The Hammer of the Bodies

In conversation with photographer Joseph Häxan

The digital artist morphs the human body to create cinematic images with a surreal composition. As a contributor to Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio and photographer for FX’s American Horror Story, Häxan talks with Camilla Di Pasquale about his art and imagination.

When was your art practice born? What inspires you?

I have always been really interested in cameras. I think that interest sort of inspired my love of technology, and my love of art. I used to watch the world through little cameras I had when I was a child. I’m not really sure why I did that, I think my interest in the whole idea of capturing a version of reality inspired me to keep getting better at it and it spiralled from there. I was making very dark films, in retrospect, as a child, but they never felt taboo, just something I did for fun. They’ve always felt like a pretty healthy expression. I’ve had people say “if you didn’t make the art you make I think you might be a serial killer” and while I don’t think that’s true, I do acknowledge that there’s a darkness in me that I think I’ve found a pretty good outlet for. We all have that in us, it’s like a residual rage we once used to kill our prey or our rivals in the pre-Neolithic.

In your photos you tell about bodies and transformations, what do these themes mean to you?

The transforming body is inevitable, we get older and then die, and that can be endlessly inspiring to anyone who can manage their fear enough to really examine that. I suppose what I try to do is elevate the body to a kind of cosmic version of itself. It’s a kind of meditation process, to get insight into the body as a result of a whole lot of things coming together in a profound way. I try to think about everything that exists, where it’s come from and where it’s all going. I struggle sometimes with steering the work, which is a result of that thinking, in the direction I feel best embodies what I’m thinking about. Usually the work has mysteries of its own, though. There’re things that become clear through making that otherwise may have stayed hidden to an artist, that’s part of what drives me to keep creating.

In your art there is a long process of post production and composition creation, how do you combine these different practices?

I think that’s mostly just practice, and having an eye for a good composition. There are only so many angles you can shoot yourself from with a timer, because you have to maintain fairly strict control over your aperture and shutter to make compositing work. I don’t do drawings, and I very rarely do mock ups, because a photoshop document is in many ways a mock up of itself, until it’s more refined. One of the biggest freedoms of using compositing software is being able to rearrange your entire composition at any point. I have some friends who are also photographers who talk about having a back catalogue of images they need to get around to editing, but my way of working is kind of the opposite. I shoot to finish the composition, adding elements gradually that I think it needs. That’s been one of the challenges for me to overcome. Shooting in a very structured way does encourage a sameness in your work, because you’re limiting opportunity for happy accidents and shooting variables to make things interesting. Making art is often a form of waiting, for the right moment or idea to strike, and then having the experience to know how to act on those ideas.

How do you relate to the sphere of the occult and the divine in relation to your works?

I find it difficult sometimes to talk about this without sounding pretentious, so forgive me in advance please. Human beings tell stories about ourselves and the world we live in, in an effort to understand. It’s one of our main tools for mental perception. We hypothesise using a narrative, then test the narrative’s assumptions to “prove” them right or wrong, to the best of our abilities. In that point of reaching outward, beyond the bounds of known reality, we encounter the occult – that point where logic is no longer capable of answering the questions we have. The occult could simply represent our limited physical brain trying to perceive the incomprehensible, however it helps us to advance ourselves nonetheless. We are the only intelligent beings on earth with the capacity for mystical ideation, and throughout or history it is a constant and indomitable precursor to insight gained about our reality. If scientific confirmation is our home base on a colonised planet, then mystic thought landed the first footstep on its surface. To me, the occult and imagination are almost one and the same. We tend to want to perceive out existence as some kind of end point. We think of all the things we know came before us and assume that that journey culminated in our existence today. I think Christianity (and Abrahamic religion) is a great encourager of this kind of thinking, and probably one reason why those faction’s organisers take such issue with the occult. It can be pretty tiring to sustain thought about the true reality of our creation, and those religions offer the everyday person a dot to dot version of it with comforting answers, so it’s very appealing. Imagination is God energy flowing through you. It’s an expression of the energy that creates everything, and using it as a tool for perception is just as legitimate as any, when we exist in a space we don’t even understand 1% of. Perhaps all the answers lie locked up in our imagination, and our advance as a species guides us in accessing it and revealing it’s true nature.

What led you to experiment with the medium of video?

I’ve always worked with video, from when I was a kid. I am very interested in the technological side of video and editing, so I think that interest was what encouraged me to start experimenting. Even now, exploring new video technology is a big part of what keeps me interested in creating. I experiment with HDR and different compositing techniques. I’m not someone who likes to have that sort of thing done for me, it’s very important to me that I know what I’m doing on a technical level. I respect artists less if they don’t know how to make their own work. Video is not so different to photography though, it’s opens the world you’re creating up to a lot more analysis, which sometimes benefits the work and sometimes it doesn’t.

What are you working on for the next future?

I’m expanding my new series ‘Reality’, and hope to work on more video projects after the release of my performance film ‘The Black Rite’.

Joseph Häxan / The Hammer of the Bodies


Artist: Joseph Häxan / @josephhaxan
Interview: Camilla Di Pasquale / @micalliroe
Editor: Maria Abramenko / @mariabramenko
Assistant: Alisia Marcacci / @miabrowe

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