School of Art, Media, and Technology

INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES HARBUTT | BFA PHOTO FACULTY

Written by:

share

005

WHAT PROJECTS ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON?

I stopped working on “projects” years ago. I was always protective of my freedom to make any picture I wanted, any way I wanted, any time I wanted. Projects took away that freedom and were a distraction.

As our brains evolved, we started to think we needed laws, rules: “Cross at the green, not in between.” In New York, where jaywalking reigns? I think the result is we’ve lost our trust in instincts; we’re trained not to trust them but control them – to reduce life to a set of rules, concepts. But in art, in making things, there are no rules. If you think you know a rule, try breaking it. You might take a great or at least an original photograph.

In a way, my teaching is about freedom. I think that’s the great seductive metaphor of all art – dance, music, poetry, painting, photography – it’s about freedom both for maker and viewer.

WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU IN YOUR WORK?

The life around me.

WHAT LED YOU TO CHOOSE PHOTOGRAPHY AS A CAREER?

It was the only medium that could even pretend to be in touch with reality.

The content of a photograph as opposed to its subject interests me, both in my own work and in teaching. It takes students a while to see this, that photographic qualities such as tonality, distance from subject, shapes, framing, all these things, inform the meaning of a photograph more than the subject matter and making a student aware of this may reveal to them what – to give one example – their real emotions about their family are from what they believe is nothing more than a family snapshot.

I love photography because you can’t define it. It’s true that photography is a medium where a thing itself makes its own picture, but what that thing is, is very slippery. I like pictures that boggle the mind, when they expand the notion of what is real. You can’t do that in another medium because you don’t start with anything real. As long as you’re faithful to the notion that whatever you’re looking at was actually in front of the camera one time or another, and hasn’t been fiddled with, you’ve got a very interesting medium because you’re not talking about artist’s conception, you’re talking about life.

WHAT ACTIVITIES DO YOU ENJOY OUTSIDE OF WORK?

Reading, music, films, food…

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT TEACHING?

I encourage students to work instinctively, rather than to illustrate concepts. All over the world cameras are basically the same. What’s going to be the difference between your work and everybody else’s? It’s not going to be technique. It’s what you feel. Shoot what you feel something strongly about. Look, you like ice-cream. Take a picture that shows how that sundae looks to someone who loves ice-cream.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OUR STUDENTS ON FOLLOWING THEIR PASSIONS AND PURSUING A CAREER IN PHOTOGRAPHY?

Keep your photo career your own.

Ferry

 

blindboysmall

 

 

 

skullinsky

 

 

 

 

In Transit

 

 

 

 

8th Street self-portrait

All Rights Reserved © 2022. Parsons School of Design.