hobbes ginsberg makes tumblr-generation technicolor dream selfies
Twenty one year-old artist Hobbes Ginsberg lives in a small, shared bungalow on a long road lined with palm trees in Jefferson Park, Los Angeles. Outside there are thousands of smoked cigarettes, inside there are mattresses on the floor, the power appears to be off, and a cat is wandering around. It's a West Coast, millennial version of the Parisian artist's garret. Ginsberg was brought up just outside of Dallas, Texas, but went to middle school and high school in Nicaragua (she identifies as a queer girl, and wishes to be referred to as "she" or "they"). They are a pretty much self-taught artist who photographs painstakingly constructed still lives and selfies. They see the taking of selfies as a sort of strange alchemy, a way of transforming the inner psyche. It's a radically different understanding of the selfie than, say, the one propagated by the Jenners and the Kardashians. Today, Hobbes is just back from New York where they showed with The Coven, a collective of female-identifying, non-binary artists from around the world, and that's where our conversation begins.
Recently there has been a lot of interest in feminist collectives and activism, as well as trans and queer communities online. Why do you think this is?
Because the internet is a place where people that have these ideas can be heard. Whereas before there wasn't as democratic a platform for the spreading of media and content and ideology, because you'd always have to go through someone else. With this there's a place where young people can go and share this knowledge.
The issues that are being talked about have been issues the whole time, and they've been talked about the whole time, but within the past ten years it's become easier to spread that knowledge. It's becoming harder and harder to not pay attention to it, to keep perpetuating the systematic injustices that are happening. You have so many people speaking out about it, so many people learning about it in a way that they wouldn't have otherwise. I wouldn't know what I do about social justice and feminism, and the current state of affairs within America and the world, if it wasn't for being within the communities that I am on Tumblr. That's super important. For a lot of people that's where they're getting the information, and that's something that couldn't have happened at a time that wasn't now.
Which artists inspire you apart from your peers?
I don't really know a lot of artists that aren't my peers. My peers are my number one: the people who I look up to, the people who are influential to me, who I respect and know. Because I don't know much of art history; and whether that's good or bad, who's to say? But what I do is born from what people around me have also been doing, in this kind of community.
What message are you trying to share with the world?
I just try to spread a message of positivity. That it's ok to do whatever it is that you're doing: whether with your identity, with what you make, with how you express yourself, whatever it is. You're fine - it's ok - you don't need to worry about whatever kind of negative things people are trying to throw on you, because that's probably happening and that's probably unnecessary.
So your work is about much more than gender issues?
When you make self-portraiture as a very visibly queer person, people tend to be like, 'Oh you're taking pictures of yourself, of your body, and you have a queer body or whatever, obviously the work is about that.' And that's it, that's the end of the discussion. Which is frustrating.
Whereas for me, my relationship to what I'm making is much more about depression and anxiety, and working through those things, and about a general sense of the self in transition - and not in terms of gender transition, but in terms of always changing, always evolving. It's never the same.
How can taking selfies change the way you're feeling?
I think it's an outlet for taking a lot of the negativity that I feel at times and making something more positive and more pretty out of it. When you're feeling really depressed, not doing anything - empty - you can take that feeling and make this thing out of it, using yourself as an important icon in the photo, and making something that's very pleasing to the eye, and it becomes a moment to release that energy into something better.
Do you ever worry that taking selfies is a sign of self-obsession?
I've heard that argument but I don't really buy it. I think there are a lot of internalized prejudices that are coming out when people make those statements, and I feel like it's usually older people that are making those statements. It's coming from a place of ignorance in regard to current culture and technology, and it's a stigma that's associated predominantly with young women, and anything that's associated predominantly with young women is probably stigmatized by the patriarchal culture that's at large; especially by the previous generation, and the people that are in charge of things.
So I think there's probably a lot of internalized misogyny when it comes to thinking about things in that way. And I think it's a lot of misplaced negativity in terms of what taking selfies is because everyone else has always been that, sort of, self-centred and narcissistic; people have painted self-portraits, and that took hours and hours and hours. People have always been recreating their own image, it's just that now it's become more readily accessible and it's not only elite white dudes who can create images of themselves.
Are your self-portraits honest images? Are they fantasy images?
I think they're a little in-between. I try to keep them honest in the sense that I strive for vulnerability and candidness in how I portray myself, but there's also definitely a lot of dressing up for it. Within the series there's a lot of experimentation with photography as the craft, and with the making of myself as the object that I'm photographing, with how I present myself, and what I wear, and how I look. The photos are a way to try new stuff so that will always have an aspect of idealization, but that's not necessarily fake. It's just the coolest, best version.
Text Dean Kissick
Photography Hobbes Ginsberg