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Photographer Agustin Hernandez Creates Friendly Ghosts on 35mm

"I live in daydreams."

by Zach Sokol
Feb 20 2015, 3:50pm

I miss being a good weed smoker. Back in the day, I could go through an eighth in 24 hours with no problem. Now a couple puffs on a spliff will leave my mind churning at warp speed and I'll end up staying awake all night, stuck in a internet K-hole. The last time I let my judgment get the best of me, though, something positive came out of the experience. As I got increasingly lost in the Tumblr abyss, I came across the work of Portland-based photographer Agustin Hernandez.

Though he doesn't have a website and hasn't done any name-droppable "professional" gigs, so to speak, Hernandez's photos are sharper than your average alt-bro with a point-and-shoot and some hot friends. His shots look calculated but not forced, stylized but not gaudy. The young artist has a knack for juxtaposing metallic, shimmering objects with bleak interiors or environments.

He also frequently stages images so body parts appear to be disembodied limbs—often jutting out of scenery in a wraith-like fashion. The work's not creepy, though. If anything, it's as if Hernandez is creating friendly spirits with a sense of humor, like one photo where a gloved hand appears from behind a curtain holding a banana.

I got in touch with the budding talent over email to talk about his photography. We chatted about daydreams and deja vu. More importantly, though, Hernandez made me confident that sometimes good things happen when I smoke herb, even if it fucks with my sleep schedule.

VICE: What was the first photo you took that made you think taking pictures could be more than a hobby?
Agustin Hernandez: It was more the good reactions I got from people that made me realize my pictures could be something more. It was probably a photo of some dried yellow roses next to a power outlet or a portrait of the Virgin Mary on a wall with a party streamer casually hung across her face.

How would you describe your photos to someone who hasn't seen them before? Is there a particular vibe or aesthetic that you feel connects all your work?
To me, my photos are sort of like an installation or a still life—staged but improvised, carefully but spontaneously thought out, dark but pleasant, raw but dolled-up. The more I think about it, the more I see one huge contradiction. They seem to all surround a make-believe scenario that inspires nostalgia in me. They feel like deja vu or a daydream. I live in daydreams.

Can you tell me about your creative process? Do you conceive the ideas for your photos prior to shooting? Is there a consistency in how you create your photos?
I have an impulsive trigger to rearrange or manipulate a situation or story into ideas that appeal to me. I tend to collect sentimental and symbolic objects that inspire me and I often use them throughout my photos. It's magical to me—the way things can embody an array of emotion. When I start shooting it's all very improvised and silly, yet I always have a specific vision that comes together.

What type of camera do you use and do you manipulate the images at all in post? Your photos have a distinct filter/tone to them.
I think my work has benefited from my simplistic process. I've grown attached to my point-and-shoot cameras. I'm somewhat impatient while shooting and prefer to snap away, rather than get all worked up with technicality. I use a lot of flash and natural light, or total lack of light. I prefer the undisguised quality of film to digital perfection.

Human limbs disappearing or reappearing as ghostly, disembodied parts seems to be a recurring theme in your work—flesh falling into these natural and synthetic abysses. Is the phantasmagorical aspect intentional?
Its all really fascinating to me—make-believe fantasies, illusions, and how our minds grow curious. I've always been a daydreamer, easily distracted, lost in fantasy. The playfulness and mischief in some of my work—vanishing or emerging figures—opens up a world of what could happen. I live for that sort of curiosity.

I love how you frequently juxtapose metallic or glimmering objects with mundane, cold interiors and settings. Is this intentional?
This repeated contrast is often coincidental. I think a lot of it is intuitive—my mind desires and is intrigued by the unfamiliar. I have a weakness for sparkle and glamor, but I'm drawn to the imperfections around it. To me, these flaws expose the true beauty and create a delicacy that is inviting and captivating. It's compelling, to see these contradictions intermix.

Even when your photos are ominous or moody, they are still frequently very funny to me. Do you want viewers to find these images funny?
I didn't pick up on the humor until someone pointed it out. I don't feel like it's intentional, but rather ironic. Irony can be humorous though twisted, cynical, or cruel at times. Still, I find it can be charming in an odd, innocent way. I think my images can be read with multiple interpretations—none that are foreseen.

See more of Agustin's work on his Instagram.

Follow Zach on Twitter.

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