Bringing the Streets to the Page—Photographer Henrik Haven on Documenting Street Art Today
Copenhagen-based Danish photographer and curator Henrik Haven has been documenting street art and the artists that create these monumental works since 2010. Haven’s practice has extended to documenting projects on smaller scales as well—from gallery exhibitions to artists’ studios. His eye-catching documentary images have been seen in countless publications, including Juxtapoz Magazine, Complex, and VNA Magazine. To coincide with “Street Art Now,” Artsy's partnership with Julien’s Auctions, we had the chance to speak with Haven about his work and influences, and got some great tips for those who are new to collecting street art.
Collin Munn: Do you see a difference between street art and graffiti? In your own words, what is street art?
Henrik Haven: There are obvious differences in form, expressions, and media. From the beginning, graffiti has typically been based around pieces of letters and characters or “throw-ups” and tags. Street art is perhaps more diverse, introducing various kinds of expressions like murals, sculptures, objects, installations, and interactive pieces. For me, it's all contemporary art in the public space!
CM: Can you provide a little background on how you first started photographing street art, and public art more broadly? What drew you to documenting these often ephemeral media?
HH: I have always had a great passion for art as a collector and frequent visitor to galleries and art museums, and have long been a fan of art in public spaces. During the summer of 2011, Shepard Fairey and ROA came to Copenhagen—ROA painted two sides of a tower and Shepard Fairey produced seven murals around the city. I was allowed to follow them intensely throughout their entire stay and become an active part of a very inspiring and fascinating process, as a documentarist. This was an epiphany and changed my relation to art completely, from being not only a personal passion, but also a way of life. My niche is capturing the work in progress. I'm drawn by the opportunity to slowly follow the different layers of a piece coming to life—like storytelling—and blown away by the artist's skills when creating works in mural-scale proportions, often without detailed preparations.
CM: Are there any street art photographers from the 1970’s and 80’s, like Henry Chalfant, that you draw inspiration from? How has their approach or aesthetic informed your own work?
HH: Of course I'm indirectly inspired by the work of Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper. Their importance within capturing graffiti and public art is not to be underestimated, and like many other photographers today, I'm standing on their shoulders. Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper have without a doubt made this art form a more accessible and global phenomenon. “Subway Art” is a monumental work that I find myself returning to again and again. Furthermore, it is life affirming to see Martha Cooper still traveling around the world to document this culture.
CM: What are some particular attributes that you think make a work of street art particularly successful?
HH: Some pieces beautify urban environments and create a much needed contrast to the billboards and commercials dominating our public space. Other pieces have a political agenda and provide critical commentary on our society; they makes us—as citizens—stop and think. For me, the strength of street art is its diversity; the fact that there is not “a right way,” or a formula to street art.
CM: Do you have any tips for a new collector of street art? What are some key things to look out for and keep in mind?
HH: I have been a passionate art collector since the mid 90's, but despite my experience, I find it difficult to give advice to new collectors. Art is so subjective, it depends on ideas of aesthetics and temperament. If I was to give a few pieces of advice: first, always follow your heart instead of being dictated to by trends, hype, or third party opinions. Furthermore, it is always a good idea to research into the artist's background, references, and production of works. For me the most important and valuable works in my collection are those with a history, those which create a memory or are symbols of my close relationship to the artists.
CM: What city has your favorite street art?
HH: It is completely impossible to nominate one city. My work takes me around the world and I'm lucky enough to experience new artworks constantly. My list is long and more cities are added frequently. This year alone, I already have upcoming assignments in Denver, El Salvador, Sumatra, and Sao Paolo—places I have never been before.