A brilliant movie producer and a well-known fashion photographer, Harun Mehmedinovic, has been finding inspiration in ordinary subjects and nature. His work has a fairy tale like feel that make his subjects appear like magical creatures out of a storybook. His latest work has been published by Vogue Italia as a part of their collection on best international photographers (www.vogue.it).
AB: Harun, thank you for taking the time to speak with Club Fashionista about your work and life. Can you please tell us a little bit more about what inspires you to direct movies and capture unique moments in photos?
HM: I'm primarily interested in storytelling. Film and photography are mediums fit to tell different types of stories. This very concept of what is a story is important, and perhaps in today's somewhat cynical world that aspect is overlooked. Stories help us discuss things under the surface, forward certain ideas, empower individuals to make moves are they hesitant to make, they stir up inside of us that need for adventure we feel as humans.
Going back to campfire tales of hunters (now just about a dead art form in the western world) on one side of my family, I always found storytelling important but I never quite digested the true importance of stories until encountering Joseph Campbell. He has a quote that very much points to why stories are important: "I think what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive." Stories are ultimately reflections of someone's else's journey, recounts of a rite of passage, which has led to some sort of wisdom which they then pass on to those who haven't undergone such a journey as to empower them to seek their own adventures. This is very much what made me fall in love with Mark Twain's writings as a kid for example. As kids, we all connect with the adventures in his stories, we all want that sense of freedom and wonder, and a rejection of norms and ideologies. We all want to rebel, pave our own way through adventures, and experience that "rapture of being alive."
The decision to take up photography more actively came from my increased interest in improvisation and spontaneity, a way to tell stories in less structured medium and environments, engage my friends who don't do arts and tend to be mired in 9-5 lives with very little experience of awe and wonder they so much enjoyed as kids. The idea was to get all of them to pick a place and 0what to wear, then take a whole day and go on an adventure, see where things take us, not plan it out so much. I ultimately called this process a "seance." These shoots sometimes go on for 10-15 hours. They have been long hikes through mountains, head on collisions with heavy rain, hail and snow, walks on foot through swamps and lakes, and counting the mosquito bites and bruises after.
The experience of the day is the most important, and if images came along with it, that's great, but the point is that you could never predict what would come of it, the idea was letting go and letting things come together by circumstance. Let nature, or perhaps universe dictate it. This is very much the opposite of the ideas of safety and caution we hear about so much being part of the "civilization." Although this may seem uncomfortable to some, and many of my subjects also don't feel comfortable about a camera, after these "seances" just about everyone wanted to keep going or to have another one. They finally let go and had a lot of fun, as do I on all these shoots. It's the adrenaline, the energy and a feeling like one is a kid again, uninhibited and free to do as they wish no matter now silly or dangerous. It's liberating. And it's the experience that counts, photos may or may not happen, but the experience is tangible. I called the project "Bloodhoney," a reference to Balkans, region I am from which is a combination of two Turkish works, Bal and Kan, honey and blood. It refers to this bittersweet nature of life, embracing it all as it comes.
As far as themes in stories, I'm drawn to subject of human identity more so than anything else and perhaps it's a product of never having had a place I firmly call home. I've been mostly a nomad throughout my life, and I have embraced the unknown. I like going to new places and meeting new people.
AB: Your work has taken you to destinations all over the world. What are some of your favorite destinations and what exactly makes these spots “magical?”
HM: I think this very much ties back to the process of photography I described above, many locations being their own surprises, it's about being open to that idea and not try to control it. I like the idea of capturing "ordinary" spaces in such a way that they appear extraordinary. It's not such a hard thing to do, it's merely about taking time there and being open to surprises that come. For example, one one of the shoots, we went up to Mt. Wilson, 30min from L.A. to shoot in the early morning fog in what was forecast to be a sunny day. We got there and the biggest hailstorm in the recorded history of Los Angeles began. Most people would try to get off the mountain as soon as possible, in fast, I only saw two more cars on the road into those mountains that day so nobody wanted to go and experience this wonder it seems. For the two of us on the shoot, this was the enormous miracle one hopes for on a shoot, the dusty desert landscape turned completely white and frozen. It was an image that road had seen maybe once or twice in an entire century, and never in recorded history to this extent. It's a moment we couldn't have planned out, and it's moment we cannot repeat exactly as it was that day. This was all about taking a chance, going somewhere, taking time and running into a surprise along the way. Many locations we take for granted take on, as you say, magical qualities at times, it's just about being there to observe it. It's as simple as that Rumi saying "Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don't claim them. Feel the artistry moving through, and be silent."
With that being said, there are also locations which have a distinctly different energy about them, quite simply something in the air that feels different. A good example for this would be places like Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, where the Civil War is said to have begun when John Brown was caught and executed. Or a place such as Antietam battlefield where thousands of men died in a single day. The first time I went to Harper's Ferry, I had no idea of it's history. I was a kid still in middle school and I remember not even wanting to be on that trip that day, but I felt something about the place and it staid with me, and learning the history only shed part of the light on this. Places such as "Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump" in Alberta, Canada where Native Americans of the Plains used to send thousands of buffalo over the cliffs in what has to be the biggest annual hunt world has ever seen. This process had been done for thousands of years, underneath those cliffs is layers and layers upon buffalo bones over hundreds of centuries. That place, although completely unrelated to Harper's Ferry, had a similar feel. The sheer sublime was in the air and it was undeniable. The place itself demanded more than a moment of solitude. In fact, America is full of these, as I would call, "magical" places such as this, where the sublime of nature meets the sublime of man and leaves behind a tangible tension in the air. I think the subjects of these shoots felt this too, as do many people who go to these places every year.
AB: What has been your experience when living in L.A.?
HM: Los Angeles seems to be very polarizing, some either love it or hate it. I think I loved Los Angeles before I came here and that hasn't stopped since. It's a place that inspires incredible loneliness in people, I would not even call it conducive to creativity per se, and I do not disagree with the phrase "city of broken dreams" that some for the more cynical visitors have propagated. I think L.A. is all that, but it's also a place of incredible cultural diversity, I have met friends from all over the planet here and I am grateful for it. Also, the city lies in an area of incredible beauty. Snowy mountains just a couple hours away, scorching earth desert, some of the most astonishing forests just a few hours north, large expanses of open space and wilderness. There is not much I can say about California that John Muir already has not said. Having finished school here, I've also built a solid network of people I enjoy doing creative things with. Lets just say, every time I travel West, it feels like where I'm supposed to be.
AB: Can you tell us a little bit about the Hollywood, i.e. the good and the bad side of the movie industry?
HM: Like any industry, it's exactly what we're calling it, an industry. They make and deliver products. A lot of us from European background can smirk at this and say that such a thing sucks the art out of the medium, but there have been films I could call first rate Art films made in Hollywood in the past. Nothing is set in stone, and ultimately we live at a time when making a film is easier than ever as far as equipment goes. However, it's as challeging as ever as far as stories go, the globalization has changed much of our concepts of identity. The whole concept of local has done away with, and that's where stories have been rooted, along with the concept of the "unknown". Very little has been left of the "unknown" in today's world, and not all stories can be reduced to science fiction. Hollywood, like any other entity that makes films with pretension of being universal, has a challenge now how to engage the entire planet. As Campbell said, storytellers need to invent global myths now, but since there is no clear global set of values to respond to, or hardly any values to point to, there's a challenge for storytellers to break through the cynicism and uncertainty of the times we live in. People will always have a love for stories, it's on genetic level, but now we need the artists to reinvent the wheel a bit and engage the entire planet. The internet makes such possible, despite the oversaturation many point to. If the idea is strong, it will find it's audience.
AB: Your movie “ In the name of the son” has received numerous awards, including winner of the American Film Institute Schaffner Award, Winner of the Best Fiction Short Film of the USA Film Festival, Winner of the Stony Brook Film Festival, and Official Selection of Festival de Cannes, just to name a few. Your photos have also been featured numerous times in Vogue Italia. What do you feel has contributed to your success as a movie producer and photographer?
HM: First of all, I think it's the support and open mindedness of my parents, family and friends while growing up. They always fostered in me this drive for creativity and storytelling.They never tried to shove their agenda down my throat or dictate to me what it is I am or am not supposed to do. Secondly, its the wartime experience in Bosnia. When the whole social fabric came apart and the world I knew changed completely in a week, it removed any illusions or naive notions I may have had about the world. It also strenghtened my interest in the adventure and in the sublime, ridding onself of fears and embracing adventure. It's a miracle I made it out alive, but I attribute that partly to letting go of things that may have held me back and taking (what in retrospect may seem crazy) chances. Tempting fate by spending time outside where grenades and snipers were part of everyday life during the siege for four years. This embrace of the unknown, going out of the comfort zone, definitely influences just about everything I do. But also, there is a certain patience and grit instilled in you from that experience as well. First year of the war, I spent most of the time in cellars and atomic shelters, often whole days without any light. There was hardly anything else one could do but meditate. It taught me tenacity, something important in the world where one encounters roadblocks and far more "NO" than "Yes" coming out of others' mouths. One has to be patient and endurant with certain projects, no matter what comes in the way. Take for example this photography project. Every day I go out on a "seance," there may not be a single usable or good image I walk away with. Some artists would run as far as they could from that, they have a need to control, spontaneity is something of a chaos to them they do not want to deal with. I however embrace that uncertainty, I want to be surprised by the process.
AB: Thank you again for speaking with us. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors and hope to see more spectacular art projects from you!