotic book on Amazon and propelled Henry to shoot another. With 3DD Deluxe he upgraded his techy equipment and shot in 5 countries.
When I asked if he was keen to ride that success and produce more, the answer, with a wry smile was most likely not. To me this was like dropping modelling at the top of his game, Henry just isn’t in it for the fame and notoriety, there is too much artist in him for that. But the project did inspire him to keep exploring and now his work is far more art than photography.
Still life photography with food as the focus is a favourite subject. He has just finished a series of prints depicting the busts (“profiles” in case of confusion in relation to previous paragraph!) of all the American presidents made from Jello. He also showed me some shots of an almost completed project where he creates the countries and continents of the world from a popular food linked to them. Think Africa in bananas, NZ in kiwifruit and the USA in corn. They look INCREDIBLE and word in the studio is that Scarlett Johansson has put her hand up to be first to purchase.
With all this intense experimental art going on, it’s easy to wonder quite where Henry’s income is coming from. But as I learnt, this guy is extremely savvy and is always looking for the hook in everything he does. Always contemplating “what makes this interesting?” He will get an idea and then think “who will this appeal to? Could I sell this as a promotional concept to a brand?”. And that he has, over and over again. His aim is to work with big business to take an inspiring and creative angle on their product and help them create something memorable.
As you can tell from the length of this interview, we talked for ages. I was kind of reluctant to let him get back to work as I was so fascinated not only by his history but his super easy-going casual persona which in some ways just didn’t seem to match! I was left feeling totally inspired, a little gobsmacked at what he has achieved and bewildered as to why he isn’t splashed all over every creative and entrepreneurial publication in NZ!
HENRY + NYC 101
Lives : Williamsburg, Brooklyn with French girlfriend Charline
What he loves the most about NYC:
– Social: there is always something to do/hear/see. Every night there is a buzz!
– Positivity: people are positive before they are negative
What he misses most about NZ:
What I learnt from Henry:
You can consistently test the bounds of your own creativity while still considering the commercial opportunities. Artists do not have to be starving.