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Nick Stern is a photographer who recently published a compilation of works entitled “You are not Banksy”, which aimed to transform the stencil street art of artist Banksy into real life images using models. In this interview with mindyourmind, Stern discusses the inspiration behind these photos, the work that went behind them, and how photography is “an expression of how you see the world”.
How did you get started in photography? What attracted you to the medium?
I've been interested in photography for as long as I can remember. I think I had my first 'real' camera around 9 or 10 years old, a Russian Zorki 4. When I was around the same age I remember seeing my older cousin reading a newspaper and I thought 'wow, what a grown up thing to do' So I started reading newspapers. In fact I wasn't actually reading them I was just looking at the photos, and I recall thinking 'what a cool job that would be - taking pictures for newspapers. This started my interest in news photography.
Your latest compilation of work is entitled “You are not Banksy”, where did the inspiration for this series of works come from? What kind of power do you think comes from re-mixing/re-creating these iconic images?
The Inspiration for the compilation "You are not Banksy" started when I saw the news about the riots in London last summer. I thought I'd try and create a riot scene with 'Banksy flower throwers". So firstly I shot the flower thrower. This idea quickly developed into the collection of recreations. For me much of the power comes from Banksy's original images. Banksy's street art certainly has great depth, imagination and power in it. I think recreating the images can show the reality behind that depth, for example gay police exist in real life, and in particular the cavemen image has had many people commenting 'I bet he didn't get that body eating fast food'...
A lot of young people may not know who Banksy is. Do you think it is important for people to check out his works and what he represents?
Personally I think Banksy has created a huge interest in street art, but perhaps more importantly he has instigated a lot of political discussion and interest through his images. His work also shows that you can question society and the establishment without throwing petrol bombs or spraying 'Fuck the government' in 4' high letters on a wall. His work is far deeper than that. With his work he has focused on Commercialism, gay rights, the junk food industry, religion, child labor and much more, all in a very creative and thought provoking way.
The images themselves are quite provocative (two police officers kissing, etc.), how do you feel that these images become more or less provocative when they are transferred from a spray-painted stencil into actual people?
To be honest I think the stencil art is more provocative because the subjects are not identifiable as individuals. My images may personalize them somewhat.
You were quoted as saying that you scoured E-bay to find the appropriate props for each picture to make them as accurate as possible to the source material; did this prove to be a difficult task?
Finding the items or materials proved to be quite a difficult task. Some of the costumes on Banksy's stencils were impossible to find - like the maids apron - I wanted to get the details as close to Banksy's work as I could so for many pieces I had to buy the materials and make the costumes and props. The RPG Mona Lisa is holding is made from Plastic plumbing pipe and reducers.
Has your art and photography ever helped you with stress, how do you feel your work or what you do can help people who are going through a tough time?
Great question. I guess I really got seriously into photography when I split from a long term girlfriend. It gave me something to focus on. It doesn't matter how tough things are in your life, if you can produce a good photo that you can stand back and look and think 'wow, I’m proud I took that' it makes you feel good. For me photography is part of who I am. I could not imagine life not being able to take photos. A camera is a great leveler. Everyone wants to chat with a photographer - at a party, a gig or even on the street, it breaks down walls, which socially I think is a great thing. The camera can also give you something to hide behind if you're not a social person. I use it like that. I would encourage everyone to pick up a camera, the photos that you take are an expression of how you see the world, no two people would ever take the same photo. I think a photograph says as much about the photographer as it does about the subject in front of the camera.