Mona Hatoum: “It’s about shattering the familiar”
Ms. Hatoum, do you see darkness in your art?
I think your personal experience shapes the way you view the world around you. With 15 years of civil war in Lebanon and conflict in the Middle East ever since I can remember, there is nothing very uplifting about it and this inevitably filters through my work. So, yes, there is darkness but there is lightness as well. There are often two sides to each piece, not just one meaning. Duality and contradictions exist in most of the work: darkness and light, heaviness and humor, beauty and danger…
Humor? That’s surprising — I don’t see a lot of humor in a piece like The Negotiating Table, for example.
Well, take my performance piece Roadworks, for instance. I walked around the streets of Brixton dragging heavy Dr. Martens boots — the boots that the police and skin heads used to wear — behind my bare feet so that you have the symbol of vulnerability, this woman being followed by the boots of the state and racist thugs. But it is a surreal and humorous gesture. People interacted with it! I kept hearing comments like, “Oh, the Invisible Man,” “Does she know she’s being followed?” I like using humor to deflate those heavy situations. There are also contradictions in the installation Light Sentence. The rigidity of the cages is contradicted by the fluidity of the moving shadows. It’s both mesmerizing, beautiful but also disturbing.
Steve McCurry: “It’s like hitting a drum”
Mr. McCurry, is it important for you to tell the stories behind your photographs?
No. I think it’s better for people just to interpret, to make up their own story, to imagine their own meaning of whatever picture. Sometimes there is an ambiguity to the picture. Sometimes there is no meaning at all! But you make up a meaning, your own interpretation, your own story, your own fantasy — which is maybe better than the actual reality. Sometimes there’s a moment you think you can see in a picture which maybe is not really there. But if you think it’s that way, then that’s okay.
How do you hope that your photos are interpreted?
For me, they’re just a whimsical, poetic look at this commonality of humanity. I think the best photos stay with you, they’re something that you can’t forget. Henri-Cartier Bresson, for example, I think his work was about humanity and the world we live in and I think it’s still completely relevant today. I think it still holds up perfectly well. Do you know the photographer André Kertész? He is a great Hungarian photographer who did a book on people sleeping back in the seventies. I felt very inspired by that. I thought it was a wonderful kind of poetic piece.