Pitstop With Ben Hopper

In his latest body of work, photographer Ben Hopper focuses on what most would prefer to edit out.


Pitstop With Ben Hopper

Where did the idea for Natural Beauty come from?
It started as a joke back in 2007 about contemporary art and how a lot of artists create a body of repetitive work only to be treated seriously by an overwjelmed audience. I thought photographing a lot of really beautiful women with armpit hair would have a similar effect. It took me few years to realise I actually liked that look and the whole reasoning was probably a subconscious one.

Is it a social message addressed at society's standards?
From my research, this societal pressure to shave has to do with beauty brands such as Gillette who needed to extend their razors clientele and therefore created one for women about a century ago. Now most people can't even stand the look of a hairy female armpit. That is brilliant marketing. This series started as a humorous look at life, possibly developing into art - possibly with a social message. I guess as I grow older my moral values will appear in my work.

Your models, who are they?
It's a varied collection of women. Most simply open minded individuals. Some I know from previous work, some I get introduced to, some contact me. Some grew the hair especially for the pictures, some contacted me when they already had fully grown hair...

This photo series has gained international acclaim. What do you think of the reactions?
A lot of people love it. A lot of people hate it. I see a lot of arguments online now. Hopefully everyone can agree at the end, on something - but people love arguing.

Given the nature of this project, responses from models must've been quite varied.
Most of the females I photographed were quite open about this and were happy to take part. I don't want to say that I want women to start growing their armpit hair, I just think that it's a possibility and people shouldn't dismiss it. I'd like people to just question the whole thing. 

You're an advocate for the natural look.
I like it. I think it can be very beautiful and under the circumstances empowering and sexy. You need an attitude to be a female with hairy armpits nowadays. Anyone who is willing to take crap from a lot of people for it is an attractive, strong person to me. Hair is there for a reason. If i'm attracted to someone it's most likely that I'd like her the way she is. Without artificial changes.
I think it's also a bit like female breasts - the norm is to hide or in the hair case, get rid of it - and when you do see it it's almost like a forbidden fruit. I don't find waxing or shaving that sexy most of the times. It's very common, but that doesn't mean it is right. People should just question that norm.

Your work with actress Emilia Bostedt put this project on the map, who are other women that embody the essence of this work?

Emilia's photos, as most were taken in my studio in east london with black background, some other ones were taken in different places around london, UK and Israel - where I'm originally from.

I photographed Amanda Palmer in 2010 and I also tried to convince former porn star Sasha Grey, but unfortunately it didn't work out as she was busy with preparations for her new book. Or maybe she just wasn't so keen on the idea. I'd love to photograph anyone who's known for their strong femininity, charisma and sexuality, like Madonna for example. Or anyone who's a bit of a cultural leader, famous artists, musicians, creatives, actors, models. Anyone who could change people's opinion about this.

Is your artistic ability ever questioned?
All the time. For this project especially, I get a lot of people complaining about the models who are too skinny or have makeup or pluck their eye brows, too young, or aren't real women ..and so on. I'd like people to understand that my reasons for choosing these specific subjects were exactly because of that; this way the project is much more effective. The contrast is stronger. If i asked 'who would you expect to have armpit hair?', you will never imagine a fashion model or a very beautiful hygienic looking female. That's the stereotype. And i'm trying to use it to provoke a stronger reaction.

Some of your other work is more on the extreme side using SM and bondage themes. Do you have any limits photography wise?
I wouldn’t feel ok if my work features true suffering - war photography is something I could never do for example. I do try to maintain a level of dignity - if I want to photograph a sex act, I’d prefer to photograph a variation of it - leave room for the imagination.

Another regular feature in your work are Masks. In 'Girls with Masks' you're creating a parody by turning the society norm of covering your body and showing your face upside down. How do you deal with online censorship of social media platforms for example?

Facebook’s and Instagram’s nude censorship are a huge annoyance to me. I had my first Instagram account with almost 1000 followers deleted and had to start again from scratch. Facebook had me blocked from anywhere between a few days to a month for uploading images containing nudity. It’s pathetic, the internet should be open. If someone doesn’t want to view nudity they should be able to choose themselves. We are all naked under our clothes and this censorship is just helping to keep people in a bubble.

I am actually planning to write an open letter to Facebook and Instagram about this issue. I’ve been also uploading photos from ‘Naked Girls with Masks’ into an album on Facebook with Facebook's logo as censorship. I hope something will change soon.

At the moment you're London-based. How important is where you are for you and your work?
London is a very good place to be. The whole world is passing through this city. I think london, New York and LA are probably the most important cities for anyone who’s doing creative work. But they’re also very draining. I am actually in the process for looking at alternatives. I need more sun than what london can offer me and my outdoor photography has decreased drastically since I moved from Israel. I miss the warm weather very much.

Who inspires you?
Frank Zappa was the first one who really opened my eyes to the world of art when I was about 17 and really taught me a perception of what art and composition is and can be. Some of my favourite photographers are Manuel Vason and Sarah Sitkin. George Carlin is also very dear to me.

What's next in the pipeline for you?
I’m planning ‘Naked Men with Masks’ alongside other new projects I’m working on, for example
Pantyhose, where I'm using tights on skin and faces to play with themes of nudity and identity.