The analogue and digital worlds have never been this close. Sebastian Henkel embodies the shift towards a society where the difference between what’s real and what isn’t is not relevant anymore. The combination of fashion photography and digital graphics within a surreal atmosphere takes the viewer to a dreamlike state. Contorted bodies, gigantic flowers, impossible colors... nothing goes unnoticed on Sebastian Henkel’s work, because every shape, every texture and every color play a vital role in it.
If I’m not mistaken, you studied Business and Film in Mainz. How did that experience influence you?
It definitely influenced my work as a photographer, but not directly. Besides marketing, I had classes in film theory, history and philosophy. It was all very theoretical. No workshops or projects, just lectures. We weren’t taught how to film, instead we were taught how to analyze media. This process is quite different from how I work today, but it is a useful tool if you want to reverse the engine or conceptualize new ideas.
Did you know at that point that you wanted to become a photographer?
No, I didn’t have a clue. The first time I picked up an SLR was in Shanghai while interning at a post production company at the end of my studies. At first it wasn’t photography itself that fascinated me. I simply enjoyed the possibility to capture fragments of reality and then build my own escapist cosmos around it in post.
So, tell us, when did you realize photography was what you were really attracted to?
After graduation I assisted Daniel Sannwald in London. Even though it was an interesting experience, I still wasn’t sure if photography was the right choice for me. It took me another year of experimenting and doing some other stuff until I made my final decision.
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The combination between photography and graphic design is the core of your work. Is this something you have always been into?
I always liked to draw and paint as a kid, and dabbled in graffiti as a teen. I guess the graphical aspect of my work can be seen as a logical consequence of that.
Is there something you are trying to express through it?
My intentions are mainly superficial. Even though I follow some kind of concept when working on my own projects, I usually intend to “say” as less as possible. Every design decision carries a certain amount of political identity, that’s inevitable. But I try to minimize this as much as possible. In my opinion, the current zeitgeist is polluted by an overkill of politics. Sometimes it is good to keep your mouth shut. We all need to calm down a bit.
Your style is characterized by the construction of a surreal and dreamlike world surrounding your models, which you create using computer-generated images with a wide range of different influences. Where do you get inspiration from?
At the beginning I was mainly inspired by a mix of comic books, sci-fi flicks and video games. Nowadays I’m more directly influenced by the fashion world. On the one hand that’s a logical and positive consequence of becoming more and more professional. On the other hand, it’s rather bad because you become part of a feedback loop. From time to time I try to push reset and break out of this semi-enclosed system.
“Girls have always been something very special, a sort of mystery to me. In a way, my work is a means of research.”
We live in a world that is becoming more and more dependent on technology. Do you see this as something that is making our lives better, or something we should be afraid of?
There are always cons to be considered, but all in all I have a rather positive view on technology. I guess that also shows in my work.
I can’t see males on your work. Do you get more inspired by a woman’s body?
I attended a catholic boys school and didn’t have any sisters or many female friends when I was a kid. Girls have always been something very special, a sort of mystery to me. In a way, my work is a means of research. But I’m trying to broaden my repertoire at the moment. I’m shooting more and more boys. Check my portfolio for updates! You will see some of the results in the near future. Gender equality!
Your collages are 100% digital. Have you ever worked professionally with analogue cameras?
Not really. When I started shooting digital SLRs were already widely available. At that point, film didn’t make much sense to me. Besides I’m not the biggest fan of nostalgia, or at least not when it doesn’t have an ironical undertone.
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And when it comes to collage, don’t you feel attracted by paper images to create your compositions?
I’ve already tried that. The results were so-so. But I will definitely try it again. I like the idea of layering reality and virtuality. Thanks for the reminder!
You are currently based in Berlin. What are the perks of living in a vibrant city like this for an artist? 
I think there are two main advantages: inspiration and nice collaborators. At least on a German scale, Berlin takes the lead in both dimensions. Internationally, it still has to improve to keep up with other metropolises.
Are we ever going to see your collages brought to live in video? 
I’ve already thought about this a couple of times. At the moment there are still too many unexplored ideas I would like to realize photographically before migrating.
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