One day Ben Hopper got a great deal on a camera and went to Europe to start taking pictures.
It sounds as simple as the start to nearly any photographer’s career. Technical simplicity is so far a theme; his work as of now consists mostly of his camera and whatever space, light, and settings he can find or create. When you look at his photography, particularly his outdoor work (and especially when he took pictures of naked girls in big and sometimes scary masks), his technique effortlessly translates into warm, eye-popping, ethereal, dream-like, and moody photos. They look, of course, anything but simple. Given his laissez-faire attitude towards the natural, it’s curious and very fun that he finds body art and modification fascinating for tattoos, piercings, and other forms of body art take natural, untouched human skin and transform it into a canvas.
Though he admires a lot of work with elaborate sets (one photographer’s style he notes is that of Annie Liebovitz) and aspires to create that kind of project in the future, he won’t do anything to subtract from the natural beauty that can be captured in the photograph. He wants it to “still be real” and not overly post processed.
“There’s a thing I don’t like about overdone pictures – I just can’t buy that. I look at the picture and if a person does something that is just overdone or it’s too staged, you pick up on that. It’s not genuine. There are a lot of pictures I look at in magazines or wherever and I’m just like, ‘This is bullshit because it’s not real.’ The model was just doing a face and can’t act. It needs to be real.”
A heavily tattooed woman is becoming more common in mainstream society and in widely broadcast media. Unfortunately, there is still the idea that a woman with tattoos has lost some of her feminine beauty because a good portion of her femininity per society’s view is based upon how beautifully she has preserved and displayed her skin tone and texture.
Ben’s new series “In a Box” is an aside from the outdoor and on location settings, but not the raw and untouched technique. It’s a studio, but it isn’t. A model of particular interest from this shoot is Grace Neutral, a body piercer at Pure Ink London, and very tattooed lady. In her photographs, Ben manages to exhibit a strong and expressive tattooed woman, yet one with undeniable femininity and natural beauty.
“ There’s a thing I don’t like about overdone pictures – I just can’t buy that —Ben Hopper ”
You’ve done mostly minimal equipment photography. You have a new series, “In a Box.” Is this more of a studio type of shoot for you, right?
“No. In a Box was inside of my house with nothing. They were all just kind of test shoots I’ve done in my house. That’s why I called it “In a Box.” It’s just a selection of shoots that I’ve done here without much equipment, usually just with one light or just available light. Maybe just an on camera flash. Something like that. And that’s it.
I’m probably going to move my own space in September, so I’ll finally have my own place to work on. So, I thought that [this project] would be an interesting retrospective to look on.”
How did you meet Grace?
“I met Grace through a mutual friend and she said, ‘You should meet Grace because she’s amazing and you’d love to photograph her.’ Yeah, that’s it.”
You photograph a lot of girls with interesting and intricate tattoos but you really like to photograph Grace. What about Grace’s tattoos did you find interesting? Were her tattoos inspirational for you?
“Grace? I don’t know. The thing is, I just really enjoyed photographing her. She’s very easy to get a long with. Ideally, everyone I that I photograph, if I could photograph them ten times at least, I’ll be happier. If you only have five minutes, that’s the most horrible situation. You always want to have as much time as you can because it’s very hard to get an essence of someone if you have limited time. With Grace it somehow happened that we had already done about four shoots, you know, just kind of random and spontaneous stuff. She’s very cool and laid back. She’s just amazing. She’s just very quiet and very polite.”
“Reserved? Modest? Yeah, that’s her.”
It’s interesting. She’s very demure, but she appears as if she were bold and outgoing. She has very expressive tattoos.
“Yeah. She’s just like that. She’s very humble and shy, kind of embarrassed. You’ll compliment her and say, ‘Oh, you look amazing!’
She’ll be very quiet and softly say, “Oh, thank you!” She reminds of the way they said Jimi Hendrix was. He’d be a beast on stage and then when you spoke to him he’d be very polite and quiet. There was this recent shoot we did with her. She used to do ballet. She told me, ‘The biggest thing on tumblr right now is pictures of tattooed girls in ballet shoes! We have to do it!’
You have so many beautiful women with all of these beautiful tattoos. A lot of people would say this takes away from their beauty or defaces them.
“One of my favorite visual things in photography is contradictions. Having a contrast or a conflict. So, for example, take a beautiful girl and put tattoos on her. Take a beautiful girl and put a mask on her. Put an ugly mask on her. You know, I really like that kind of aspect of taking something that is commonly known as beautiful but bringing in another thing that is considered kind of ugly, random, or weird creates kind of an awkward situation. It brings a lot more impact to the final results. It makes you question everything.”
Authenticity and a true essence of a person in his photography is definitely not lost. Throughout all of his work, Ben has undoubtedly managed to capture true and raw beauty with his photos of a tattooed culture that is not considered conventionally beautiful.
Ben Hopper is a London based fine art and commercial photographer. http://www.therealbenhopper.com