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Interview with photographer Meg Handler

Papal Mass, Central Park

Papal Mass, Central Park

F-Stop Magazine: How did you first become involved in photography and what led to you working in this medium as an artist?

Meg Handler: I always looked at photography books when I was growing up. My parents had great books, and a number of photography books. But it was the Diane Arbus monograph on their coffee table, that I looked at the most. I think before I understood anything about the medium itself, I saw her as a professional people watcher. I was a curious kid, always people watching. So, I think having a camera gave me the opportunity to look at people more deeply.

F-Stop: The current issue of F-Stop Magazine includes images from your project “Fans”, can you tell us about this project? What led to this work? 

MH: I have spent a decades long career looking at other people’s photographs. I always made photos informally, meaning I shot for myself and never tried to market the work. In the early 90’s, I had been shooting religious events that only occurred outdoors and on the street. I started this project after seeing a news report of a “Jesus Sighting” in Washington Heights, New York. A few hundred people stood in line, gathered in the courtyard of an apartment building to see an image of Christ in a bathroom window. They saw it, I did not. Even though I didn’t witness the second coming of Christ, I was intrigued by the intensity of their experience and their desire to be in the company of something that moved them deeply. If people are so enthralled by a vision, what happens when they see their icons in real life?

I decided to take a closer look at the phenomenon of FANS, every day people that want to rub up against some magic or star power at a Papal Mass in Central Park, football games, political rallies, a UFO convention and Graceland on the anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. What I discovered was an almost universal reflection of adoration–the experience of the individual in the crowd, their dedication, commitment and faith becomes clear in their faces.

Army vs. Navy, Philadelphia

Army vs. Navy, Philadelphia

F-Stop: Can you discuss your process for making these images or your creative process more generally?

MH: I made these photographs using Rolleiflex Twin lense, with an on camera flash. All photographs were shot using color negative film.

F-Stop: Do you relate to the fandom you photograph? Are you a big fan of anything or anyone?

MH: No, I don’t personally relate. And that’s the reason why I wanted to make the pictures. I wanted to better understand how people could lose themselves in someone else, so deeply.

F-Stop: Why do you photograph or what compels you to make the images you create? Are you working on any other projects currently?

Elvis Death Week, Memphis

Elvis Death Week, Memphis

MH: Currently I photograph with an iPhone and use Instagram. I consider what I am doing as social commentary and the photos I make as visual quips. I love the fact that I can instantly engage people with what I just saw on the street or at an event.

F-Stop: What is the best career advice you have ever received?

MH: To stay true to my vision. Be honest. Treat people the way you want to be treated.

F-Stop: What photographers or other artists inspire you?

MH: When I was making this work, I was really inspired by Don DeLillo’s novel, WHITE NOISE. At it’s base, it’s about an Elvis scholar and a Hitler scholar. There’s a bit in there about the philosophy of crowds that really moved me and quantified what I had been thinking. In terms of photographers and other artists, the most influential for me are: Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand, Richard Avedon and Larry Fink.


For more of Meg Handler’s work: meghandlerphotography.com

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