Interview with photographer Meg Handler
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
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
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
Originally published at F-Stop Magazine.