BELGIUM - PAUL HERBST, MAYBE RUSSIAN BEARS, AND A HALF-DEAD CAT
Paul Herbst does more than photographing his friends--his imagery is something of a scavenger hunt of trees, human hair, and smoke. After some persuasion I got Paul to chat with me, and I started talking about bears walking around in Moscow. He told me about his parents' half-dead cat who has magical powers, his desire to photograph the US, and doing nothing in the meantime (which is highly doubtful). He just published the first issue of his zine, My Shit Is Gold, and is now in the process of doing the second. And he doesn't even own a digital camera.
Vice: Let's start simple. What's your favorite color?
Paul Herbst: Blue, my eyes are blue and I like all other colors too. Yeah, it rhymes.
Are you originally from London?
No, I'm from one eastern European country you know nothing about, Lithuania.
What is it like there? You're right, I really know nothing about it.
It's something like a weird mixture of Nebraska and Mexico, only it's cold there. Yeah, and Russian influence is hudge.
I hear grizzly bears walk around on the streets with leashes in Russia as pets. That's what a friend from Moscow told me.
Really, I've been in Russia two times and I never saw grizzly bears, only skinheads and lots of police.
Do you prefer film or digital photography?
Film. I don't even own a digital camera. I like digital, but I don't know how to achieve the same things that I can do with film.
Do you set up most of the photos you take? There's such a wide range of things you photograph, how do you manage to edit down?
Yeah, I kind of set up most of my photographs. I'm always looking for certain things that are stuck in my mind and sometimes I just find things that are just set up the way I want them to be, so there is no need to interfere or to make any adjustments and I just take the picture. I'm not involved in the setting up process physically, but I think I'm somehow responsible for that. I hope that makes sense. As for a theme, I always know what I'll be shooting next. I have several ideas going on in my mind which sometimes seem not connected, but in the editing process I always find out that they are.
Do you have people assisting you in setting up the photographs or helping look for them?
I used to work together with my girlfriend. She used to do all the talking stuff, to keep the sitter relaxed, etc. She was always by my side, so we are both responsible for this shit. I'm not very friendly guy so we were a good team. Now I'll work alone and see what happens.
I like the cat photo. Well, I like them all, but that cat photo...
That's my parents' cat; he/it/she is half-dead, seriously. It is half blind. I took LSD many years ago and during that trip we developed a lasting relationship. I love that cat.
You know, I've never done LSD.
You should try it. I don't do it anymore, but it was fun. That cat, it somehow cancels a bad trip if you have it.
What are you thinking about for the second volume of My Shit is Gold?
I'm working on that right now. I only started like three months ago. I'm sure it will be quite different from this one. Maybe darker if you know what I mean?
How long does it take to finish it?
A year or two, I'm so slow and in the meantime I do almost nothing. I am unemployed, I have no money, and I live in a squat house. But I'm happy more than ever. Well, I am thinking on doing some installation peaces and sculpture, but everything is in my head right now. And I was thinking about moving to New York, but I'm not sure when I'll do it. I want to shoot USA.
What kind of camera are you using?
I use a Fuji GA645 Zi now, it's a medium format rangefinder.
Nice. I want one!
RACHEL FAE COLEMAN