Chris Hornbecker is an award-winning photographer specializing in environments, portraiture, and sports for clients such as Nike, Eddie Bauer, Pendleton, Time Magazine, Adidas, and the Portland Timbers. He has travelled all over the world shooting everything from pro athletes to everyday people to empty parking garages. Chris was the first person who came to our minds when looking for a photographer that would perfectly capture bonsai as a true art form, and we’re excited to have him along with us for the ride. We sat down with him to ask a few questions about his background and how bonsai has influenced what he does. Here’s what he had to say.
What do you do?
As a photographer, I am driven by my passion to capture those small fleeting moments that have a kernel of honesty. It’s that feeling that you get when you recognize something about a person or place and are able to capture. A little connection that draws you in for a closer look. It's these moments of enhanced reality as seen through a different lens that drew me into photography.
How did you get started?
I've always found ways to bring my creative outlook to the things that I do in life. It's your creative fingerprint that you put on whatever you do. I started with photography in high school and then focused on making skateboard videos, skateboarding, DJing and art. It wasn't until later in life that I discovered how to turn that passion into a profession in the photography industry. I stumbled into photo assisting in 1998 and worked on learning as much about photography as I could before starting to shoot full time.
What excites you most about The Artisans Cup?
For me creativity is a way to remix ideas. I see the artisan cup as a way to remix people’s notions about what bonsai is. It represents a way to bring together craftsman and showcase their unique perspectives on presentation. It shows that you don't have to live within a boxed set of notions and that you can grow beyond and to wherever your mind wants to take things.
What initially drew you to The Artisans Cup? What made you want to partner with us?
I met Ryan Neil and was instantly taken by his craft, his approach to his craft, his dedication, his patience, and passion that he has for not only bonsai but art and the processes of getting there. I've always been attracted to shapes and forms and here was a chance to stop, study, and immerse myself in these beautiful living sculptures. When they asked me to help on this project there was no hesitation in jumping on board.
Who has had the biggest influence in your career (living or dead)?
For me, I see influence as the collective whole. I take little bits from everything I see, the good and the bad. Beautiful composition taken from an inspirational image or even something from a really bad image, then taking a little nugget of lighting or posture or emotion. There's inspiration in all of it. Getting to see Mark Gonzolas skate in person, walking around giant chunks of ice on the black sand beach in Jökulsárlón Iceland, Nadav Kander, Richard Avedon, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Gregory Crewdson, Christo and Jeanne-Claude to name a few. But I would say skateboarding has probably the biggest influence. It taught me the subtle nuances of how each person does the same trick in their own way. The dedication and the amount of practice to achieve that goal. It's a combination of the technical, the artistic, and the energy that’s all put into the one moment of doing a trick solely for the sake of doing that trick and nothing more. It's like life. It comes and it goes in the blink of an eye. So stop, take a look, and enjoy it.
Tell me about your creative process.
I take an idea and I try to see it from different angles and approaches and assess the overall feel. I spend a lot of time revisiting ideas, slowly changing and refining them over time. I keep an ongoing list of ideas that keep getting rearranged and slowly developed. I go over the shoot in my head and try to visualize all of the details: how does the lighting feel, what would it look like in these other environments? I'm always looking for ways to merge several different ideas into one shot. It boils down to the remix. Everything has been done before so how do I take those same elements and mix them up?
Where do you find inspiration?
Inspiration comes in many forms for me. It's in the subtle things that people walk by every day and never notice. Trying to find a different angle on the familiar subject. It's the intuition to follow a certain path just to see what's there. A lot of times I glance and think I see something, then upon closer inspection it's not what I thought I saw at all, but it inspires an idea, shape or technique.
Does your work often involve collaboration? What’s your perspective on collaboration?
I really like what collaboration with other people brings to the table. A lot of times there's a simple solution right in front of you that someone from a completely different background might see right away. I like the bouncing back-and-forth of ideas as a way to evolve what's behind the idea and elevate the project on the whole.
Have the principles of the art of Bonsai influenced you since working with The Artisans Cup? How?
It's given me a greater appreciation for "time" and how that is such a huge part of the creative process that doesn't always get the attention it needs or deserves. In this fast-paced world we forget that it takes time for the ideas to grow and cultivate.
See more of Chris’ work
Follow Chris on Instagram