Bianca + Brenda Hofman

Writing is like eating. I need to do it to feel good.   ̴- Bianca Hofman

Bianca and Brenda are sisters from The Netherlands. Brenda is a photographer and Bianca, an ultrashort story writer. They are expats living in Barcelona who have combined their artistic skills to create works that are visually engaging while delving into the human condition. In May of last year, the Hofman Project premiered 36 ultrashort flash fiction stories. Over cookies and cupcakes at a local cafe, I learned how the collaboration began

Three years ago, Brenda moved to Barcelona. Like many people who relocate, she immediately began exploring her new city. A key part of this exploration involved photographing her surroundings. Yet, when one views the images, the sites and scenes a visitor associates with Barcelona are not clearly evident.

While walking the streets and alleyways of her new home, she was drawn to shapes, patterns, and light. She has a discerning eye. If something catches her attention, no matter how minuscule, the shutter is activated.

After amassing quite a collection of photographs during the first year, she was anxious to do something with them. Already 'in love' with Bianca's stories, Brenda thought her photographs could serve as additional inspiration for her sister's writing. They each shared works, talked, planned, and the ultrashort flash fiction stories were born.

"Everything inspires me; life inspires me", Brenda says and her sister concurs. Yet there are specific aspects of life that they gravitate toward in their art mediums. While the works are distinctly Barcelona, Bianca says, "we can show the other side of a city... We show our fears in our work." A testament to their symbiotic relationship and "similar vision" is that at times, Bianca shares one of her stories and Brenda says, "I have a picture for that."

Their work is raw, poignant, honest, and dignified. It is without pretense. As Brenda comments, there are things that are "not so pretty about you and the people around you....life is a struggle."

Photographing and writing stories about missing pieces, broken things, loneliness, and depression is a commentary on life. Yet the ways in which these topics are handled is worthy of note and calls to mind the I Give Everything Away series by French American artist Louise Bourgeois. In their work, the viewer is positioned as a close friend and confidant, privy to the artists' innermost thoughts and feelings. An intersubjectivity exists and through this, the realization that you are not alone.

Llunué Vivanco

Mexico City, Mexico


Tell us about yourself. What does being an artist mean to you?

I don't like to define myself as an "artist" because I don't fit into that "serious deep face" with a lot of suffering and crazy vicious life with drugs and excess... Ha, I think I'm just a creative mind that really enjoys creating things and bringing my ideas and feelings into the real world. I feel that my creativity is committed with my own evolution and I try my best to be congruent with my feelings, thoughts and the things I give to the world...

Llunué Vivanco

Llunué Vivanco

What is your work space or studio like? 

Well, you know... it is just my room and the world. If you enter my room it is like a kindergarten room, with canvas all around, a lot of weird stuff like lights, elephant figures, pictures, mobiles hanging all over my ceiling, plants (I love plants) my computer and my ukulele. And the world an amazing chaos all around full of shine and darkness and chocolate. 

the studio + tools

the studio + tools

Please explain the method behind your creative process.

I think ideas are just hanging there in the magic of creation, waiting to connect with a creative mind. My creative process is working all the time, with the things I see, I read, I do, when I go for a run or drive hours in the traffic... My mind and my little Mexican body is keeping information, taking sensations, colors, sounds and then suddenly there's maybe a word, a phrase or another picture that produces a magic connection and my neurons scream "EUREKA" we got a great idea! Then I take that "sparkle" and begin thinking all around it. The best place for me to think is in the shower, it's like ideas + water = SUPERMAGIC. Then when I have the main idea, I go out and work on it, KABOOM!

the tools

the tools

What inspires you to create? What role, if any, does identity play in your art? Please explain.

My main inspiration is life, the feeling of being a part of everything. The sensation of being so little in the big playground, to feel and identify with everything around.

How does traveling (domestically or internationally) influence your creative process?

Traveling is the masterpiece in my creation. It opens in me all the possibilities, brakes all barriers and my ideas force me to be flexible and to see things in different points of view. To understand that the way I see life or I live it is not the only way. Then, it makes me feel like I am in an open field, with plenty of space to experiment and feel.

Is it important for your art to communicate a message? Please explain.

Well, not a message literally but I think it must contain something that makes a connection to people maybe because it looks nice, funny, weird or colorful. Something that identifies with them or makes them think in different ways or feel any emotion. It must have humanity.

studio view

studio view

In your opinion, what is the best city in the world to see art?

Italy! Everywhere you look there is art, history, design, colors, even the sounds and the food.

With which artist and in what location, would you like to have lunch? What would you order?

On the top of a very high building or a rock with Leonardo da Vinci. I would order a vegetarian dish full of colors and served in an unusual way, maybe vegetables that look like a big turkey inside a cage with wings.

It has been said that “art and wine go hand in hand…” Please talk about your wine of choice and the three artists with whom you would like to share it.

I don't like wine... hahaha! That is why I am just a creative mind no alcohol for me. But I would enjoy a really good and healthy smoothie with da Vinci or Escher.

Are you familiar with Basquiat (1996), Pollock (2000) and Frida (2002)? In the essence of these biopic films, whom would you want cast for your role? Please explain.

Emma Watson! I admire her commitment to the world, even having all the power and fame she still being a very conscious human and doing something good for the world with the high place she has in the industry. Also, she is very young and she keeps low profile… [She gets a] THUMBS UP!

 

Phoebe Farris


Art should reveal the unknown, to those who lack the experience of seeing it.

-Jaune Quick-to-See-Smith

Dr Phoebe Farris is an artist, scholar, independent curator, art therapist, author, and editor. By pursuing areas in which she is passionate, Farris has had an exciting and enviable career. For 22 years she worked at Purdue University (USA) and notes this time as the highlight of her professional life allowing her to travel to various countries, meet like-minded professors and artists and collaborate with them on projects of mutual interest.

Farris comes from a family of literary and visual artists. Once a painter/printmaker, she replaced the brush and roller with a camera. The immediacy of this instrument allows her to capture experiences in the moment as well as to document pieces of social and cultural history. With an artistic eye, scholarly sensibility, and personal interest in the people, events and structures that are the objects of her photography, Farris focuses on imagery that is both educational and aesthetically pleasing.  

Longest Walk, Malcom X Park (1998),  photograph

Currently, Farris is one of 39 artists whose works are featured in the travelling exhibition, The Map Is Not The Territory, Parallel Paths: Palestinians, Native Americans, Irish. I asked Farris to talk about this exhibition, her other work, challenges she faces as a photographer and curator and her opinion on the U.S. media’s representation of Native Americans since the beginning of the 21st century.

Longest Walk II, Speaker on the Capital Grounds  (1998), photograph

As Farris discusses her motivation for participating in The Map Is Not The Territory, Parallel Paths: Palestinians, Native Americans, Irish, she also provides us with insight into social injustices currently experienced by Native Nations throughout the Americas. Cessation of land did not stop with the federal government in the 1830s, but continues even now. Land remains susceptible. History remains vulnerable.

"The theme interested me because of the common experiences of land and language loss experienced by the three populations," she says. "On a personal level, I felt a connection because my mother's maternal grandfather was an immigrant from Cork County, Ireland."  

"Wigwams like this were used by most Algonquin tribes/nations on the east coast. Some were this size and for nuclear families and others were larger to house extended families, like the long houses in upstate New York where many Iroquois live. People no longer live in wigwams or long houses but use them for ceremonies or for villages like this to show how life was during earlier time periods."  

Connecticut on Mohegan tribal land,  a reconstructed village circa colonial times  (2012), photograph

Wigwams are constructed from natural materials and over time are susceptible to structural deterioration. Wigwams on the Pamunkey reservation in Virginia were built for educational purposes but in the 1990s, they expired. The tribe has not yet begun constructing new ones.

Connecticut on Mohegan tribal land,  a reconstructed village circa colonial times – detail (2012), photograph
 

"My mother’s paternal family was originally from the Pamunkey reservation …. The Pamunkey are one of the tribes from the Powhatan Confederacy," Farris explains. The Powhatan Renape Nation in New Jersey had a reservation called Rankokus that also had a reconstructed village with wigwams. When Governor Christie got elected in 2010, he took back the land under eminent domain and the wigwams were destroyed."

"I like the abstract quality of the patterns created by bark and bent saplings used to create the wigwam. The interior darkness and "cozy" feeling that envelopes me is appealing. I am attracted to design patterns in indigenous architecture."

In addition to photographing structures of spiritual and cultural significance to Native Americans, Farris uses photography to document and share stories of cultural survival and contemporary cultural expression. When attending cultural events, she wears two hats, one as participant and the other as observer. For Farris, behaving in an ethical manner while capturing images that are “educational and pleasing to the eye” is of key importance.  

"At cultural events my main challenge is balancing having a good time by dancing in inter-tribals, eating, and buying jewellery and also getting good photos I can use for an article I am writing or for an exhibit. At more serious cultural events like ceremonies I always ask permission before taking photos," she explains.

"These events have similar challenges for being an observer and a participant. I choose imagery based on both aesthetic and cultural significance factors. People at powwows are considered in the public domain so technically permission is not needed to photograph them or publish their images. But usually I try to ask and get their name and tribe but it is not always possible."  

Fancy Dancer, Georgetown University Powwow  (2013), photograph

Farris also attends protests and occupation movements. A social activist, she is committed to “non-violent approaches to dealing with all creative, social and political issues”. At these gatherings, Farris photographs activists who are well-known and those who are not.  

Father Ken and Thundercloud (2012), photograph

Elijah Nature Boy (2012), photograph

The 28th of August 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington led by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. Camera in hand, Farris was in attendance. "As an activist, I often go to protest marches as a participant and an observer. It was important for me to honor Dr. King's legacy of non-violent resistance by being at the march and by taking this protest shot concerning the unfair Florida “Stand-your- ground- law”, the murder of Trayvon (Martin) and the acquittal of his killer, (George ) Zimmerman."  

Protestor holding Support Trayvon's Law Poster (2013), photograph

Longest Walk II, Harry Belafonte on the Capitol Grounds (1998), photograph

As a scholar, Farris has lectured nationally and internationally and written extensively on themes of identity, gender, and social justice. Within the art world, however, explorations of such topics are not always welcomed. "I face many challenges as a curator and photographer working with themes dealing with identity, gender, and social justice, "Farris expounds. "The art market is driven by fads and money. In the 80's identity politics was a commodified fad so many exhibits focused on women artists and/or artists of color. After the 80's and early 90's these types of shows were less popular. But," she emphasizes, "... the issues remain."

"Capitalism and art venues solely concerned about money never really cared about gender or race issues. They exploited these themes for profit."

"It is 2013 and Native Americans are still dealing with unfair treaties, loss of land, and economic hardship on most reservations. Women around the world, especially in so called "developing countries" are coping with the realities of possible violence (sexual or domestic), balancing child care and work, and finding ways to maintain traditional customs that are beneficial for their societies while at the same time transforming or ending traditional customs that are harmful to their health and well-being. Pollution and climate change will affect everyone in the world but poorer people and countries will be more affected. So I do not think social justice themes for art are outdated. But convincing funding sources is not easy."

Dr Phoebe Farris’ documentary photography is visually and intellectually captivating. While the viewer is first attracted by the aesthetics of the image, a closer look reveals more. We are provided a social commentary that is both rooted in history and applicable now.

One aspect of this social commentary is identity politics and representation. When asked to speak about the U.S. media’s representation of Native Americans, Farris notes, "I see hardly any progress at all. There is almost no representation, good or bad. When the media focuses on so called minorities/people of color/disadvantaged/underrepresented etc. the focus is usually on African Americans, Latinos/Hispanics,

and sometimes Asians. Mainstream media basically ignores Native Americans. The only exception is PBS TV programming which often has excellent programs about Native history and culture."

----
* The Map Is Not The Territory, Parallel Paths: Palestinians, Native Americans, Irish will travel from 2013-2018.


George Hallett


George Hallett is an author, book designer, and award winning photographer. In 1995, he won a Golden Eye Award for the following photograph.

Cheering at Athlone Stadium

Cheering at Athlone Stadium

In February 1994, Hallett dreamt that he lunched with Nelson Mandela. The idea of meeting Mandela was thrilling. Yet, he found one aspect troublesome. He recalls, “One disturbing thing about the dream was the fact that our chairs were all balanced on the hind legs. I went to Madame Keltum in Paris for an interpretation. She … proceeded to tell me that yes indeed, I would be meeting with Mandela and the reason why the chairs were balanced on their hind legs, was because of violent instability in the country.”

A few weeks after the dream, Hallett received a call from his friend Dr Pallo Jordan. The initial steps to the dream’s fulfilment began taking shape. Jordan, who served as South Africa’s Minister of Arts & Culture from 2004 to 2009, asked Hallett to return to South Africa and photograph the country’s first Democratic Elections. So, he departed Paris and returned home.

On Phone with Domestic Worker

On Phone with Domestic Worker

Hallett describes an early encounter. “Mandela was rehearsing for his first TV debate with then President De Klerk. … After an hour or so of hard work, Mandela asked for a break outside in the fresh air. I followed him outside. A woman came up to him with a phone and said it was President De Klerk. … He stands there and tells De Klerk that he should stop the violence as soon as possible because of the looming elections around the corner. ... A domestic worker with something in her hand approaches from behind. Frame and shoot. She does not see his face. He hands the phone back to the receptionist. Then peace is shattered with women shouting and running towards him. I lift my Leica M3 and manage to get the shot a split second before they touch him. Shortly after that we are inside again having lunch. The dream came true.”

When photographing Mandela, Hallett worked with two cameras, “one for close-ups of his face, another to get the surroundings.” He explains, “When photographing the positive aspects of humanity, it is important to include the social surroundings of people. Be that a street scene, an interior, a stage setting or a portrait.”

Madame and Monsieur Foress

Madame and Monsieur Foress

Hallett has photographed a wide array of people in a number of countries. Despite the vastness of his oeuvre, there is a connecting thread. In each photograph, he skilfully captures the humanity of his subjects.

Italy H

Italy H

He delights in photographing people without them being aware of his presence. He is the proverbial “fly on the wall”.

Slate Mine Worker

Slate Mine Worker

In addition to people, he has always been fascinated by architectural forms and textures. In some photographs, he combines being “the silent observer” with his love of structures.

Hallett says, “Coming from South Africa, I have learnt to be humble and generous with my dealings with people.” This leads to photographs that are pure. They are without judgment or staging. The viewer is presented with unadulterated humanity be it the hardships of life or moments of respite.

Farm Workers

Farm Workers

One such moment of rest is captured in one of Hallett’s favourite photographs, Farm workers. He states, “My grandparents ended up on this farm after being evicted from their house in the fishing village of Hout Bay by the Apartheid regime because the village became a Whites only residential area. I went to visit them one Saturday and as I walked up the path I saw the farm workers sitting under the oaks having a break. On the right were a loving couple. The man with the beard was Italian and he took care of the vineyards. His girlfriend went to junior school with me. The relationship was illegal and they could not care a s..t about that. I waved and focussed my Mamiya 6x6cm camera on them, thus capturing a rare moment of a loving and caring group of workers that no one even bothers to acknowledge.”

A couple years later, District Six became the target of the Apartheid regime. As a newly declared Whites only area, over 60,000 people were forced to leave their homes. Encouraged by two friends, the poet James Matthews and artist Peter Clarke, Hallett began recording the life of this community before the bulldozers arrived.

While engaged on this project, he was introduced to The Sweet Flypaper of Life, a collaborative work by Roy DeCarava and Langston Hughes. In this book, DeCarava and Hughes explore life within Harlem through photography. Using this as inspiration, Hallett photographed writers, artists, actors, dancers, and musicians. He displayed these photographs in a solo exhibition at the Artists Gallery in Cape Town.

Reflecting on that period, Hallett notes, “As my political insights became more mature, it also became apparent to me that it was time to leave my not so beloved country.” Soon after his first exhibition, he departed South Africa for England.

Kaori on her Wedding Day

Kaori on her Wedding Day

Once in London, Hallett’s artistic skills expanded. He refers to the streets of London as his university. Through Isaiah Stein, a fellow South African exile, he was introduced to James Curry at Heinemann African Writers Publishers. This meeting led to him designing photographic book covers. He then presented his portfolio to the Times Educational Supplement in Fleet Street. Hallett ended up working with the Times for several years doing spreads and covers on a variety of subjects including “education, the Afro-Asian community, Gypsies, Hippies, Coal miners, youth and many other subjects of fascination.”

While living abroad, Hallett’s social circle included many South African exiles. He recalls, “I went to listen to our Jazz musicians at the 100 Club in Oxford Street on Monday nights. There I met more South Africans. The 100 Club was home away from home for us. I immediately began taking pictures of the musicians on stage as well as at home, relaxing with friends and family members.” 

Hallett’s first European exhibition was in Paris in 1971. It was a group show with South Africans Gerard Sekoto and Louis Maurice. Shortly after, he had a solo exhibition in the Westerkerk in Amsterdam organized by the World Council of Churches. He remembers this exhibition as “a glorious occasion.” He remarks that this was the first and last time he experienced such a wondrous vernissage. Both exhibitions focused on his South African work and presented “a positive image of Black people living under the indignities of Apartheid.”

Hallett stresses that many individuals helped him evolve into the photographer he is today. This evolution began shortly after his graduation from high school. He remembers often critiquing the works

of photographer and friend Clarence Coulson. One day, Coulson tired of the comments and shouted ‘If you know so much about photography, why don't you go out there and take your own photos.’ This was something Hallett longed to do but without a camera or the means to purchase one, it seemed improbable.

Coulson sent Hallett to Mr. Halim, the owner of Palm Tree Studio in District Six. Halim gave him an old Leica and instructions on its use. The burgeoning photographer was tasked “into the streets of the Cape Peninsula to photograph whatever [he] wanted.” This experience proved invaluable. Hallett was exposed to different groups of people and learned to negotiate within diverse situations. Despite the difficulties of living under an Apartheid regime, people maintained their humanity. He witnessed acts of kindness in various situations.

Throughout the years, Hallett has created an impressive body of work. He states, “Using my District Six experiences, I was able to always get exclusive shots that the other photographers never thought possible.”