culture | 21 august 2018
michael hobbs' quiet observational style of shooting video & photographs has us entranced. in our ongoing catch up's with kiwi creatives overseas, 'Boofa' chats to us about yoga, india and a bit about life in his adopted city London.
photographs & video: michael hobbs
interview: russell kleyn
Founder of Hippy Parents Films and affectionately known as 'Boofa', Michael hobbs' love of yoga and India shines through in his serene approach to video & photography. A lack of hierachy and a gentle approach to his direction allow for an honest depiction of environments, and give the necessary space for his subjects to be themselves. Here Michael shows us some of his recent photography from India and his beautiful video; 'There is no i in Rishikesh'. Enjoy!
Hi Michael, how are you?
I'm really well Russell, we've been enjoying an amazing global warming summer up here in London, so all good apart from the imminent hot house planet we're heading towards!
Where are you from in NZ? Where do you live now?
I'm London born but spent most of my adult life in Wellington, so I suppose I'm not really from anywhere but my NZ home is definitely Welington. I left NZ almost 5 years ago and after a little stint in New York I ended up back in London.
You have the nickname 'Boofa', how did you get that?
My parents gave me that name and the stories have changed over the years, the one I like the best is that dad was a bit stoned when I was born and he tried to say beautiful but Boofa is what came out of his mouth.
You have a company called Hippy Parents Films, do you have hippy parents? : )
I do! The company name came from the answer I give when people ask “Boofa’s a unusual name... where does it comes from?” = “hippy parents”.
How did you first get into photography & videography?
You know it took me a long time to find my calling in Wellington, after floating around for 5 or 6 years doing all sorts I co-founded a fashion label and started a music degree at the same time. I was doing all the design stuff for the label and started doing the photography. At the same time I was taking some visual media papers at Uni and getting into film stuff. It was the age of the Canon 5d Mark II and dslr's were pumping out those previously unattainable high budget looks. I was hooked and the high saturation of musicians in Welly looking for cheap or free video content became my film and photo schooling.
"the high saturation of musicians in Welly looking for cheap or free video content became my film and photo schooling."
Watch Michael's video 'There is no i in Rishikesh' below.
*Warning: Will make you chill.
Thanks for taking the time to show us your photographs & video from India. You have been to India several times, what first attracted you to go over there and why do you keep heading back?
Oh man India is a trip, what makes it special for me is that it's just completely different, the first time I went in the late 90s was the first time I realised that my life in London was not real, all the made up rules and systems that govern how we move through the world and how we think were completely different in India and it blew my mind "What fuck is going on here?" people shitting in the street, dead bodies burning by the river, people with nothing that would share their last food with you, unconditional smiles, chaotic traffic, burning trash on the road, cows everywhere, 100's of different gods, monkeys stealing your food, you name it. I keep going back because it feels more real than anywhere else, or maybe its just a reminder of whats real.
Do you visit different areas in India every time or head back to the same place?
I've been back to Rishikesh in the foothills of the Himalayas the last couple of times I've been back as I've been studying yoga and Indian philosophy with some special teachers there but I've travelled around over a good 6 or 7 trips. I'm thinking about going back again and making a documentary about yoga, we'll see if my missus will let me go or come with me!
What is your favourite type of yoga? & why?
I mostly practice Iyengar yoga here in London because I have access to some amazing teachers. I dig the Iyengar tradition because of it's detailed nature, pragmatic approach, and focus on health, the classes are a very different format to say a vinyasa flow class and there's generally some workshopping of different poses and some interacting with the teacher and other students, and if your lucky you'll find an Iyengar teacher who is the right balance of sergeant major and stand-up comedian (like mine) and you don't have to have a dancers body so I fit right in.
"it forces me to keep learning, keep practicing and be a better human, I can't argue with that."
You are a trained instructor now, do you give classes?
Yeah man! I completed a teacher training course in India about 4 years ago. I wasn't ready to teach straight after my course so I've been doing various other trainings back in London and I've just recently begun teaching private classes which has been a really great way to build up that experience. I don't think I really wanted to be a teacher, even during my trainings but it is a part of being a good yoga student and it forces me to keep learning, keep practicing and be a better human, I can't argue with that.
We love your portraits of people on the street, do you engage in conversation with your subjects before shooting their portraits?
Really it depends on the dynamic and what lens I have on, if I have my 70-200mm on I'm quite happy to take some candid portraits but I really love to talk to and engage with my subjects, if I couldn't do that I probably wouldn't be into photography, being able to connect with people from behind the lens is a real privilege.
Can you speak Hindi?
Ha ha ha maybe about 10 words, 'accha' is my favourite, it means 'good' but I use it like 'cool', like you'd say with a kiwi nod.
Does travel spark your creativity?
Absolutely. Like nothing else. The people, the food, the landscapes!
"sometimes it's so inspiring that you just want to be in the moment and not carry your gear with you or pull your camera out."
Is it hard to separate 'being a tourist' from your creative process?
Well this is the crux, sometimes it's so inspiring that you just want to be in the moment and not carry your gear with you or pull your camera out. I often go on a trip with the sole-purpose of creating a short film or a photo essay and don't even take my camera out of the bag, other times I purposely don't take my camera away and am kicking myself because I see the perfect photo. I'm o.k. with that though.
Do you travel alone?
Not as a rule, I've been really lucky to have had some great travel partners in the last few years and it is always more fun when you're with someone you vibe with especially if they're sympathetic to your cameras needs. Though solo travels make for better photos.
What was the soundtrack to your most recent India trip?
Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar
What excites you about photography?
It's the ability to connect with people. Being able to look at people and the details of their faces and expressions with a closeness that is normally only reserved for loved ones, this is such a privilege.
Is your creative approach different for photography and video?
Generally my approach to video is a bit more thoughtful, I think about the shot up before I get the camera out. My photography is a bit more documentary style, I'll grab my camera, go for a walk and see what happens.
We are keen to know a bit more about life in your adopted city London…What excites you most about London?
Having access to some of the best yoga teachers in the world. The amazing coffee and food. Riding the buses.
"I'm quite happy doing mostly film for money and taking pictures for fun."
Are you managing to make a living from film/photography in London?
I make a living mainly from my film work at the moment and I have 2 or 3 regular clients that keep me busy, I'm mostly working in the music industry but I also get some NGO jobs through and a little agency stuff. The last time I had a soley photography job was a while ago for an NGO and it was documentary style work, I'd be very hesitant to take any commercial photography other than documentary or travel. But, I'm quite happy doing mostly film for money and taking pictures for fun.
Do you find it hard to balance your personal work with your editorial/commercial work?
No not really, the natural balance in London is photos for personal work and video for commercial work. I do want to make some more personal film projects at some point but I'm not sure what that looks like yet. Maybe another short documentary.
Big city living can be draining - how do you escape the daily grind?
Yoga and walking in the parks.
Digital or film?
Any tips for young upstart photographers?
Oh man, I feel like I need tips from upstart photographers, I assisted Emma Anderson recently... a Wellington photographer who is killing it in NYC and Paris. She was my very first assistant when I was doing fashion photography in Wellington many moons ago and I got to return the favour and watch and learn from her, that was really amazing. So on that note I would just say work with lots of people, for free if you have to. Oh and most importantly be nice to absolutely everyone you work with, from the tea lady (never work without a tea lady) to the client, people will remember that and it will go a long way.
What do you miss most about NZ?
So many things but apart from my friends and family I think I'll have to go with the coffee...
Hippy Parents: website
Hippy Parents: @hippy_parents
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