Interview - Purienne

Drawn like so many worldwide to Henrik Purienne’s intensely alluring photos, we love his hedonistic and fantastical style. Purienne’s subjects, preposterously beautiful women, are most often laid bare, yet the addictiveness of his photos is underwritten not by simple nudity but by dreamy narratives that perpetuate a sense of mystery and wanderlust. Curious to know more about this trend-setting and widely imitated artist, we hoped Henrik might reveal something of himself to us. We weren’t disappointed. 

Interview with Henrik Purienne

Film Maker, Photographer and Founder/Editor of Mirage magazine.

Would you mind sharing a favourite childhood story or memory?
Well, I have a ton. This is not my favourite, just something I thought of today… When I was about thirteen I saw a girl who looked exactly like Brooke Shields buy cigarettes at the ‘Hollywood’ corner cafe in Worcester, South Africa. Perfect baby face, long brown hair, tight blue jeans and white tee. She unchained her racer from the lamppost and drove off in slow motion. I would think about this image for weeks. On my first day of high school, there she was, a senior in her final year with a way too-short skirt and perfect, tan legs. She once smiled at me in the corridor… but I was just a kid, and she was almost a woman. Years later when I returned to my hometown to visit my family, there she was at the farmer’s market selling homemade jam from the back of an old truck, heavily pregnant with an obese husband who chain-smoked while arguing with her about not knowing how to sell jam. I realised we were really just four years apart.

Once, my mom suddenly had a flamboyant new neighbour who would visit her for tea in the formal living room every so often. My younger brother and I were intrigued by this absurd woman, but could merely peak through the window or observe from a distance as she left the house. But my fine skills of observation led me to a shocking realisation–this creature was none other than my older brother, and my mom was totally in on the gig all along!

Can you locate the origins of your creativity in any of your childhood interests?
A flamboyant aunt. My father’s psychology library. An Italian art teacher.

What were the circumstances of the first time you left South Africa? What was it like, given that you have said you grew up in an environment so remote from "the real world”?
The first time I left I was twenty and was foolishly following a girlfriend to London. I ended up working at a Ben&Jerry’s on Leicester Square, but was swiftly fired for inventing ‘the volcano’, a large tub with ten scoops stacked sky-high. It was a good seller for a minute there. 
In a creative sense, I realised there is no ‘real world’ outside of your own imagination.

If you were an animal, what do you think you would be, and why?
Eagle? I like to see the big picture.. and other metaphors. 

Where have you not travelled to yet that you dream about visiting?
For me it would be more of a specific location than a country or culture. Naturally I would prefer not to reveal these locations.

Apart from your art and work, what sensorial activities give you pleasure?
People watching. Dreaming. 

If you could time travel, what era or moment in history would you visit, and why?
Either sixty years back or forward, mainly since I would prefer no technology or refined technology.
The past fifteen years has been such a gross time in terms of form versus content. 

How do you feel about space travel?
Well, I would most definitely not mind my own small planet.

What is your favourite meal?
Spaghetti Bolognese.

What is your most treasured possession?

Whose work or talent do you admire whom you wish you could meet? What would you ask them?
There is an autistic kid in my hometown who has lived in an old age home since both his parents died. He is amazing at needlepoint. I’d ask him if I can take his product online. At a twenty-five percent equity stake... 

In an interview with Beach Grit, you said that remorse is what you wish people would feel in response to your photographs. Why do you think your should be feeling regretful or guilty by looking at your images?
That was just a way to avoid a predictable reply. Unlike this one. 

How is your book about the Khoisan peoples of the Kalahari coming along? We’re really looking forward to seeing it. Their story within the context of South Africa’s colonial history is obviously fraught with cultural concerns–from what angle are you approaching your subject, so to speak?
True. So true. My plan is to live amongst them for several months. My interest in the Khoisan was sparked at a young age by the films of my granddad’s cousin, Jamie Uys (his most-known work being ‘The Gods must be Crazy’). I would prefer the printed work to communicate my message, however, key words would be primitive and futuristic.

Interview by Isabel Johnson
Photographs taken and chosen by Henrik Purienne

February 22, 2014