Henry Rollins on Travel, Photography, and Running for President

Henry Rollins embodies the punk ethos in more ways than one — he’s well known for his role as vocalist for 1980s hardcore punk band, Black Flag, and he’s also an actor, orator, photographer, writer, television and radio host, as well as a comedian.

Rollins is stopping by the Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton on Jan. 19 during his Travel Slideshow tour — an intimate evening of stories showcasing photos he’s taken across the world, in the Middle East, Africa, Central Asia, South America and Antarctica.

We caught up with Rollins over email and asked him whether he’d run for president, what his experience was like visiting North Korea, and whether he has a favorite travel book.


Chris Goudreau: When did you first become passionate about photography, specifically travel photography and documenting your experiences through photographs?

Henry Rollins: Usually, I would just take a lot of notes and write about what I had seen, but about 15 years ago, thought that I should also start dragging a camera around with me as well. That led to going through a few cameras, upgrading as I hit the limits as to what they could do and finally settled on sturdy gear that could travel well, allow me to switch out lenses, adjust f-stop, etc. It took a lot of exposures to get things close to how I wanted them to look. I sometimes spend months traveling alone, which gave me a lot of time to work on composition, etc. Photographing street scenes and other locations I’m in is what interests me. It’s not all that far removed from journalism. I’m just trying to tell the story. I’m not very good but I’m getting a little better.


Chris:  Do you think Americans need to travel more and experience other cultures?

Henry: I think it would be great if all Americans could get out of America for a little while to some places that are different than what they’re familiar with and see how many people all over the world live in a constant state of food and water insecurity. It might change how they see things. America is an amazing place and I think it’s easy for someone to get insulated. It’s not their fault, but it should be addressed.


Chris: How did you come up with the idea for the Travel Slideshow and what do you find meaningful about touring and sharing your personal stories and work?

Henry: A few years ago, I was asked to do one of these shows at National Geographic’s theater in DC. I did and liked it. I did another one in Los Angeles and thought it was a good way to communicate. The photos led to a lot of tangential references, which I think make for an interesting show. We thought we would do a number of dates and see how it rolled out. I enjoy showing the images because for my audience, they’ve never seen me do anything like this.


Chris: Could you tell me about your experience visiting North Korea? Also, could you share the circumstances regarding how you were able to gain entry into the country and when you visited North Korea?

Henry: North Korea was, for the most part, just sad. The people seemed fine but hungry and nervous. They’re just people but with an oppressive regime standing over them. I have an amazing travel agent. She’s retired but comes out of retirement for me. She had the connection for North Korea. I don’t know how things are now but when I went, a few years ago, she was given a few visa opportunities every year. So, I went.


Chris: What’s one of your favorite books about traveling and why is it one of your favorites?

Henry: I can’t think of any travel books I’ve read. I liked Henry Miller’s writing from his days in Paris when I was young but I can’t think of any travel books I’ve read. I like Robert Fisk’s books on his reportage the Middle East and Ryszard Kapuscinski’s books on Africa. They’re not exactly travel books but they’re about being in these places and they’re amazing reads. Both writers have had some 100 percent insane experiences from interviews with bin Laden (Fisk) and nearly being executed (Kapuscinski) more than once.


Chris:  Having visited North Korea, what are your thoughts about the current climate and threats of nuclear attack as well as Donald Trump’s recent tweet about having a bigger button than Kim Jong-un?

Henry: While I’m sure the president has four truckloads more intelligence on the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] (DPRK) than I’ll ever have, as well as a room full of experts on the region, what I don’t think he gets or cares about is the fact that what he says has far different implications than what he thinks. He says these stupid things like the big button tweet and you can just write it off as a man who doesn’t know what he’s doing but in the DPRK, what he says is taken so differently, you would never be able to explain it to him. He either doesn’t know or care or both. To be succinct, this kind of thing doesn’t rattle Kim and doesn’t make any kind of progress easier to forward. His base might think it’s all cool and kickass but they simply don’t know what’s at stake. With North Korea basically being part of China geographically, whatever happens to North Korea happens to them as well, not to mention South Korea.


Chris: Would you ever consider running for president?

Henry: No! I wouldn’t run for dogcatcher. It’s the last job on earth I would want besides a prison guard. Too much.


Chris: What are some of your travel plans in the near future aligning with your photography?

Henry:  I’ve got work for the next few months and am hoping that when it ends, there will be a few months more waiting, so I have no travel plans at present. If I suddenly had a work deficit, I would like to go to New Guinea, Chad, Colombia, back to Antarctica.


Chris: You’ve visited Northampton on tours in the past, do you have any fond memories of the area? What do you like about it?

Henry: Nothing stands out as a single experience but it’s a great audience and I always know it’s going to be a good night. It’s my kind of place. Wait, I just remembered, one time I was in the backstage area post show and a woman came into the room. I wasn’t trying to be alone in the room with her. She kinda cornered me, put her face in front of mine and said, with great intensity and conviction, “The bees are dying.” She gave me some bee facts as I worked my way towards the door.


Chris: Do you think the hardcore punk ethos of Black Flag can be found in your other creative work such as your photography?

Henry: Intensity, impact, confrontation, clarity, hopefully.


Chris: What do you hope audience members will take away from your Travel Slideshow?

Henry: Clear images, good stories. Hopefully, no one will think their intelligence was insulted or their time wasted.

For more information about Henry Rollins’ Travel Slideshow visit www.aomtheatre.ticketfly.com/ event/1575829-henry-rollins-travel-northampton

Author: Chris Goudreau

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