“Beauty” was the word that frequently cropped up when Tom Hunter described his recent collection of work “Tom Hunter: Unheralded Stories”, exhibited at the Purdy Hicks Gallery between 25 November 2010 to 15th January 2011.
On 14 January, the gallery hosted a special talk by the photographer, which was introduced by the The National Gallery‘s Head of Education, Colin Wiggins.
“Unheralded Stories” is a magnificent storytelling journey, following the acclaimed “Living in Hell and Other Stories” exhibition at The National Gallery in 2006.
In an age where the media is obsessed with the medium, and hyper-reality images are much lauded, Tom Hunter came along with his Hackney “characters” to present an alternative way to document the current issues – through timeless, painterly narrative and elegant storytelling.
He called his method “stage photography”, a real-life staging of real people as actors. Each scene is a unique setting with a protagonist and an act.
Hunter employed a special pinhole photography technique to create the series.
Each scene took from 15 to 30 minutes to expose, to capture incredible details and to leave ghostly feelings in some photographs. Most of the results were presented in large 5ft x 4ft formats.
Hunter is the first contemporary artist using photography who have exhibited at The National Gallery. Additions to the gallery’s ‘art collection’ stopped at 1900.
“He was chosen because of his excellent quality of work,” said Wiggins.
He derived his inspirations from the Old Masters such as Ingres, Caravaggio, Vermeer and The Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood, using them as points of departure for his creations.
Here are the soundbites from Tom Hunter:
On allowing the “magic” to happen in photography
“You get the magic in the camera; when you retouch it, you lose that magic. I don’t do any Photoshop. And I know it (the photograph) looks right.”
“I don’t like doing it with digital. When you work with chemistry, you get chemistry. You don’t know what’s going to happen. But it’s still nice.”
“Sometimes magic happens.”
On digital photography
“I don’t know what the hell people talk about these days, the digital cameras. People get too caught up with the technical stuff. It’s about the feeling.”
On the pinhole camera photography
“It’s a bit like a prayer when the sun pours into the camera.”
The artwork lives its own life
“You gave birth to it. It lives its life. It abuses people. It upsets people.”
“Scale is important. It gives an incredible feeling to have a changing perspective. You have to be aware what you are producing for. I am imagining them (the photographs) in a gallery.”
On looking at his photographs
“We kind of spoiled it (in reference to the explanation of his work to the audience). You should meditate on them, through your imagination. You do a better job making up that story, that narrative.”
On The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
(Regarding the obsession with details in some of his work) “It did come from The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.”
“It’s a part of the English heritage. Why dismiss them as superficial? They were very revolutionary in their struggle.”
“Every time I talk about artists from the past, I am also talking about their struggle.”
On being a photographer
“I am a photographer. I’m not a pictorialist. I don’t extract things like a painter. I don’t pretend that this is a painting.”
“I am an artist.”