Henrik Purienne is a South African born photographer and film director currently residing between Cape Town, Paris and Los Angeles. Finding themselves in a sun-drenched fantasy – or perhaps, a reality too fanciful to believe – the allure of Henrik’s subjects is both innocent and provocative.
In 2010 he founded Mirage, an international fashion magazine for which he is now the CoEditor-inChief and Creative Director. Purienne, Henrik’s book of summer holiday snapshots, portraits and outtakes was published by Prestel Publishing (Randomhouse) last year.
We spoke to Henrik to find out more:
So, what’s it like being you? Tell us a bit more about yourself…
I’m never really happy or sad. So apparently that makes me a psychopath? I get to travel and do what I like. Does that make me happy? No. But it sure does not make me sad.
What did you want to be growing up?
An architect. Obviously. But the idea of so much stereotype human activity taking shape within or as a result of my creation repulsed me.
Was there ever any indication that you’d be doing what you are now?
When I was about 8 years old I discovered a Sony BetaMax video camera at my best friend’s house. Turns out his mother was a bit of an amateur filmmaker before she started a family. She actually made the most beautifully sensitive wedding videos. I became totally obsessed with this gear.. to master it’s technical and narrative potential.
Even back then I found the idea of having to rely on others to make a little film quite frustrating. There I was hooked up to this beta-max backpack shouting instructions from the rooftop like a wrecking ball…all sweaty and sunburned, while my friends really just wanted to play nintendo and drink Creme Soda.
How did you become interested in filmmaking, and how did you go about pursuing it?
When it was time to job-shadow in high school, the only film maker was our friend at the school for the deaf. He was kind of a genius and really showed me the ropes. He had great emotional intuition and could make the most simple thing look interesting. I’m actually working on a documentary on him and his work..
Was this before or after you began taking photographs?
Well of course this was all years before I picked up a camera. Although I was usually the self-appointed guardian of the family camera. In highschool I took several subjects at the Hugo Naude Art School. A new Italian art teacher showed up during my last 2 years…he was down here to study rock art or the koi-san or something. He got this idea in his head that I’m this great photographer and gave me the keys to the school darkroom.
I would walk the streets in the week just talking photos of…well…almost nothing. And then spend all weekend in the darkroom printing. I just loved composing landscapes and space. My girlfriend at the time actually freaked out once and screamed at me ‘stop pointing your little camera at nothing…can’t you see you are embarrassing yourself!’.
What appeals to you about the medium of photography?
That you can create the kind of reality that people want to believe.
Has the process of taking photographs changed the way you look at things?
I think the way I look at things determines how I take photos.
Talk to us about the distinctions, as you see them, between photography and film.
Wasn’t that the subject of the final year thesis at Ruth Prowse photography school?
In what ways, if at all, has your style or subject matter changed since you first started out?
Since my black and white landscape days at art school…I moved on to the shooting-my-girlfriends snapshot years, to a more classic approach in my recent fashion and personal work. Although it’s always been pretty much the same language.
How would you describe your photographs to someone who has never seen them before?
You mean to South Africans?
What are you influenced or inspired by?
The human condition I guess.
Together with Frank Rocholl, you founded Mirage Magazine in 2010. Could you tell us your thinking behind it?
Mirage is a scrapbook serving as an outlet for my more superficial obsessions, like architecture, girls, cars and summer holidays. Or maybe these are the important things and everything else is superficial..?
Last year your first photographic monograph, Purienne, was published. What projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a book about the Koisan of the Kalahari.
What are you currently looking at, reading and listening to?
I prefer not to reveal my sources.
Is there something about you we’d be surprised to learn?
You’ll probably be surprised by most things I choose not to reveal, like my sources.