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Photographer Karl Hurst: In England, it's greys and browns

from the series the Pornography of Looking by Karl Hurst

I discovered Karl Hurst via a friend who shared one of his photos on facebook. Just had to interview him.
 
SHEFFIELD MINES AND PHOTOGRAPHY
Your profile on flickr says you are from Sheffield (or are based there) - how is life there? Does the city influence you a lot?

Yes, the city influenced me a lot, my grandfather was a miner here ...the way he got under the city is the way I get under it as a photographer... sometimes a workman came out from an engineering workshop as I was photographing, he asked me what I was doing, that I would be better off photographing such and such down the road, but I was struck with what I knew. I worked all my life and felt lucky because I was never embarrassed to photograph what I knew.
At which point you decided that photographing structures and textures was your thing? What does the beauty of the surfaces and structures mean to you?

Before surfaces and structures I always think about things, I mean about how that thing got there and got to look like that. I more thought about what a thing has as cultural resonance, rather than as an object in itself. I am very suspicious of documentary photography because it is never impartial.

As for beauty, personally I don't understand the draw toward it . I consider what I do to be work, neither ugly nor beautiful. I think we're drawn toward things not by their qualities of looking good, but by how true a thing looks
- beauty is truth, truth, beauty... its a classical idea.
 
WHAT YOU SEE ISN'T WHAT YOU GET
There is a series called "pornography of looking" in your flickr photostream, tell us more about it?

I was just photographing a series called smokescreen, I did pieces called whitewash, another piece where nature looks beautifully measured, I called that failed credit system. It seems to me, stating the obvious, what you see isn't what you get. Here, as elsewhere we're so saturated by images and culture it has become nearly impossible to work out what it really is we are seeing. and more precisely what we feel about it.
 
MORE LOWRY THAN ROTHKO
 
Who are your favourite artists?

I work two veins in my photography, which are often more contradictory 
than complimentary. Kippenberger is a huge influence on me, but then again so is Edward Weston. I never stop thinking about Brecht nor about Kafka. Sometimes William Blake, sometimes Turner... Lately I think this light is wholly English and I should make the most of the palate I have.I recently made some pictures of the sea. I think these are much more Lowry than Rothko....
Your work is quite urban, the color palette usually limited, people can rarely be seen or your pics... was it always like this?

No, in fact it was rarely like this. I've only been photographing for a year or so and my history is a literary one . I always treated writing from a people-centric perspective, nature took second place.....But not now. I hate the limited perspectives ( both socially and aesthetically) that is on offer for an English writer.
It isn't like that with photography, there is freedom. a newness to it, a democracy, a way of getting between the micro and marco, between the urban and the rural. With English writing there's such a closed shop and I always felt the new Europe on my doorstep, none of my photographs are abstracts as such. just an island feeling.
At which point you decided that photographing structures and textures was your thing? What does the beauty of the surfaces and structures mean to you?

I don't know that there was a definitive moment... I always think about the meaning behind abstracting or framing a certain view of the world... if you focus on one thing you miss another....I rarely think about the beauty or ugliness of a thing but simply their ability to express meaning beyond their initial impact. This is also true for me as a practitioner of photography. I go out into the world with preset ideas about what I want and present a version of it in the finished product. The two things aren't always the same. I've just learn't to live with the difference. I suppose reality should dawn at some time, like in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.
 
THERE IS ALWAYS AGENDA
 
Your work is quite urban, the color palette usually limited, people can rarely be seen or your pics... was it always like this?

I don't really choose between the urban and the rural... my preference would be the hinterland... or as a poet friend of mine calls it the edgeland ...
I prefer to photograph the effects people have on land rather than people themselves...or rather than majestic landscapes themselves (that's another kind of vanity).... I prefer to see the thing itself (either urban or rural) because then the effects are there to be seen, with people, there is always a coyness, an agenda.

I'm not really interested in being a commercial artist, but just in describing, sketching through the camera, I find that difficult to do with people because I'm rarely in a situation where if I picked up the camera people would behave as themselves). I'm always involved in nature... the camera trying to lie less..

I don't know that I have a limited palate. Mostly, in England, its greys and browns, so I looked at greys and browns, they aren't bad colours when you begin to look at them... I pride myself on the subtle differences in tone rather than in some brightness or colour that I would be instantly dissatisfied with. I love L.S Lowry's palate or Stanley Spencer's or Freud's, I copied all three of them in their chooses of colour because I saw it like that too. Like I said early I suppose photography for me is about lying less.
There is a series called "pornography of looking" in your flickr photostream, tell us more about it?

The Pornography of Looking came out of a deep seated belief that what we see isn't what we get, like with Chomsky or Brecht. I'm anti-aesthetic, in the sense of being against wall bound art, art that we can buy into......
I'm disgusted by our inability to question what it is we mean, when we mean. This idea that we take everything on face-value, its going to end surely sometime. The East German playwright Heiner Müller described it perfectly at the inauguration of the destruction of the Berlin Wall when he said 'another wall will be built'...he was stoned and booed...that isn't what people wanted to hear...iots a doule bind with 'the pornograpy of Looking' beautiful photographs...bad taste.
Mor Karl Hurst photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/57845057@N03/sets/
 


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