Photographer Henry Horenstein elevates the overlooked with shows in Portsmouth and Boston

by AryanArtnews
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Now 74 years old, Horenstein has a camera everywhere looking for characters and communities. He has published books such as “Honky Tonk: Portraits of Country Music” and “Shows” about the New York burlesque scene. He also writes a popular technical manual and memoir “Shoot What You Love” on photography.

Before he turned to photography, Hollenstein studied history at the University of Chicago and studied under EP Thompson, a labor historian at the University of Warwick in England. Speedway’s work grabbed him because of what Thompson taught him.

“He was the leader of what is called a’bottom-up school of history’,” Horenstein said. “He thought that people who were often overlooked in history should be studied, recorded, and recorded.”

Hollenstein remembered Thompson saying, “It’s going to be the right job.”

It urged him to pick up the camera. In 1972, he was enrolled in a graduate school at Rhode Island Design School. His role model was street photographer Weezy at the time, but his work also hinted at lessons about composition and tone learned from RISD teachers such as Aaron Siskind and Harry Callahan.

He went to the speedway and took pictures of fans, drivers and mechanics.

One shows a man with sharp features in a jumpsuit. The wrecked car behind him surrounds a stiff angle between his body and face. All that’s missing is cigarettes, and he’ll be a character in James Dean’s movie.

“Del, Thompson Speedway, Thompson, CT” Published in “Where Everybody Is Somebody” of 3S Artspace from Henry Hollenstein’s series “Speedway 72” in 1972. Henry Horenstein

“We think of art in terms of individual masterpieces. That’s Henry’s job, but he’s really a historian with a camera,” said the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, curator of the Photo History Collection. One Shannon Thomas Perich said. Perich held an exhibition of Horenstein’s “Honky Tonk” images in 2005.

“His approach is not over-conceptual. He has frankness and credibility,” Perich said. “He has a conceptual framework and can manifest it in a very accessible way.”

"Fan, Thompson Speedway, Thompson, Connecticut,"  From the Henry Horenstein series in 1972 "Speedway72," of "Everyone is who."
“Fan, Thompson Speedway, Thompson, Connecticut”, 1972, from “Where Everybody Is Somebody” in Henry Hollenstein’s series “Speedway 72”.Henry Horenstein

Horenstein’s photographs are ingrained in every detail. Partly because he records a subculture full of costumes and personality, it must also be because he reassures his subject.

“The great thing about documentary photography is meeting people. There is little adventure,” Hollenstein said. “It’s like an uncle or an aunt. Have fun. And it’s gone, and then you’re not responsible.”

Archive of Henry Horenstein's office at Fort Point.
Archive of Henry Horenstein’s office at Fort Point.

Sae Yamamoto Criter / Globe Staff

Another series of 3S Artspace, “Blitto Underground,” captures the bohemian Buenos Aires. Horenstein decided to do a show there in 2009 and go on an expedition. He called a friend who spent time there.

“I said,’I need a fixer. I need someone to translate. I need someone to drive me. I need someone to introduce me to Buenos Aires underground.” Renstein said. “He found me a brit.”

"Brit, Buenos Aires, Argentina," From the 2009 Henry Horenstein series "Brit underground," of "Everyone is who" In the 3S art space.
From “Blitto, Buenos Aires, Argentina”, 2009, Henry Horenstein’s series “Blitto Underground”, 3S Artspace’s “Where Everybody Is Somebody”. Henry Horenstein

Blitto — pronounced Bleeto — is a hotel concierge. “His other life is underground. He’s a club singer. He hangs out with a lot of people, cheats a lot, and has interesting friends,” said Hollenstein, who keeps in touch with Brit. .. “He was perfect.”

"Brit's friends, Buenos Aires, Argentina," From the 2009 Henry Horenstein series "Brit underground," of "Everyone is who."
“Friends of Brit, Buenos Aires, Argentina”, 2009, Henry Horenstein’s series “Brit Underground”, “Who is Everyone”. Henry Horenstein

The photographer returned in 2017 to produce his first feature-length documentary film, “Blitto Underground,” which will be screened at 3S Artspace on February 4.

Animal photography occupied Hollenstein in the 1990s and 2000s, which attracted the attention of gallers and collectors in a way not found in his other photography. His animal photographs at Gallery NAGA have a deliberate format. Sensual curve of bathing hippo.

"Bullnose Ray, Myliobatis freminvillii," 1995-2001, "Henry Horenstein: Animal Kingdom" At Gallery NAGA.
“Bullnose Ray, Myliobatis freminvillii”, 1995-2001 can be found in Gallery NAGA’s “Henry Horenstein: Animalia”. Courtesy of Henry Horenstein and Gallery NAGA, Boston
"Hippo, hippo amphibious," 1995-2001, "Henry Horenstein: The animal kingdom."
“Hippopotamus, Hippopotamus amphibious”, 1995-2001, “Henry Horenstein: Animalia”.Courtesy of Henry Horenstein and Gallery NAGA, Boston

But his connection to the documentary project (Horenstein’s little adventure) and his personal and his camera is what supports him.

After taking pictures of the Speedway, he stowed them. He didn’t even caption them. Five or six years ago, he took them out to show them to RISD students and taught them full-time since the 1990s.

“One of them said’Oh my god’,” Hollenstein said. “That’s where I live. My grandfather and the owner of the place are my best friends. They hunt together and drink together.”

Horenstein asked if she could help identify his subject.

“She put them in a local VFW hall,” he said.

The man in the jumpsuit is named Del Birdick. Horenstein will publish a new book, Speedway 72, this spring.

He considers the title of the 3S Artspace show to be the belief “Where Everybody Is Somebody”.

“I look at animals and humans, record what they are or who they are, and if I can do it well, I say,’Wow, that’s enough.'” Stein said. “That’s as good as I can get.”

Where everyone is who

3S Artspace, 319 Vaughan St., Portsmouth, New Hampshire, January 7-20. 603-766-3330,

Henry Horenstein: Animals

Gallery NAGA, 67 Newbury Street, January 7-February. 5. 617-267-9060,

You can contact Cate McQuaid at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @cmcq..

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