DAVID HOWARD INTERVIEWS ROBERT HEINECKEN                                                     



QUESTION #1 DH: How do you feel photography, in your life time, has changed?

ANSWER RH: Prior to the time I began making photographs (in the 60’s) and incorporating them into etching and other print mediums, I wasn’t really conscious of photography. I probably was no more conscious than the average person. I wasn’t aware of the significant changes that had gone on prior to that time. I simply wasn’t interested.
    I think everyone was aware of “life” magazine, and that kind of photography, but before I began making photographs I wasn’t conscious of photography as an art form at all!   

QUESTION #2 DH: How did photography change after you go involved with it?

ANSWER RH: Well, during that period of time, there has been a really interesting multiplication in photographic ideas that weren’t present initially in the early sixties, such as language in art, which is a fairly recent idea or the whole approach to creating photography from a sociological; sub culture idea. There’s a lot of interesting photographic work about various sub cultures now. Photography is also seen more and more in conceptual form now, as opposed to physical form. The expansion, in the very short period of time that I have been involved, is remarkable!   

QUESTION #3 DH: Do you feel the motivations of young photographers today differs from your original motivations when you began working with photography?
ANSWER RH: That is an interesting question! My early concerns were purely exploratory; without an initial notion that I would do anything with photography. It was really just a matter of using photography in connection with printmaking; on the same basis that I was trying out different media and ideas. It was purely a matter of experimenting to see what would happen.
    Motivations differ a little today. People now have a feeling that there is at least a community for them, but not necessarily a market. There is a way for them, if they are at all ambitious, to make their work visible and a sense there is going to be some support for them; whereas, I never had that feeling until recently.  

QUESTION #4 DH: When you started working with Fine Art Photography was it an “underground” activity with few people involved?
ANSWER RH: Yes it was but it changed very rapidly into something quite different, but certainly not until about 1967 - 1968!
    There were not a lot of people involved when I began. I had the impression I knew almost every one who was exhibiting and showing at that point because there were not that many people doing it. I didn’t know them all, but at least I knew what they were doing, and had previously seen their work. Of course; that’s not the case now. The number of people now involved, on a creative or serious level with photography, is still relatively small but it certainly is no longer an “underground” activity when you have “Newsweek” doing articles concerning Fine Art Photography.
QUESTION #5 DH: Has photography become a “Big Business?”
ANSWER RH: I do not think individuals are profiting in a great way, but institutions; Museums and Universities, are buying the work and many students and teachers of Fine Art Photography are now working in the field. One could conceive of that as certainly being a form of  “Big Business!” 

QUESTION #6 DH: How have photographic galleries changed since you first began to exhibit?
ANSWER RH: Photographic galleries have since increased significantly in number but the longevity of those galleries is tentative. I recall, here in Los Angeles, there were galleries opened four months, five months, six months without them taking any obvious professional posture. They were more like store fronts! Now we have galleries that have a capacity to endure.

    However, I still believe there are not a lot of sales through galleries. Whatever sales are made tend to go to institutions and museum collections rather than to individuals who are very seriously interested in contemporary photography. I don’t know if more of a market for photography exists now than there ever was, but it obviously has increased some what.
    There is an idea “floating” around that contemporary photographs are “hot” items; now selling, but it’s the 19th century and early 20th century photographs that are really being bought and sold. People still want to buy old known vintage photographic work more than contemporary prints. That is the same and it’s not changed a lot!
    It will be interesting to see if there is a real genuine interest in collecting contemporary photographs, as art objects, when all the 19th century and early 20th century photographs are in collections and no longer available.
    People are digging up photographs that date from the early 20th century by photographers that were not really very creative or significant but because those photographers are dead, or from another era, their photographs retain a flavor of being rare. I hope that will eventually change!
    Right now, if someone is starting a photography collection, they usually do not begin with contemporary work. They go back and pick up people like “Siskind,” “Callahan,” and that sort of thing. Those photographers are marketable. I am not saying they are not contemporary, but they are certainly not photographs made by people who are changing things and bringing new pictures and ideas into the situation!   

QUESTION #7 DH: Is there an “established” point of view versus an “avant-garde” point of view in fine art photography and, if you think there is, would you please characterize it?
ANSWER RH: That’s also an interesting question! I remember: when I first began working with photography there was an attitude and I had a feeling there was an “established” point of view that I was working against. I felt that I was working in an alternative way.
    That’s not a common idea any longer. This attitude is now less prevalent that; there is a particular way one must photograph or a particular kind of photograph that is acceptable. Photography has become much more liberal as the medium rapidly expands.
    If there is an “established” point of view, it changes quickly, so it’s hard to determine. Most institutions are conservative and opposed to looking at avante-garde ideas but photographers now have more opportunity for visibility in the public eye. They seem to be more involved professionally with exhibitions and sales than when I began. For me, it was more a matter of “do it and see what happens” attitude. That attitude is still, to some extent, present in my work.    

QUESTION #8 DH: So, when you began, you attempted to establish a new aesthetic point of view which was opposed, whereas now, photographic aesthetics; being more liberal, allow photographers working in unestablished ways to be more easily accepted?    
ANSWER RH: I think so! I always think about that. In fact in the 60’s there were two shows at “Eastman House.” One was entitled “Persistence of Vision.” Now those pictures do not look at all avante-grade, but at the time they were quite different from what we were accustomed to seeing. Another show was “Towards a Social Landscape” which included Robert Frank, Friedlander, Winogrand, Danny Lyons and others. Both of those exhibandits  their books were widely circulated.
    There was an effect and communication concerning alternative aesthetic view points that were practiced in those exhibits and books. I do not think we have that situation now! The idea that you have definitive alternatives no longer exists. The work exhibited in those shows was clearly alternative; whereas now, the alternatives are less defined!

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