Monday, December 5, 2011

Ten Minutes with Photographer John Heino

Photographer/musician/business executive John Heino has been a friend for more than fifteen years, a relationship that culminated in this year’s Red Interactive collaboration. I asked John if he might share some of the thinking behind his various projects and the direction his creative work is currently taking.

Ennyman: Briefly summarize the past four years in terms of your increased passion for photography.

John Heino: I woke up at 3 a.m. one morning on the autobahn of ideas. I couldn't find an
exit and the traffic has been building ever since.

Each year, I get a stronger sense of the clock ticking down. There's a fine line between passion and panic. I still want to do it all before I ride west. From 3N6D to Artist Kamikaze III and Red Interactive to Radiance, every direction I've explored has yielded a treasure trove of imagery. The color-in-motion dance portfolio alone has infinite possibilities and I haven't grown the least bit weary of experimenting with it. Plus, my soul insists that I breathe the fresh air on the North Shore on a regular basis and receive the visual gifts nature sends my way. That's a very different creative space. It works on its own level for that niche (I've sold more northern lights images than anything else). Interestingly, the calendar fodder also has genre-bending potential when digitally combined with less orthodox imagery.

Enny: There are some recurring themes in your recent journey. Two of these are an interest in Dance and in Collaboration, both being present in 3N6D and in the recent Red Interactive show. How did these interests develop in you?

JH: The collaboration thread goes back to college art days. I couldn't get enough performance art or excuses to party. Something triggered a synapse from my 80's memory bank in 2009 and it manifested as 3N6D. Dance is a recurring element for me because the human form moving through space is such an image-generating juggernaut. Dancers give you streaming opportunities to capture the exquisite lines of bodies in motion. Jill Ellen Hall was amazing in 3N6D. In addition to her movement and positions, she put together unique costumes with engaging visual elements like the funky glasses.

I wanted Alan Sparhawk for the 3N6D soundtrack because of his creativity and intensity. We also share a key influence from our formative years—Leif Brush, a thought-provoking art professor at UMD. I didn't care whether Alan played guitar or blew into empty Blatz bottles. I knew intuitively whatever he did would fit. After all, we share a strand or two of that Leif Brush creative DNA.

As far as video, I was already engrossed in the photography and digital construction for 3N6D slides and I couldn't clone myself. So, I invited Chani Becker to do the video because of her talent with moving pictures and because she immediately grasped the concept of using time as the primary organizing element and letting a certain amount of chaos exist in the random associations that occurred when the four of us put our work together for the first time before a live audience.

You saw the magic when it all came together. It exceeded my expectations. The one thing I'm sorry about is that the 3N6D collaborators are so busy in their own worlds that we have not built on that success with a sequel or some other performance art adventure. The trouble with having too many frequencies open at one time is that projects become sporadic adventures shoe-horned into finite time constraints. They make a splash and then recede too quickly in the rearview mirror without being fully explored. Don't get me wrong, the high-profile splash is great sport. But I get the sense that any one of my collaborators and I might get to a higher level with concentrated development over a longer time line.

Enny: What new thing or things did you learn from Red Interactive?

JH: Relevance is increasingly perishable. Anything that involves social media has to constantly be fed content and prompts that elicit content-and it has to keep topping itself. Even then, it dies when enough "next things" arrive to draw attention to some other page. We've lost the regular participation of most of our Red Interactive friends who were posting all kinds of stuff early on. There's a few diehards we can till count on engaging, and we get a new "like" now and then, but I'd say we're more likely to die than fly at this juncture. And that's okay. Everything runs its course. Aside from the virtual dimension, I think we reinforced the notion that fun will engage people in art. The collaborative sculpture was amazing-both the process and the product.

Enny: Describe this new process of printing that you have been working with... what is it and what makes it so compelling?

JH: Well there's actually three facets: (1) experimental shooting, (2) using colored light to saturate images and (3) a process that produces prints that look like they have internal light sources.

The color-in-motion shooting approach I'm experimenting with involves colored light, moving dancers, slow shutter speeds and sometimes physically zooming and/or moving the camera during the exposure. "Alive" from the Radiance series is one of those images.

Once I load the images into the digital studio, I experiment with a variety of Photoshop tools to amp up the key elements of the shot. Some of the tools involved are the artistic filters (dry brush, chrome, etc.), vibrance, saturation, solarization and "apply image" to layer the image upon itself with tweaks to optimize contrast, color and other characteristics. I will sometimes apply a pure color field image to the original shot to boost saturation if necessary. The combination of experimental shooting and digital construction typically introduces multiple levels of abstraction. In this body of work, I am not looking to faithfully represent reality. I'm looking to create alternate realities. The thing I'm noticing is that certain abstract images seem to communicate more powerfully than straight photography.

Only recently did I become aware of what I believe is absolutely the best printing process to pop a saturated, abstract image off the wall. And that would be dye-infused aluminum. A company in California called Bay Photo will let you upload a high-resolution image (in huge sizes if you like), produce the image for you on dye-infused aluminum and ship it to you in about 10 days. You'll find the products under the heading "metal prints." There are options for finishes and framing, but the real attraction for me is the fact that these prints almost glow. If there's any ambient light at all, it's like it's collected, magnified and projected back out from the print surface. Really, it has to be seen in person to be believed. Metal prints are pricey--like $300 and up for large, flush mount-framed prints--but I think the "wow" factor is worth the price. If a lot of people start using it, I suppose viewers could become jaded and we might see another boom and bust sensation. I have a hunch it's here to stay for me, though, at least for this body of work.

E: Where do you see your work evolving to next?

JH: Tell me who my partner will be for Artist Kamikaze IV. Really, I do expect to collaborate more. I expect to shoot more. And I expect to spend more time in the digital studio with abstract images. How all those things ultimately come together is a sweet mystery at this point, but I know it will happen.

Projects like 3N6D and Red Interactive have given me confidence in the inevitability of creative triumph. I've developed a pretty good sense about where energy is coming from in my world. I'll be working with people who have that energy, passion and intensity. I'm not always certain where to aim it, but it's better to have the energy and search for a target than to have a target and no energy.

E: Thank you, John.

To find more of John Heino's work online, visit:

Photo Captions, Top to Bottom:
Alive (from the Radiance series)
Gonzo Angel (3N6D series)

The District (Red Interactive series)

Essence (Radiance series)


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