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A TRUTH LAID BARE

“I think we should all be asking questions we know we will never have the answers to, because thinking about them gets you as close to the truth as possible.” The Adelaide-based photographer Joseph Häxan tells us about his fascination with biological processes, nature and the photographic medium.
A TRUTH LAID BARE 1

What got you into photography?

I’m very interested in technology, it’s always been a big part of my life. As a kid I was fascinated by the way cameras interpreted what I was seeing around me. I would watch my family members through the screen of my camera, very rarely even capturing a photo or video, I just liked watching life as if it were a film on a screen. Throughout most of high school I wanted to be a scientist, working with animals or plants, but I realised pretty quickly that I’m more artistically driven, so it all came naturally, I never made a big decision, it just happened, I guess. I’ve been doing it my entire life.

The Crystal Calls
Premonition (small)

What fascinated you about the photography medium at the beginning of your career compared to now?

I think as you transition an interest from a hobby to a job it can be difficult to approach that interest with the same level of lightness and spontaneity you once did. Now my motivation to make work is driven by so many different factors, and they’re mostly more serious than they once were. Ultimately, though, I have always loved making beautiful/interesting/complex things; I think it’s one of the chief powers of humanity, to make things that impress and inspire other people. I don’t always enjoy every step of the process, some parts of it are harder to love than others. Sometimes you get an impressive image right out of the camera, and that’s really fun and exciting, but equally it can be very rewarding and inspiring to take a set of relatively ordinary elements and turn them into something more through editing, that’s the part I love the most. Mainly, though, I just love creating my own universe to live in.

Blood Moon
Lone Pine

If I looked through your photo series, it has many layers and meanings. However, it seems to be the essential theme is a rite of passage or metamorphosis from human form to another level of being. I am correct or totally wrong?

Yes, I think that’s as valid a reading as any. A big theme in the work is change and evolution – endings and renewal. I have obsessive compulsive disorder, and a lot of my life is about process as a result. I like to visualise human beings as governed by the broader processes of life and the universe because it’s comforting to me. I often feel like the world is moving along without me, and the infinite complexity of all of the processes of life are amazing and overwhelming. I’m also always striving for deeper levels of understanding, consciousness and ability. Humanity’s role in the broader spectrum of existence is a kind of endless well from which to draw. I think we should all be asking questions we know we will never have the answers to, because thinking about them gets you as close to the truth as possible. Making the work is my way of asking those questions, as abstract as that may sound. 

Apocalypso
The Winds

Our bodies are the only things we truly own throughout our lives. So what does a body mean for you in your work?

Since I was very young I’ve had this strange awareness of ageing and senescence, and have worried about it a lot throughout my life. Aside from anything else, capturing your body in a sequence of images over time gives you an awareness of how your body changes. I wrote a lot about the abject at university, so the internal world of the body and its decline factors into a lot of what I do. My series ‘Body Horror’ was a direct response to that research, and informed the way I use elements of body horror in my work more broadly. The figures are left open to interpretation I suppose, I don’t like tethering them to anything that limits that too much.

Totem (small)
Concubines

With the way the world is, I’ve been thinking a lot about the trajectory of the universe, and where we sit on the timescale of it all. As a result, I think my viewpoint is shifting a bit, which is why I started my new series ‘Universe’. I’ve been pondering the idea of a beyond, some way all the energy of life is recycled or decontextualised, and where it goes. Big stuff, I know, and it’s not as if I’ll get any concrete answers, but I’m always drawn to fields such as these, because I love mystery and the open ended nature of thinking about things you can’t quite comprehend. As human beings we’ve reached some sort of evolutionary pinnacle, but not in the same way a crocodile, for example, has reached an anatomical pinnacle and virtually stopped evolving.

Universe (small)

Human beings have reached this new peak, and we’re still going, changing into something new. A lot of being human is scary and unpleasant, and I often have felt happier in the company of animals, so it helps me (viewing human beings as another organism among them all) to come to terms with the awful things we do to the Earth and the life we share it with. If there is a point to it, then we exist as we do because of that point – if there is no point, then there is no point. It’s very much a process, I am by no means in a position to speak definitively about what the body truly means to me, and even answering this question exposes how undecided I am.

All of Them Witches
Twins Descending Like Mist
13 slaves

I want to highlight your mysterious film trilogy, Shimmering Pearl. The second part, Froglet, should be released this year. Where do you take us in the story? 

Froglet picks up where the last film left us, that’s all I can say for now.

What do you hope viewers come away from your films with?

I guess a shifted mindset. I like to think the mood of the films has that ability – to make you feel like you’re in a mossy cabin hearing the rain in total darkness. They’re not completely short films as much as they are videos conveying a very specific and detailed visual mood. I’m not sure if that sounds pretentious, but I don’t think of them in the same category as a lot of the short films I see.

I suppose in that sense they’re kind of engaging enough to hold your attention, but they give you room for some contemplation of your own. I’m trying to raise questions about what it means to be human being in the modern world, and what we still have to learn from everything around us. 

Frenzy
Convulsion

Finally, can you recommend to our readers some artists who you admire?

There are so many, but I’ll say recently I have been getting a lot of inspiration from Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints. The style has always spoken to me, but I feel especially connected to them at the moment. I like Hokusai, and Yoshitoshi, as well as quite a few others. I also have been watching John Gorrie’s 1976 version of The Picture of Dorian Gray quite a bit. I love the atmosphere of that film, it’s very unique and pretty dark. Some artists I always draw inspiration from are: David Lynch, Lars Von Trier, David LaChapelle, Kusama, Nick Knight, Heishiro Ishino, Leslie Zhang, Tim Walker and many, many others.

CREDITS

Artworks / Joseph Häxan @josephhaxan

https://www.josephhaxan.com/

Interview / Kateřina Hynková @khynko

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