Starry Starry Night with Harun Mehmedinović
Digital night photography is relatively easy – but finding the best spot to shoot and getting there often is not. In this episode, Canon Explorer of Light Rick Sammon talks with night sky expert Harun Mehmedinović about his work and his awesome Skyglow project.
Harun Mehmedinovic and Gavin Heffernan of SKYGLOWPROJECT.COM have contributed some of the visuals for Paul Simon's Homeward Bound Farewell Tour, check it out starting in Vancouver on May 16th and continuing through the summer across North America and Europe.
Harun Mehmedinovic and Gavin Heffernan of SKYGLOWPROJECT.COM have created some of the visuals for The Rolling Stones performances, including WILD HORSES and ANGIE, as well as Roger Waters performance of BREATHE at Desert Trip Indio.
Shot/Directed by Gavin Heffernan & Harun Mehmedinovic
SKYGLOW: PHOTOGRAPHY AND FILM SCREENING
Skylight Studios welcomes photographers and filmmakers Gavin Heffernan and Harun Mehmedinovic for an evening of stargazing as seen through a presentation of their timelapse photography films and stills from their expeditions in search of the most breathtaking night skies in the United States.
In 2015, Heffernan and Mehmedinovic collaborated on SKYGLOW, a crowdfunded book and BluRay set that tackles the rising danger and damage of urban light pollution. The fundraising campaign generated a tremendous amount of publicity and ended as the fourth most successful Kickstarter campaign in the Photobooks category.
Pre-sale ticketing ends on December 4 at 11:30pm at Skylight Studios. Tickets also for sale at the door pending availability. All ticket sales are final. No refunds, exchanges or returns are permitted.
Cost: $10.00. Pre-sale ticketing ends on December 4 at 11:30pm at Skylight Studios. Tickets also for sale at the door pending availability. All ticket sales are final. No refunds, exchanges or returns are permitted.
10050 Constellation Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90067
One of the Bloodhoney* images acquired by National Geographic is featured in this list of top fog landscapes by The Huffington Post:
Harun Mehmedinovic & Gavin Heffernan of SKYGLOWPROJECT.COM have their timelapses featured by the legendary Rolling Stones on their ZIP CODE Stadium Tour! Try to catch the tour this summer and watch out for MOONLIGHT MILE or WILD HORSES to play!
SKYGLOWPROJECT.COM has concluded the epic KICKSTARTER campaign as 4th most successful Photobooks Kickstarter of all time! Missed the Kickstarter but still want to participate? Rewards are still available: BACK THIS PROJECT.
Shot and Produced by Gavin Heffernan (SunchaserPictures.com) and Harun Mehmedinović (Bloodhoney.com)
Created in association with BBC EARTH (bbc.com/earth/world). Now available in 1080 HD!
Music: "White Dwarf 2" by Terry Devine-King. Performed by Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Please like the Facebook page for our exciting upcoming Kickstarter venture SKYGLOW (facebook.com/skyglowproject). Launching April 3rd, SKYGLOW is a unique Kickstarter quest where Gavin and Harun will explore the most exotic dark sky locations in North America, while examining the complex biological and psychological impacts of light pollution on society.
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona hosts some of the most unique landscapes on the planet, from the red iron oxide cliffs of its namesake, to the Jurassic-era petrified sandstone of White Pocket. This area features what some have described as "brain rocks" and "cauliflower rocks," possibly formed through earthquakes after the landscape was lithified from sand into rock. White Pocket sees very few visitors, due to an hour-long drive by strenuous sand roads often impassable due to rain and snow.
As the second part of a BBC Earth timelapse trilogy, our shoot consisted of two days and two nights of intense conditions, including high winds, thunderstorms, fog heavy rain, and other obstacles. Despite the adversity, the tempest broke and some incredible stars shone through to put on a show. Shot on Canon DSLR Cameras. Star trails created using rotation of earth's axis and STARSTAX. Wide motion control cliffs shot achieved with Dynamic Pecrception Stage Zero Dolly.
Stills and Behind the Scenes Pictures Available at Flickr:
The first timelapse of the BBC Earth trilogy (WAVELIGHT) is available here: vimeo.com/112008512
Thanks: Michron by Alpine Labs, Matt Walker, Thomas Martin, Vermilion Cliffs, NAU, Ty McNeeley, Greg Horvath
A stunning geological formation, known as the Wave, has been captured on film as never before.
The Wave is found in the desert of Arizona in the US. It is an undulating formation of sandstone rock formed by erosion during the Jurassic period, which lasted from 201-145 million years ago.
The film is actually a series of still photographs, over 10,000 in total, painstakingly stitched together by film-makers Gavin Heffernan and Harun Mehmedinović.
Music: NEBULA by Mark Petrie (markpetrie.com). Courtesy MONTAGE MX
Just a few days after the launch, a Timelapse collaboration between Bloodhoney* and Suncahser Pictures has reached nearly 100,000 views and has been featured by USA Today, Yahoo, The Weather Channel, among others!
Photography Week Cover
YAHOO TRAVEL “#Daydream: You Must Watch this Epic Video from Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park” https://www.yahoo.com/travel/were-obsessed-with-this-epic-night-and-day-time-85535229927.html
USA TODAY “Photographer Gavin Heffernan sent these gorgeous photos to us.” http://usatoday.tumblr.com/post/85644648932/photographer-gavin-heffernan-sent-these-gorgeous?sf26133821=1 VIDEO: “USA TODAY Three-peat” http://youtu.be/9vs5DfpgzQE
NPR “Look Up in the Sky and Live Big” http://n.pr/1ob9vI5
CNET “Stars, Milky Way captured in stunning time-lapse photos and video” http://www.cnet.com/news/stars-milky-way-captured-in-stunning-time-lapse-photos-and-video/
DAILY MAIL “Hypnotic timelapse pictures capture stunning shots of the sky at night over the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2632585/Amazing-timelapse-pictures-capture
SLATE “Stunning Time-Lapse Video of Arizona's Milky Way” http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2014/05/13/time_lapse_animation_the_milky_way_over_arizona.html
UNIVERSE TODAY “Stunning Timelapse: Arizona Sky of Clouds and Stars” http://www.universetoday.com/111858/stunning-timelapse-arizona-sky-of-clouds-and-stars/
THE WEATHER CHANNEL National Interview on Weather Center LIVE (05/16/14) http://youtu.be/KYk5O2AEkQ8
CTV CANADA National Broadcast: “Kevin Newman LIVE” (05/14/14) http://youtu.be/bUsLNC-q-30
PHOTOGRAPHY WEEKLY Image Used as Cover Photo for May 15th, 2014
BACKPACKER MAGAZINE “Watch an Inspirational Desert Timelapse” http://www.backpacker.com/news-inspirational-timelapse-grand-canyon/destinations/18606
ABC 15 – Arizona “Arizona timelapse video shows off beauty of our state” http://www.abc15.com/news/state/arizona-timelapse-video-shows-off-beauty-of-our-state-video
MOTHER NATURE NETWORK “Time-lapses reveal dazzling starscape over Grand Canyon, Monument Valley” http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/wilderness-resources/blogs/time-lapses-reveal-dazzling-starscape-over-grand-canyon
io9 “You've Been Looking At The Grand Canyon Wrong” http://io9.com/youve-been-looking-at-the-grand-canyon-wrong-1575679472
EPOCH TIMES “Incredible Time-Lapse Video of Milky Way, Grand Canyon” http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/671492-incredible-time-lapse-video-of-milky-way-grand-canyon-that-which-awaits-the-dawn/
TUCSON NEWS NOW “Amazing time-lapse of Arizona's dramatic landscapes” http://www.tucsonnewsnow.com/story/25524171/amazing-time-lapse-video-of-arizona
LE SCIENZE (Italian Scientific American) “Monument Valley e Via Lattea, il timelapse dà spettacolo” http://www.lescienze.it/news/2014/05/17/video/timelapse_monument_valley_navajo-2144338/1/
KOTAKU JAPAN “Time-lapse of milky way too beautiful Grand Canyon” http://www.kotaku.jp/2014/05/milky-way-america.html
PIJAMASURF “8 timelapses que te volarán la cabeza” http://pijamasurf.com/2014/05/8-time-lapses-que-te-volaran-la-cabeza/
With Bloodhoney* the photographer shatters the monotony of everyday life and tempts fate as a matter of principle.
by Theis Duelund
Growing up in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War, Harun Mehmedinović and his friends often made a game of daring each other to run across the wide empty boulevards known as “sniper alleys.” “I lost friends that way,” says Mehmedinović. “But as terrible and irrational as it sounds, it helped us stay sane. It was a way of rebelling against what was happening and trying to live in the moment.”
A desire to escape the horrors of routine has shaped the 31-year-old filmmaker and photographer’s Bloodhoney* project, a series of portraits featuring Mehmedinović’s friends posed against stunning vistas in the great American landscape. Mehmedinović, who divides his time between Los Angeles and Flagstaff, where he teaches photography and film at Northern Arizona University, decided to compile the images in a coffee table book. The first title, Séance, came out earlier this year after one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns ever. The next book, Persona, will be out in August 2014.
“Whenever I visited my friends they complained about how their adult lives were chained to routine,” Mehmedinović says. “I suggested a photo shoot in which the setting would be determined by whoever I was shooting. They picked a location and I just went along with it.” Last April, Mehmedinović discussed his work in a TEDx talk, "Living in the Moment," at Atlanta’s Emory University.
Bloodhoney*, the literal translation of the Turkish word “Balkan,” is about breaking free of self-imposed restrictions and being present in the now. The subjects sometimes wear beautiful gowns, in other cases they're completely naked. The models themselves, however, aren’t the most transfixing element of Mehmedinović’s images; instead, the viewer’s gaze is drawn to the compositional harmony between subject and nature. In one shot, a woman in a white dress is enveloped by a blizzard, her ghostly figure the focal point in a wintry landscape. Another shows a woman standing on a rock in the surf, her stance recalling a figure in one of Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich's works, which often depict a lone man contemplating his smallness in the face of nature.
To call Mehmedinović a Romantic isn’t inaccurate; like the nineteenth-century artists and writers (Byron and Goethe among them) who fled civilization and embraced nature in search of a more authentic life, he has spent much of his time looking for new ways to connect with his surroundings. As a student at UCLA, he often took solitary road trips across the country, stopping only when the environment beckoned. “In Oklahoma I once saw a tornado up close. It was a surreal image. Looking in one direction the sky was clear and the sun was shining. When I turned my head, I saw a tornado come barreling across the flat land.” Mehmedinović stopped his car and got out his camera. “It was dangerous, but I just found it so appealing to entirely disconnect from being a modern human being.”
Abandoning the structures of everyday life has been transformative for Mehmedinović and his subjects. “We did a shoot in an old bunker in Virginia, close to Mount Vernon," he says. "I asked the model if she had any dilemmas in her life, and she explained that she had married a man she didn’t love in deference to her parents. She said it was like being a prisoner in her own body.” The bunker, which had previously been occupied by squatters, was filthy and reeked of human waste. “When the model saw it she said, ‘I love it. I want to do the shoot naked,’” Mehmedinović says. “When I saw the photos afterwards, I understood. That space perfectly expressed how she felt about her marriage.”
Another shoot involved venturing out onto the ice of Boston’s frozen Charles River. “When we got back to shore I threw a rock and it crashed right through the ice,” Mehmedinović says. “People watching us probably thought we were insane, but it was quite beautiful, one of those rare moments where you’re able to completely take your life into your own hands.”
While Séance focused on the process itself—following the models around for hours at a time, allowing them space to find themselves in front of the camera—the second book, Persona, will center on how Mehmedinović’s subjects perform their own identities. “I would ask the models to come as they were but many showed up in a favorite dress or other items that functioned as a kind of mask,” he explains. “I found this layer interesting and decided to focus on it.”
The beauty of impulse is the organizing principle for Mehmedinović’s work. “People are miserable because they never get a chance to show who they are,” he says. “You have to be able to lose yourself sometimes and forget about time and all the other things that order your life. You have to embrace chaos.”
For 60 days, the photographer Harun Mehmedinovic is focusing on his Kickstarter campaign and not much else. He usually doesn't sleep much anyway, a habit he's had since moving to the United States at 13 after surviving four years of the Bosnian War. Living in Flagstaff, Arizona, teaching film and photography at Northern Arizona University, he spends most of his days sending messages to hundreds of people, asking them to pledge to buy something from his campaign to fund the printing of his second book, Persona. Most people don't respond.
There are misconceptions about contributing to a Kickstarter campaign, that it's like donating to a cause. And because you're buying a product directly from the person who made it, there's an anxiety about his self-indulgence. The price that Harun set for the reward of one digital copy of the book and one print copy ($50) is likely less than what it'll eventually be sold for in a bookstore. The minimum monetary goal for funding his project, $20,000, actually lies much lower than what he hopes to make, about $35,000. Whenever people contribute, Harun thanks them publicly on his Facebook, always adding the link to the Kickstarter page.
I'm part of Harun's project. After I wrote an article about him for the Los Angeles Times in May 2012, we kept in touch and worked together on a photo and text essay about rites of passage for an issue of Blindfold Magazine. He decided to launch a series of books about his photography project, Bloodhoney*. He asked me to edit the text that would accompany his images. Through Kickstarter Harun was able to fund the limited printing of his first book, Séance. This September he distributed print copies to those who had backed the project while simultaneously launching the second Kickstarter, for Persona.
Harun and I first met because of his father's writing. I had been reading the book Motel Chronicles by Sam Shepard all fall of my junior year in college. A smattering of poems, short stories, monologues and dialogues, it unlocked a certain vault of my subconscious. It seemed so personal that I thought it must not exist for anyone else. In an interview I found, Shepard was asked about other writers he admired. He mentioned Semezdin Mehmedinovic, who he said was Serbian, and had written a book called Sarajevo Blues:
"He accomplished the kind of book I've always tried to do and haven't totally succeeded at, which is a combination of poetry, prose, short stories, diary, all thrown into one thing. I love that form. He actually managed to do it with Sarajevo Blues. During that horrible conflict he chose to stay there in the city. He had a wife and kids and decided to stick it out. It's an amazing account of a writer under fire."
Enough said. I went online and ordered the thing after learning that no local bookstores had it in stock. Rooted in Mehmedinovic's reading of translations of American literature, including Jack Kerouac's Mexico City Blues and, yes, Shepard's Motel Chronicles, Sarajevo Blues collects dispatches from a shattered world, Sarajevo during the city's four-year siege in the Bosnian War. In fact, Mehmedinovic decided to stay in Sarajevo with his wife Sanja and nine-year-old son Harun (they were not, as Shepard thought, Serbian).
When I read Sarajevo Blues for the first time, it was 2012. I wondered what had happened to the Mehmedinovic family, who had supposedly come to the United States. Through Google I learned that Semezdin's son, Harun, who made poignant appearances in Sarajevo Blues, including a scene where Semezdin finds gray hairs in the 10-year-old boy's head, had attended UCLA film school and the American Film Institute. He had made a short film about the Bosnian War and was now in the middle of a photography project called Bloodhoney*. He was on Facebook and was now 29 and living in Los Angeles like me. I was taking a feature writing class for school at the time and needed a story to tell. I wrote Harun an email.
We met up at a Brazilian restaurant in Culver City. I brought Harun's father's books with me along with notepad and tape recorder. Dressed in black with a messenger bag slung over his shoulder, Harun was tall and lanky with his hair pulled back in a ponytail. I had never known anyone who had survived a war, never mind one where children were prime targets for snipers. To rebel against the most terrifying aspect of the war, Harun and his friends used to tempt the snipers by running across streets where bullets often flew. They'd play rock-paper-scissors for who could go first, when the sniper wasn't paying attention. The others would follow. Though many kids died playing this game, Harun told me that such rebellion against the status quo of fear was necessary to keep sane.
At the Brazilian restaurant, we ate and talked for four hours, till the waiters locked us out.
Harun's photography project proved to be about more than capturing the saturated, incandescent beauty I'd seen in shots posted on his website. At dinner Harun explained that his project was rooted in the sense of adrenaline he'd had as a kid during the war, amidst the collapse of the social fabric. He had spent his adolescence in Phoenix and then in Alexandria, Virginia, and he had been lonely, angry, and frustrated by his inability to match the primacy of the war zone. In school he argued with teachers, got in fights, and kept to himself, watching films and planning his own path to Hollywood.
After some success with his short film, In the Name of the Son, Harun kept crisscrossing the country, traveling ceaselessly as he'd done since landing in the United States, taking pictures of landscapes and skies. In his mid-twenties he found himself more cooped up than usual, reading lots of articles on the Internet, working on film scripts, realizing that he'd worked himself into an uncomfortable isolation. On the film festival circuit he reconnected with friends from college who were broken down by nine-to-five jobs.
Over a series of hours-long interviews I did with Harun in March and April 2012, I began to see how he had combined his filmmaker's sense of vision and intellectual grasp of philosophical sources like Joseph Campbell and Rumi with a deep personal need to re-connect with the end-of-the-world adrenaline of those four years of his youth. Realizing that a film project would be too difficult to manage, Harun grabbed his camera and asked friends to pick any location they wanted and any clothing they wanted. He would follow them for up to 15 hours straight, giving time and space for them to dissolve the anxieties of their day-to-day lives. After doing dozens of these shoots all over the continent, he could pinpoint certain series and images that had captured some sublime quality reminiscent of the open-world beauty present in chaos.
In the United States, stability is often promoted as wellbeing. The privilege of being able to live mostly free from violence and societal chaos allows people to rest on what they have. There are rarely opportunities to challenge this way of life unless a person faces himself and breaks down some very tense barriers. Even though I hungered to break down my own walls, I intrinsically feared the ardor and instability it would require, even for just 10 hours. When I interviewed a handful of people who had been subjects of Harun's shoots, I heard about the difficulty some had had becoming vulnerable. Some even recalled specific images that cropped up: the bar scene, their families, the clothes they wear to work.
One of my favorite passages from Séance was the story of a 21-year-old woman named Bri.
When Harun got in touch with Bri, I remember him telling me that her parents had grounded her. "She's 21!" he exclaimed. "How do you ground someone who's 21?" Wholeheartedly in love with and in need of dance in her life, Bri's passion had interfered with her family's hopes for her future. She told Harun about having to hide her dancing, containing it to private moments in front of the bathroom mirror and even on her way to school, where she was free to act as she pleased. The first shoot Harun did with her was in a lake, where she contorted her body as if moving to music. A far-off kayaker sat and watched, and when the shoot wrapped the kayaker applauded.
I could tell that Harun cared a lot about Bri's story. Bri was a free spirit trapped by her circumstances, by a situation that continued to deprive her of control. Even though their backstories were so different, and even though the plight of an American millennial seems to pale in urgency compared to a refugee's, I could see the frustrated child in Harun connecting with Bri's desire to break free. At the root, they had known the same frustration, and their acts of rebellion were identical if not exactly in scale.
"In America, you are taught to fear and obey, same as in any other place," Harun told me. "My rebellion was against fear and so is theirs. They are, in essence, afraid to live. The sniper bit is a thing a child would do, and in itself it means keeping the youth alive. For most people, that experience on the shoots is about childhood, literally. They become children again. It means that certain fears just slowly vanish."
Persona will focus on a specific element of the project: some people show up to shoots dressed as a sort of character. This element bothered Harun at first, begging him to wonder whether the characters represented a more authentic representation or a retreat from who the people really are. Harun said, "Let's face it; we all wear masks every day. We probably wear a different mask for every person we meet. We probably wear a mask for every place we go. Very rarely do we share with others who we really are. Very rarely do we feel confident and courageous enough to just be ourselves." The book will explore the shoots where this was relevant, providing details from the lives of the people involved.
I have yet to experience a shoot--we've made plans, but Harun's travels are so impulsive that he's often only in town somewhere for a night or a couple of days. I've realized that the deeper I become entrenched in Harun's perspective on the world, the more I benefit from it. For awhile, before I knew him, and when I was getting to know him, I still felt like his frame of reference wasn't so foreign to me, even though he had survived one of the most drastic wars in recent history.
I think, more than anything, the Bloodhoney* project offers people the chance to have a transcendental experience. The name itself refers to the word "Balkan," a combination of the Turkish words for "blood" and "honey." Harun said that if you are living a full life, it will be bittersweet. You will be feeling the good things and the bad things, and you will have escaped the monotonous gray area where nothing is felt at all.
Having found an outlet during the war, Harun found that vein again here, where rebellion against the status quo isn't as easily pronounced. And instead of coveting it, he offers it to anyone who has a free day, some favorite clothing, and an ideal location in mind.
Harun Mehmedinovic will be presenting the Bloodhoney* project at a Gallery exhibition at Galerie in La Jolla, California! Simultaneously, there will be a Bloodhoney by Harun Mehmedinovic book "Seance" reading and signing at the legendary Warwick's bookstore on November 7th at 7pm! Address: 7812 Girard Ave, La Jolla, California, 92037.
Please visit the event page at: http://warwicks.indiebound.com/event/harun-mehmedinovic
To keep up with the updates, please visit https://www.facebook.com/blood.honey.by.harun.mehmedinovic or www.bloodhoney.com and give it a "like."
You can learn more about the Bloodhoney project by watching the TED Talk by Harun Mehmedinovic:
or reading the L.A.Times Article about the project: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/may/03/entertainment/la-et-bosnian-photographer-20120503
A filmmaker by trade, Harun Mehmedinovic took up photography as a hobby during his road trips across America. Years later, his project “Bloodhoney*” became one of the most successful Kick starter photography campaigns of all time. Harun’s photographs have been featured by major publications, including Vogue Italia and the Los Angeles Times. Prior to his venture into professional photography, Harun’s film “In the Name of the Son” premiered at Telluride Film Festival and won over thirty international awards including Shanghai, Savannah, and Cleveland film festivals. It was the first live action short film to receive an exclusive screening for the members of United States congress on Capitol Hill. Harun earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he studied screenwriting and theater directing, and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Film Directing from the American Film Institute. Harun is represented by Creative Artists Agency and Anonymous Content.
Bijan Tehrani: What inspired you to become a photographer?
Harun Mehmedinovic: As a child, I fell in love with oral storytelling, which is now just about a dead art form in the western world. Although I was born in Sarajevo, I partly grew up in the countryside where many of my family members were hunters, and after their hunt we would gather around the campfire and they would tell stories of what happened that day. Of course, most of those stories would be embellished to say the least, or entirely made up, but they were always exciting and something about that experience was primal and struck a chord with me and still lingers.
I was captivated, but never quite digested the true importance of stories until encountering Joseph Campbell. He has a quote that very much points to why stories are important: "I think what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive." Stories are ultimately reflections of someone's else's journey, recounts of a rite of passage, which has led to some sort of wisdom which they then pass on to those who haven't undergone such a journey as to empower them to seek their own adventures. This is very much what made me fall in love with Mark Twain's writings as a kid for example. As kids, we all connect with the adventures in his stories; we all want that sense of freedom and wonder, and a rejection of norms and ideologies. We all want to rebel, pave our own way through adventures, and experience that "rapture of being alive."
Getting back to the question, I view photography as just one of many mediums for telling stories. With film being my first passion, I first learned photography through cinematography, which is somewhat a roundabout way to do so. Cinematographers usually get some of their practice in through photography, and I went about it completely the opposite way, and it has influenced my style as a photographer. I prefer dramatic, contrast feel to the images, as if they are still frames from a film, I think they have taken on a cinematic quality because of that.
I first experimented with photography as a hobby about ten years ago, during my studies at UCLA. Twice a year I would drive from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. and back, along Route 40, photographing landscapes. It was a way to disconnect from the daily grind, have a rare moment of solitude, and re-charge for the following six months. I think this sense of freedom, wide open space, a certain release, led me to pick up a still camera again a few years later, but this time consciously, as part of a project, and for the first time involving human subjects. I say subjects as I would like to draw a distinction between models (who are there to serve the photographer) and subjects (who are there to be served by the photographer).
BT: How do you pick your subjects?
HM: When I was going around the film festival circuit, where I was screening a film I had made, I met old friends – some of whom I hadn’t seen in many years. Many were rooted in a 9-5 existence, living highly structured, stressful lives. They were stuck in that mode of always looking and planning ahead and constantly looking behind seeing if they met goals, but never living in the present. They rarely, if ever, engaged in creative or artistic endeavors. I initially wanted to involve them in my film projects, but that would have been very difficult to do at such a large scale, so I shifted my attention to photography.Instead of going to a coffee shop, I proposed that they take a day off, pick a place that has meaning to them, and choose clothes in which they feel like themselves. That was the starting point. From there the idea was to improvise; spontaneity was to be at the heart of the process. I wasn’t surprised when so many chose locations away from their work and place of living. Naturally, when given a choice, most of us want to get away for a day.
Typically, early on in these shoots, my friends would ask me to give them instructions. Sometimes they wondered what they were doing there, perhaps feeling bored or frustrated. Slowly, their minds began to let go, and they started doing what they felt like: jumping, climbing, wielding props, and taking risks. It felt in some ways like a return to childhood, physicality took over and the camera was there to capture the energy of the moment, ideally telling a story. These "séances" sometimes went on for 10-15 hours. They included long hikes through mountains, head-on collisions with hail and snow, walks through swamps and lakes, and quite a few mosquito bites and bruises. Ultimately, there is something exhilarating and primal about that kind of experience, a head-on collision with nature. It’s genetically embedded. One can’t help but be in the moment, in the present, with heightened senses, acting on impulses.
Because of the nature of this process, the experience of the day was most important, not the resulting images. You could never predict what would come on any particular day, and the idea was to let go and let things come together by circumstance. This is very opposite of the notions of safety and caution that we are bombarded with by the current society. Although being in front of the camera while letting go may seem uncomfortable, after these "séances," just about every one of my friends wanted to keep going, do it again. Each shoot was its own unique adventure with its own surprises. That rush of adrenaline, feeling of being a child again, uninhibited no matter how silly or dangerous, was liberating for myself as well. I had to be there in the present, following the person, shooting without interjecting and letting go to instincts as to where to be at any given time. It was a therapeutic experience for everyone involved more often than not.
I called the project "Bloodhoney" in reference to the Balkans, the region I am from. It is a combination of two Turkish words: Bal, meaning “honey” and Kan, meaning “blood.” The name refers to the bittersweet nature of life, the moments of beauty and the sublime spontaneously captured in the photographs.
BT: One can see a lot of movement in some of your photos, they are like slices of a life on the move, is that a result of this process you describe?
HM: I am following a subject around and snapping away, sometimes they stop, sometimes they keep going, but I’m always on the move finding the angles that best capture the moment. Sometimes the instincts are in the right place, and I capture those split second moments, other times things may be moving too quickly, but it’s important to let things come as they may and not interject. Ultimately, the experience of the moment is what counts, so it’s important for me not to break up the flow and constantly remind the person the camera is there. Often, they are in their own moment, in their element, and I need to be right there with them and capture it as it unfolds. Of course, that controlling photographer part of me often sees those moments that go by without being captured for one reason or another, whether it is that I’m moving to try to find an angle, or something else. It can be frustrating, but that’s part of the beauty of the process, it helps foster instincts and suspends overthinking.
BT: How much time do you spend preparing for a shoot?
HM: In the case of this project, very little outside of making sure the equipment is ready. I rarely use anything besides a camera, as things such as tripods would make it too difficult to be constantly mobile. I refrain from use for flash as to not bring in a distraction; rather I depend on the natural light in all situations. Also, these shoots sometimes take an entire day, so part of preparation is getting good rest. Early on in the project, I was quickly reminded how out of shape I was at the time. Five to ten mile hikes while carrying a heavy camera and an even heavier backpack would burn me out entirely by the end of the day. The adrenaline carries you only so much, then it’s a complete crash. For the first time in years, my mind and body were being put to a test simultaneously, and I loved that. I think the same was true of my subjects.
BT: You mentioned this cinematic quality of your visual approach, could you tell us more about the role that locations, shapes and colors play in your photos?
HM: I think this very much ties back to the process of photography I described above, many locations being their own surprises, it's about being open to that idea and not try to control it. I like to capture "ordinary" spaces in such a way that they appear extraordinary, because in many ways they are extraordinary. We take everything around us for granted, but remember how we all viewed the world as children. It was an amazing place, full of wonder. One just has to take chance and be open to surprises that the day brings. For example, on one of the shoots, we went up to Mt. Wilson, 30min from L.A. to shoot in the early morning fog in what was forecast to be a sunny day. We got there and the biggest hailstorm in the recorded history of Los Angeles began. Most people would try to get off the mountain as soon as possible, in fact, I only saw two more cars on the mountain road that day, so nobody wanted to go and experience this amazing wonder even when the TV stations reported about it.
For me, this was the enormous miracle one hopes for on a shoot, the dusty desert landscape turned completely frozen. It was an image that place had seen maybe once or twice in an entire century and never in recorded history to this extent as I later found out on the news. It's a moment we couldn't have planned out, and its moment we likely won’t be able to recreate in that place again in our lifetime. This was all about taking a chance, going somewhere, taking time to observe and inviting surprises. Rumi, the great Persian poet once wrote: "Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don't claim them. Feel the artistry moving through, and be silent."
With that being said, there are also locations which have a distinctly different energy about them, quite simply something in the air that feels different. A good example for this would be places like Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, where the Civil War is said to have begun when John Brown was caught and executed, or a place such as Antietam battlefield where thousands of men died in a single day. The first time I went to Harper's Ferry, I had no idea of its history. I was a kid still in middle school and I remember not even wanting to be on that trip that day, but I felt something about the place and it stayed with me, and learning the history only shed part of the light on this. Places such as "Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump" in Alberta, Canada where Native Americans of the Plains used to send thousands of buffalo over the cliffs in what has to be the biggest annual hunt world has ever seen. This process had been done for thousands of years; underneath those cliffs are layers and layers upon buffalo bones over hundreds of centuries. That place, although completely unrelated to Harper's Ferry, had a similar feel. The sheer sublime was in the air and it was undeniable. The place itself demanded more than a moment of solitude. In fact, America is full of these place where the sublime of nature meets the sublime of man and leaves behind a tangible tension in the air. I think the subjects of these shoots felt this too, as do many people who visit these places every year.
BT: Are you using any computer image editing in order to process your photos further more?
HM: I primarily work to enhance contrast and produce accurate color as far as post production goes. I try to achieve the highest dynamic range in-camera, so I could have freedom to salvage details in light and dark areas of the image. I also find texture to be important. Ultimately, I would like the image to evoke an emotional response, an intrigue, and questions on part of the audience. I enhance the image only as much as it's needed for the mood and tone to be best communicated. As I come from more of a fine arts rather than journalistic background as far as photography and education goes, I am not a purist of the form. I like to experiment, and am not afraid to make mistakes in that process. Many of my photography friends have a very firm stance against post production of images, and perhaps that serves their purposes them best so I will only say that I like to leave doors open to all possibilities.
BT: How is it working in film versus photography?
HM: Much less intimate. What photography allows me to do it be entirely spontaneous and impulsive. Little to no planning, just going out there and letting things happen as they may. It's perfect for certain type of stories. Film on the other hand transports you into an entire other world, a highly sensual experience. Film is my first love and I have wanted to make film since an early age, and it is something I will dedicate myself to on my next project as the story is perfectly suited for it. Primary challenge in film is chemistry of collaboration. Assuming that is necessary has been done to draw up the blueprint, as in, write the script, that is merely the promise but the filming process will determine the end result. Making any film is a tour de force, it's a massive in scale compared to photography even if it's a small independent production with a small crew. Given the amount of money involved, decision making is another challenge, getting everyone on the same page, getting everybody to put film first and egos and other considerations second.
While it is important to start from a great script, great concept, I found it just as important to allow the project to breathe, not to try to execute everything to perfection and suffocate everyone involved. Ultimately, it has to be a beautiful symphony where everyone else involved brings something to the table that I was a writer/direction did not. When everyone is fully behind it, putting all their love, all their passion into it, the whole will be greater than sum of its parts. That is not to say collaboration and chemistry plays no role in photography, it absolutely does as trust has to be established between me and the subjects. I am there with them, not to impose my will on them, they have to trust me to open up and be they. However, with a film, you have to multiply that by hundreds. It's a massive undertaking with many factors; making a great film is not an easy thing to do. Many things have to come together, but if the concept comes from a genuine place, and there is passion and fervor driving the process, in my experience things turn out well more often than not. I love both of these mediums.
BT: Are there photographers that have influenced your work? HM: As far as stylistic influences, they come mainly from cinematography, as that is where I started. Guys like John Seale, Christopher Doyle, Vittorio Storaro, Darius Khondji, and Conrad Hall, among others. I also have to credit certain painters, especially Caspar David Friedrich and Caravaggio. I have always been drawn to strong contrasts, deep, rich blacks in particular, and I think I owe much of that to those influences. I only began to appreciate photographers later, I think what they do is far more understated by nature. We as observers tend to take photos for granted, especially today when we are bombarded with images.
I had come to appreciate two photographers in particular, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Joel Peter Witkin. Bresson for his talent in capturing particular moments in time almost to perfection, not only does he seem to be in the perfect spot at the perfect time, but also the dialogue the human subjects have with the landscape, or rather, their surroundings. He captures a story in each image, and it always demands my attention. With so many great photographers choosing portraiture, it’s refreshing to see someone who had a knack for the moment and the environment. As far as I have seen, nobody after him has achieved such a blend of art and journalism photography. Witkin, too demands attention, for different reasons, and he stuck to a concept most artists wouldn’t dare attempt. One can hardly be neutral to his photographs, it has to cause a reaction, and he pulled this off essentially in studio environment, which is the least appealing place to me as a photographer. He is both a photographer and a sculptor, while his photographs are essentially paintings, and how many photographers have that versatility?
As far as contemporary, more recent photographers, I would say Todd Hido has been my favorite. He has an uncanny ability to capture the spirit, the essence of a place. All of his projects are very different visually, but they have that one common thread. In today’s world where everything is over stylized and overstated, the fact that Hido’s approach is subtle is in itself is an achievement.
BT: What’s the next step for your project and how do you see your future in photography? HM: Next is to complete the book I am currently working on, which will feature photos and stories from the project. I plan several such books because of the overwhelming amount of material, but each will be slightly thematically different. After that, I plan to exhibit the project where it is possible and appropriate to do so, ultimately I would like to communicate ideas behind the project to audiences, and use the images merely as illustration. Recently, I have been invited to present the project in a TEDx talk in Atlanta, which I think is a great platform to share the concept. It's an honor and I look forward to it.