Henry Roy “SUPERSTITION”

There is something engaging – moving, even – in Roy’s work. His photography is evocative, dreamy and at moments seems like there is a higher power present. Beauty is and has always been a work of nature and Roy is proving us all that. James Laxton, a screenwriter of Academy Award Best Picture winner Moonlight, even said in a recent interview with Time.com, “[Henry] Roy shaped a lot of how Barry [Jenkins] and I approached the film at the very, very beginning,”

Henry Roy is a French-Haitian photographer. He was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, but at the age of three, together with his family, emigrated to France. His ‘break’ came in 1998 when Elein Fleiss, the co-founder of Purple Magazine, spotted his work. Since then his work has been exhibited and published internationally in magazines such as ArtReview, French Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar U.K, W Magazine, Dazed & Confused, Air France Magazine, Hobo and many others. Roy has also published five books and several other publications. His latest book “Superstition” edited by Études Studio is out now.

Henry, how did you get interested in photography?

It was completely by chance. When I was 18, I was in a friend’s photo lab. Photography and the whole production process were foreign to me then. When I saw an image appear on the paper for the first time whilst developing, I felt something unbelievable deep within. I was immediately obsessed with this ‘magical’ experience.

What makes you want to take pictures?

I think that it’s libidinal. It’s driven by desire. It’s like a vital impulse, challenging time and death. More simply speaking, I would say that in most cases the light guides me.

Is there anything else you ever wanted to be besides a photographer/artist?

An artisan. I love wood and for a long time, I have dreamt of building houses and objects with this material.

Are you an artist or a photographer?

When I was much younger, I wanted at all costs to become a photographer. A famous artist, whose portrait I did, said to me: „I’m not at all sure that you’ll succeed in the professional arena, as you are indisputably an artist.“ I was really upset by this as, at the time, I likened art to a wretched and solitary life. I didn’t knowingly choose my relationship with this medium. It has grown through my work. What is more, my world is progressively opening out to other artistic fields.

Do you have an academic photography background or?

Yes. I was lucky to have a mentor, who passed on the basic theory of photography to me, although his history of photography was only from the 60s onwards.

Do you remember your first photograph that you are proud of and that made you feel like you did something right?

Yes. It was a photo in black and white of three of my friends. For the first time I was fascinated by the formal balance of a photo that I had produced. It gave me a glimpse of the immense powers of the transfiguration of the real content in a photographic image.

How has your relationship to photography changed over the years?

I would say that over time, I have become more sparing with images. Although I went through a long manic period, my practice is becoming increasingly serious. I work more intensely and with more concentration than ever.

Do you think photographs can be perfect? Did you ever take a perfect photo?

All depends on what you consider perfect. From a visual point of view, a photo can indeed be perfect which is rather annoying. Regarding the symbolic content of the images, that is much more important in my opinion, I would talk about precision rather than perfection. I have taken several „true“ photos over the course of my long creative quest.

Tell me more about “Superstition.”

Superstition is the title of my last book (published by ETUDES BOOKS). I use this word with a hint of irony as, paradoxically for an image-maker, I firmly believe in the power of the invisible. My Haitian ancestry is no doubt to blame… This title is, of course, indicative of the book’s mystery. But I won’t go into that, as it’s primarily for readers to experience.

How do your parents feel about the pictures you take?

I think that they are both bemused by my work. The latest being very personal and rather distant from their respective systems of representation. I think that they perceive it as belonging to an unfamiliar world. But it’s just an assumption, as we never speak about it.

When it comes to your career, what shaped you the most?

I would say experience (the longevity of a career imparts real self-confidence). And of course, failure remains an excellent driving force.

What did you want to be growing up?

A professional footballer.

What are you most greedy for?

Discovery both deep within myself and physical. Being confronted by the unknown gives me great joy.

Why do you think we are all so vain in this day and age?

Are we really? That’s a huge question. We’re living in exciting as well as frightening times where opposing forces confront each other. I prefer to be optimistic and believe in our untapped potential.

 

What is that one thing no one ever asked you about, that you always wanted to tell, or at least be asked about?

To describe my most wonderful sensuous and voluptuous moment.

Can you please describe your most wonderful sensuous and voluptuous moment?

It was one of those wonderful summer days of youth.

I was in Ibiza with a group of friends. We were exploring a new beach with large flat overlapping stones. The sun was really strong, but the salty wind made it bearable. I remember the brilliant blue Mediterranean, the beautiful tanned bodies of naked girls in the late afternoon light, sea spray whipping the rock walls, and the water spurting flurries of foam. We pretended to be ‘masters’ of the waves, accompanying the exploits of the sea with emphatic motions.

We were in high spirits, little more than children, our young bodies honed by scuba diving.

Suddenly we were very thirsty, surprised to have forgotten to bring anything to drink. Not a single drop of drinking water! We were a long way from anything and didn’t think there was any shop less than forty-five minutes away by car. A primitive fear overwhelmed us as we sped towards the nearest water source.

We had barely left a bumpy road covered in white dust, when as if by magic, a tiny tienda appeared, virtually hidden on the roadside. I remember exactly how I felt when I ordered this ‚agua con gas‘ and then the feeling of it running, sparkling and ice-cold, down my throat, deep into my guts. All sexual experience aside, I really think that this moment was the most sensual of my life. It was one of those pure moments of grace, when you are exactly where you’re supposed to be, the perfect moment.

Sometimes simply quenching one’s thirst brings us back to our very essence: human beings composed of 65% water. I was alive and kicking, a human being aware of my physicality. And I was particularly delighted about it.

What is something you find attractive?

A touch of madness.

What is freedom to you?

To settle for what is essential.

Favorite smell?

Orange blossom.

Worst habit?

Eating sugary things.

What are you working on at the moment?

A project that combines photography and text. It’s a docudrama loosely inspired by Chris Marker’s La Jetée. I am also developing a piece of research focusing on the symbolism of masks and bas-reliefs in Native American and African cultures, and I am trying my hand at exhibition curatorship, as well as performance.

Text: Katja Horvat

Photo: Henry Roy, represented by Sunday Gallery .