Hobbes is a 20-year-old Los Angeles self-portrait photographer who doesn't want to make a big deal about their gender, but prefers the pronouns she or they.
MATTE magazine is a photography journal I started in 2010 as a way to shed light on good work by emerging photographers. Each issue features the work of one artist, and I shoot a portrait of him or her for the issue's cover. As photo editor of VICE, I'm excited to share my discoveries with a wider audience.
Hobbes Ginseberg is a 20-year-old Los Angeles-based photographer who doesn't want to make a big deal about their gender but prefers the pronouns she or they. They moved to Seattle after completing high school, and a year and a half after that followed their dreams to Hollywood. We met when I was in LA visiting artists on official VICE business last month, and I was immediately struck by Hobbes's alert, inquisitive presence. After having known each other for no more than five minutes, we decided we should work together on an issue of MATTE magazine to be released at the New York Art Book Fair this week at MoMA PS1, and went to the roof of the hotel, where I made the above cover portrait. I only had four frames left on my roll of film, but somehow each picture turned out to be interesting. Hobbes is someone who uses their self-image as their art, so this wasn't actually that surprising. A mix of politically engaged self-portraiture in photography in the tradition of Catherine Opie, Cobain-scented soft grunge internet phenomena, and something indescribably glamourous and completely their own, Hobbes's Selfies made me want to find out more about them.
VICE: How did you start taking pictures?
Hobbes Ginsberg: I used to do a lot of street photography. Taking pictures started for me on a trip to New York in the summer of 2010 and I had this "professional" point-and-shoot camera that I borrowed from a friend. I started taking photos of all the people I saw on the street who interested me visually. I had a vague idea of what street photography was at that point from deviantART, and on that trip I saw an exhibition by Henri Cartier-Bresson and some other old guy I dont remember. It took off from there. I did a lot of street work in Nicaragua.
When did you start taking pictures of yourself?
About two years ago I stopped shooting outside for a long time, and felt a need to turn inward so I just took a ton of selfies. It was easier for me to try new things that way. I borrowed some lights from the yearbook team at my school, and thats how I first got into studio work.
What kind of role does taking pictures of yourself play in your life?
In terms of my oeuvre, most people care the most about my selfies, and its what cemented my current aesthetic. It also the work I make that is the most cathartic for me. I get into these moods where I feel really shitty, and the way to fix it is to take photos.
There seems to be some element of performing for the camera—does the need to make new selfies ever effect choices you make about how you present yourself?
I like this question. It made me think about something I hadn't before. Theres a definite connection between the performance of the photos and how I present myself IRL. I play things up in photos because its a safe space to experiment, to do crazier makeup or outfits and to take the styles and vibes I'm interested in to the next level. But I also like to think of them as a documentation. Whenever I get a new hairstyle or a new piece of clothing I'm really into, that will prompt a selfie. I think the need to be constantly changing up my look is related to the photographic process but not an effect of it. My girlfriend says its the other way around, though, so who really knows. They are undoubtedly intertwined.
You're very active on Tumblr—how do you feel about releasing these pictures of yourself to such a wide audience?
Having my photos seen and shared is just as important to me as the process of making them. I post everything to my Tumblr, for better or worse. I love the attention though—I want my work to be seen by as many people as possible. I feel like this method has also made my work more polititcal. In a lot of ways its a part of this new collection of work by young women and minorities who are using this space to define and empower themselves. I like being a part of that movement.
How do you define your gender? It seems, like that is one of the subjects at play in the work.
I identify as queer and use she/they pronouns. I wrote a whole thing about that on my blog.
Dealing with gender identity is definitely a part of my work, in the same way that it is inherently a part of myself. The selfies are about documentation and about depression, and about beauty and positivity and all of the personal issues people deal with. I create them for myself, and gender comes along with that organically, but I am not trying to "say" anything about it. I like that my work can be important for visibility and for the success of queer artists but its important for me that the work is seen through a broader lens than just "gender."
Do you see this as a lifelong project?
I hope I do it for a long time. I really love portraits of older women, and I really admire long-term dedication, but to be honest I can't even fathom what lifelong would mean to me at this point.