Lives of Artists: With Gregory Halpern

Gregory Halpern portrait

GHP What time do you wake up?
GH It’s pretty variable. I don’t have a routine. But lately, during Corona times, I try to wake up at 5:30 and get a little work done before my kids (who are three and six years old) wake up, after which very little gets done! I love making coffee in the dark, when the house is quiet.

GHP What do you eat for breakfast?
GH Again, no routine there. Sometimes a bagel and scrambled eggs. Sometimes it’s dried oats with oak milk, sunflower seeds and cinnamon. My girls call it “momma cereal,” after its creator. 

GHP Describe where you produce your work, and why you chose that space.
GH Wandering, usually on foot. It’s the best way for me to see, to notice things and meet people, and I also think walking also makes for a good, slower headspace. 

GHP Do you have a particular daily routine that helps you work?
GH I wish I had more of a routine, but every day is different. I’m not terribly well organized, so any attempt at planning often gets replaced by whatever I need to do, or want to do, on a given day. In terms of photographing, however, my preference is to be out most of the day. It can take time to settle into a good place. If I don’t have all day, I’ll go for just the last couple of hours of sunlight. I like to pick a location, and often I’ll return to it time and again. An urban park is often the most common kind of place I’ll return to. I’ll start there, or perhaps I’ll take a meandering route there, and if I get sidetracked, I get sidetracked, which is sometimes a good thing, because it stops me from repeating myself.


Hands Omaha NE, 2005-2018. Gregory Halpern

GHP What are you currently working on?
GH I am finishing a book of pictures from Guadeloupe, and I am starting a book about Buffalo, New York, where I grew up.

GHP What do you do when you need to reset your mind?
GH Watch a movie, exercise. If my kids are in a good mood, hanging out with them works too.

GHP Who was your most important mentor or inspiration?
GH That’s hard for me to say, because as a student I had the opportunities to work with so many incredible artists over the years, Larry Sultan, Jim Goldberg and Todd Hido among them. But at a very impressionable age – 19 years old — I met Chris Killip, who was my teacher when I was an undergrad at Harvard. I’d say more than anyone else, he changed my path in life and work. He was tough on me, sometimes brutally honest, but also encouraging. Perhaps more than anything, his work and his own life story inspired me. He’s the one who encouraged me to go to go graduate school at California College of the Arts, where I met Larry, Jim and Todd.

GHP Who do you speak to when you need a second opinion or who gives the best feedback?
GH My wife, the photographer Ahndraya Parlato. She’s crazy smart, and always honest (sometimes a little too honest).

Gregory Halpern Omaha Sketchbook install

Gregory Halpern | Omaha Sketchbook, 2019. Installation View

GHP If you weren’t an artist what would you do?
GH I don’t know, but I wish I worked with my hands more, made more physical objects. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of carpentry or furniture making.

GHP How do you switch off from work in the evening?
GH It’s not easy for me to switch off. Reading to my kids helps. A beer helps too. A mindless show is great, but I don’t do that often enough.

GHP What book are you reading right now?
GH George Saunders’s Civil War Land in Bad Decline. I’ve been a little obsessed with Saunders lately.

GHP Who is the other artist working today that you most admire?
GH That’s so hard to say. The photographer Lua Ribeira recently reminded me of the film Werckmeister Harmonies, by Hungarian director Béla Tarr. I rewatched it and have been thinking about it a lot ever since. I think it’s just stunningly beautiful. I see something like that and wish I could do that. I don’t think I have the mind for film, but I’m in awe of that piece, so right now I guess I’d say Béla Tarr.

GHP If you could have lunch with any artist from across time, who would it be and why?
GH That’s a hard one. Beethoven? I would have absolutely no idea what to say to him, but I would like to listen to him.

GHP What are you most proud of in your career?  
GH Right now, I think I’m most proud of my most recent book, Omaha Sketchbook, which MACK published last Fall

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