On Struggling: Henry Roy

Long time Purple contributor Henry Roy talks about his way from growing up in Haiti to becoming one of the most remarkable and sensitive Portrait photographer of our times.

My story is long standing and complex, so that I am going to try to summarize it. I was born in 1963 in Port au Prince where I grew up until the age of 3. But my family had to leave the island such as numerous Haitians, threatened by the François Duvalier’s government.

I found myself growing up and studying in France. Due to my remarkable school results and following my parents strong will at the age of 14 I managed to enter the prestigious Lycée Henry IV (one of the very best French High Schools). This event changed my life. I was then entering the Parisian gentry’s network and becoming familiar with cultural habits that I had never experienced before. This is how I first got in touch with photography at the age of 18. I was totally blown away and wanted immediately to make a living out of this medium. After making short term university studies, I decided to go for it. I ended up by finding a school where I acquired the basics of the technique but most importantly the basis of what would structure my vocabulary, that is to say an eclectic mixture of literacy, cinematographic and photographic influences.

My teacher was an iconoclast erudite. He taught a range of topics from psychoanalysis to car racing or alchemy and rock music.
Then, for several years, I worked as a photojournalist in the areas of politics and tourism, but I was not very successful.
In the middle of the 90, I decided to create a portraits book of the main French black characters. This was like a way for me to interrogate my identity in this country where I am living. It was a sort of a crazy project in which no one was interested in France by that time. At the same time it was so important for me that I completed it after 3 and a half years of fierce battle.

This book gathered 70 famous French black people from various areas such as sports, literacy, science or Economics. By that time the book was interpreted by the French medias as a call to ethnical separatism. Nevertheless it was subject for a very successful exhibition. My images were inspired by famous portrait makers I’ve been studying (such as Richard Avedon or Irving Penn). This is when, after 10 years, my teacher came back to me. After seeing my book and exhibition he offered me to come and visit him for a while. I have been doing this for 3 years during which I attended a second non official and personalized training. My teacher used to say that noticing my artistic capacities, he wanted to reveal me to myself. He wanted to help me to get free from any influences and find my own way.

Eventually I put an end to this fascinating relationship when it turned out unproductive.

I got into a confused and uncertain period of research until I randomly met Elein Fleiss, in the end of the 90’s. She was the editor and redactor in chief of Purple, which was by that time an independent Parisian magazine of a new kind. This magazine presented the international cultural scene under sharp and relevant analysis and shapes. Rising contemporary art was put next to cinema, literacy, music, architecture and fashion.

My pictures were published there for the first time in 1998, and followed a more than 10 years contribution. I was given the opportunity to develop and publish my personal work under the growing notoriety of the magazine. This is how I found my audience among young people from all over the world who were taking an interest to the creative avant-garde we were embodying.
Today I operate both for professional orders (portraits, fashion, advertising, reportage). And continue to develop my personal vision through photography, but also through writing and film.

HENRY ROY, July 2012