As he is

Interview: photographer Just Loomis. Twenty years of work by the ex-Helmut Newton protégé, including a photo tour-diary of perennial MTV flashback a-ha, is coming to Gallery Hiltawsky on April 9.

Image for As he is
Annabelle and James. Photo by Just Loomis

Just Loomis achieved fame in the 1980s as a fashion photographer and protégé of Helmut Newton. He shot the famous cover photograph for Norwegian synthpop band a-ha’s Hunting High and Low (1985), for which he was nominated for a Grammy. In the mid-1990s, Loomis abandoned fashion photography to focus on more personal projects, including documentary-style portraits of everyday life in the American Southwest. As We Are, opening at Galerie Hiltawsky on April 9, features photographs from his personal archives that have never been exhibited before.

What inspired you to start taking pictures?

In my childhood I felt very alone. I had affluent, emotionally distant parents and a confused older brother. I slipped into a world where no one really paid me any attention. I would try to show my family something, and they would just sort of brush me aside. So this wellspring of desire to speak what I felt and saw built up inside me. And when I started to make photographic prints, I found something that was me and had nothing to do with them. All of my photographs relate to this experience.

How did Helmut Newton influence the development of your style?

Illusions of being able to do what he did caused me a lot of difficulty, until Helmut himself set me free with the words, “follow your roots”. Helmut did just that. He returned to the Weimar Republic in his mind, to that time of his childhood and teenage years in Berlin. I had the American West in the 1970s: girls in macramé bikinis dancing to the Grateful Dead, smoking joints and drinking beer, smiling and laughing. And I had my family and all it meant to me.

You photographed a-ha on their Brazilian tour in 1991. How was it?

It was the most unforgettable time. I had never experienced the hysteria that comes with being a pop star. There were thousands of screaming, die-hard fans at Rock in Rio, and hundreds of them camped out in front of the hotel waiting for a glimpse of one of the band members. The band would go to the balcony and wave and the response from the fans was overwhelming. It amazed me.

Why do you enjoy taking pictures?

I see work as a pathway to establish myself to myself and construct a way of living based on a search for something beautiful and true. I know this is an outmoded idea, but I think making art is hard work. Nothing good comes from just copying great work that has come before. We must find our own way.