Interview with James Henkel

James Henkel received his MFA in photography in 1974 and taught at the Penland School of Craft for two years before joining the faculty of the Department of Art, at the University of Minnesota in 1976 where he is Professor Emeritus. He has received grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the McKnight Foundation, and the Bush Foundation and participated in residencies at the Cite des Arts, Paris, FR and at LightWork, Syracuse NY.

Henkel’s work is in numerous collections including SFMOMA, The Whitney Museum of American Art, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Houston Museum of Fine Arts, and George Eastman House. Selected exhibitions include: Tracey Morgan Gallery, Asheville, NC, Pace McGill Gallery, NY, SFMOMA, Yancey Richardson Gallery, NY, Museum of Contemporary Art, Teheran, Iran, Turku Finland and Anji China.

James Henkel lives and works in Asheville and Penland NC.

© James Henkel

How did you become interested in photography? How did you start?

I came to photography from early interests in painting and drawing and I have always carried those interests into my studio based photography. Although I gain interest and inspiration from other mediums I think of myself as a photographer and am continually interested in how a lens describes and interprets, and then how a photographic print delivers that experience. The photographs begin with finding and collecting objects, both domestic and useful: books, vessels, plants, tools etc. These are then used to generate pictures that touch on the relationship between beauty, value and function.There is a strong sense of familiarity with the things in my photographs for a viewer due to a shared experience (both communal and intimate), yet the objects are presented in ways which combine this familiarity with the unexpected.

© James Henkel

Could you tell more about your creating process? Do you shoot on analog or digital format? Color or bnw? Why?

For a long time I used large format cameras, shooting both B&W and color. As digital cameras became more and more refined I moved to digital. Since my work is primarily studio still life based and is revised over and over, working digitally has allowed me to make subtle changes in arrangement much faster and more fluidly than with film. I move back and forth between black and white and color depending on the project and sometimes depending on the picture within the project. This ease has also been facilitated by the move to using a digital camera.

© James Henkel

Do you want to share something about the submitted body of work?

The work included here are all from the past three or four years and represent a small sampling of larger projects. I tend to have several subjects I go back to over and over again reevaluating them and moving each one forward.

How do you get inspiration? Do you have any artists or photographers that inspired you?

Inspiration comes in many ways but primarily in paying attention to life around me, reading, looking at painting, drawing and photography, both contemporary and historical. For example I have recently become interested in the paintings of Giorgio Morandi, I am amazed at how his work continued to develop formally while restricting himself to a small space and a modest ensemble of objects.

© James Henkel

What are you working on right now? Where are you going with your work?

I am currently working on several projects in the studio I am photographing broken glass which is rearranged into images which reflect the idea of new vessels, and a continuation of a set of “Botanicals”, which are as usual inspired by the change in seasons.

Find out more about the work of James Henkel, on his website and on Instagram (@j_v_henkel_studio)

© James Henkel

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