EW: Are people who absolutely reject darkness more dangerous?
RB: It is an interesting point. The term darkness is a complex one. There is the physical one when you turn off the light, but it can also convey the idea of the unknown, connotate evil or mean severe depression. In a Jungian way, I see it as the Shadow, the unknown and repressed part of the Self people fear and leave out. Conflicts, war, social and political problems manifest themselves as a result of people being unaware of who they are and dealing with their repressions. Greater awareness and a psychological revolution are needed in the world. Most people do not understand such sophisticated concepts and need education to realize.
EW: Do you think that your photographs help viewers to understand a bit more of their Shadow?
RB: I have come to the conclusion that the more the individual struggles to deny the work, the more it has ultimately impacted on him. If excessive repression inhibits inner realization, it does not mean that the image will not have an impact on the viewer’s psyche.
EW: There is also a fine line between what we fear and what is captivating…
RB: Fear is part of the basic consciousness of the organic living beings on the planet, a natural instinct and perhaps one of the most important protective ones. Even a mosquito probably feels fear. Existential and physical one are not the same. Existential related issues are basic and shared by most people whether they are aware of them or not : fear of death, of not being able to cope, of the unknown, of getting sick, of not achieving one’s life’s goals.
EW: What do you fear?
RB: Like everybody else I think, I fear not living anymore.
EW: And all what we do will disappear… it is just a matter of time, and still, we have to continue…
RB: Taking pictures is like a diary to me, a way of expressing who I am over long periods of time. It helps solidify my life experiences, defines moments over time for me. To me, pictures are like shooting stars crossing the night sky, a revelation of lightning truth. I do not think the human being is really able to fully appreciate cosmic time or timelessness, in any ways. We cannot even think in these terms.
EW: Was the death of your mother a pivotal moment?
RB: I have always been very existentially focused, driven and aware, even prior to my mother’s death. I studied psychology and was part of the counter culture during the late 60’s and early 70’s. People at that time tried to become aware of themselves, of the cultural brainwashing and were looking at the human experience in a more philosophical and humanistic way. To have experienced such a unique time in history impacted me as much as her death.
EW: You did not show your work for a long time, do you feel that to be hidden allowed you to develop in a deeper way?
RB: Yes. I was working as a geologist in South Africa and did not see photography as a profession. Also, people were not interested in what I was doing, nobody wanted to sell or buy photographs, so I did not have to worry about showing, impressing people or making a living out of it. I developed a deeply passionate personal relation with photography. One of the most crucial things in my development is how very little contemporary influences I have had.
EW: It seems sometimes that the more we watch other people’s work, the less personal ours becomes…
RB: I agree with you. Too much of other people’s voices sometimes make you unable to hear your own. You have to find your very own voice to be able to enter the forest and to open up a new path. Now, the more I look at people’s photographs, the more I despair because most try too much to find messages in other people’s visions instead of turning inward to find their own. To be creative I feel you have to go through the dark periods to reach the light. I also always explain to the students that photography is maybe the most difficult and competitive business in the world to make a living. Daily on the planet, maybe three hundred million photographs are taken, and as an artist you have to separate yourself from that with a unique, meaningful, and creative vision. It is a difficult task and 1% make a living out of it while 99% cannot survive as artists.
EW: When you took pictures of Selma Blair, you mentioned that she was not afraid of putting a rat in her mouth and that you need such kind of people. Where do you find most such state of innocence? Did you also try to work with people who are afraid of you or photography itself?
RB: Afraid people don’t feel natural. The best pictures arise when, like a good actor, the subjects forget about the stage and embody the character they are supposed to become. Most of the people I have worked with in South Africa probably have no real conception of what I am trying to capture or how the camera could possibly transform them, therefore I think the issue of them fearing it does not exist. I think that if I watched carefully other subjects who might have more sophisticated masks, I would still catch that state of being that I am known for. I have always said to people, “All things being equal, I could put you in my book.”
I found that the most difficult people to photograph are usually old ladies, they are very self-conscious. The easiest are children and animals. Trees might even be easier (laughing). The interesting challenge with animals is to try to interpret their interaction with the space, the inherent meaning they bring. Finally, the birds I work with have their own complications, flying nervously, biting people and escaping through the window ! It is easier to ask somebody to sit on a chair and look at the ceiling.
EW: If people were too self-conscious, then you would not be able to project on them who you are and what you try to find anymore?
RB: You are right about absence of self-consciousness, but it does not mean I can find myself in them either.
EW: Were you born with highly developed social skills or are you naturally shy and overcame it?
RB: It is an interesting point. I think that I was inherently introverted and shy the first 30 years of my life. I certainly got over a lot of that the last 10-15 years, giving hundreds of talks and interviews.
EW: You recently directed the video for the song I Fink U Freeky by Die Antwoord, and it has been a huge success, extending in a new way that creative vision of yours. Do you plan to be a video recidivist?
RB: I will probably make some new videos over the next years, yes.
EW: Is there a movie remaining in your mind more than others?
RB: I admire Persona by Ingmar Bergman. I like Bergman’s films because he used the same actors, worked in very small constructed spaces and his images are very clear, with deep psychological meanings. I feel a connection because I work with people in claustrophobic spaces year after year.
EW: About such depths, deep inside I feel that I will never understand what I try to understand and that one day I will be old and still ignorant (laughing)…
RB: And when we look at the stars… do we understand? Nothing. And it is fine, there is nothing wrong with that (laughing).
EW: What makes you feel peaceful?
RB: Just being in nature, I think. If I am in a nice, beautiful, quiet place in the mountains, forest or near the sea, then I think it is when I feel the best. When I was younger, I used to do a lot of diving. I like going in the water, looking at the fish.
EW: Again, you need to go under the surface…
RB: To dive in water, it is like going into your mind (smile).