Tom Hunter http://www.tomhunter.org/gallery/ – Look at the two series Life and Death in Hackney and Unheralded Stories. Do you notice the connection between the people and their surroundings? How does Hunter achieve this? What kinds of places are these photographs set in? Are they exotic, special or ordinary, everyday places? There’s something ‘mythical’ and yet also ‘everyday’ about Hunter’s pictures. Look carefully at one or two images and try to pick out the features that suggest these two different qualities.
Tom Hunter provides information about his art alongside the two galleries required for review by the brief, and I have been able to add to this with further reading online. Hunter uses local people in their own environment, a place that is familiar for he and them. The photos are staged with “sitters” (not models). They are local people who he either knows, or he discovers locally. Although the photos are meticulously staged so that they represent a painting from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the sitters are so familiar with the environment that only a few appear to be staged photos. Hand on heart – I have no idea about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and no art history, so I have had to do some research)
Hunter gave an interview to the Guardian Newspaper in which he says “The whole idea was to elevate the status of my sitters; to take the attributes of classical painting and put them on to my sitters. That was my political motivation. I’ve always been political, and it’s very important to me that people don’t see Hackney as a mythical place. It is a real place, and it’s somewhere everyone up and down the country can relate to. These things are going on in every town and county. You don’t have to go to Afghanistan to find a war zone. People are shooting each other every day in Hackney.” (Aitkenhead, D; 2005)
Do I understand the political intention behind staging people in their local setting to reenact news-stories, as a way of engaging the viewer with what is going on in front of their eyes? Yes. Do I understand the propaganda instigated by the capitalist minority so that they can further influence and control the behaviour of the proletariat, and corrupt their minds so that they scorn those who live an alternate lifestyle or who are socially excluded, and that this is social control? Yes I do.
Most of the external of the settings appear to be edgelands. The spaces between the city and the countryside, and they also appear to be less affluent. Hell that’s not true, they appear to be places of poverty and degradation. We are seeing marginalised people in marginilised communities. The kind of places that governments make quick promises to, and take slow actions about. These kind of areas can be found in cities and towns throughout the UK and the rest of the world. Interestingly the London Borough of Hackney is no edgeland. Its is in the heart of London and borders with the City of London (business district).
I do not see these places as being exotic (foreign, non-native, tropical) and only three of four of these pieces of art appear to have anything mythical about them. Maybe if I had a history with fine art I may have seen more mystery and myth within the series. Staging photos so that they mimic famous paintings does not necessarily create a magical feeling to those with no knowledge of those works. Although having read from Hunter site, his interview in the Guardian and a review by Robert Wilkes (Wilkes, R; 2014) I do have an understanding of the intent of adding an aesthetical feel to political issues as a way of engaging political dialogue.
Exploring the everyday and mythical
My thoughts – A dilapidated house from the 1960’s. I would have guessed at an earlier period if it had not been for two miniature colour photos of children on the fireplace to the right of the scene. The woman is alive (colour of skin) and is wearing lipstick and eyeliner that is still very neat with no smudging,(so we are not viewing heroin chic of the late 90’s and no apparent drunkenness). Its 8.50 and I would guess PM as there is the reflection of a light in the painting of the female religious figure on the wall – top left. She is divorced and the wedding band is now on her right hand. Is she preparing to go out for the night to meet her friends? Despite this she is grieving and feels alone, dirty ashamed and unloveable (Symbolism – empty made bed, that’s stained and dirty, the floor has no carpet, the wall paper is terribly faded, there is no longer a mirror above the fireplace and there is now just white paint). She sees herself as a fallen woman, prostrating before Jesus and Mary (Mary statue, Jesus Painting, Cross on necklace on the Jesus painting, female religious painting). There is clearly the overlay of the myth of the fallen woman – a label that puts women on a pedestal as being saintly then humiliates them for being human, and the myth of Christ as portrayed (Catholicism – WHITE (WTF?), halo, saintly, GOD in the form of man).
The reality is that it could be any one of us in this situation and at different times throughout our life we all feel alone, ashamed, tired, grief and not good enough. When compared to Death of Sardanapalus by Delacroix and become aware that a man is laying on a bed staring out from his bed at an orgy, with a woman dead at his feet, we are then reminded that the woman on Hunters bed has suffered at the hands of man. That is so familiar that most of the 3.6b women on the planet can relate to. The myth that is alluded to is a familiar and frequent reality for many.
My thoughts – When I first viewed the series Life and Death in Hackney, this was the photo that I stopped at. The reason being that all of the others looked like candid or street photography. However this photo did not. It reminded me of a painting, and this was the one photo that looked staged. The canal has indeed become a stage so that Hunter could recreate the painting Ophelia by John Everett Millais. The blue trousers, the grassy bank and shrub with its flowers and bloom and its petals in the canal, provide a very surreal scene. However the bridge and industrial buildings in the background bring us back to the present day. The title suggests that there has been a misadventure on the way home, but the staging stops me from having emotion relating to it. I don’t believe the story because of the staging. I find that is a shame. Because the story is tragic, and it is tragic because it is real. Hunter read a newspaper article about a woman who had been found dead in a canal. This leaves me with the dilemma and tension between the beauty and art of the photo, and the tragedy of the narrative. I do not like that feeling, but its an incredibly clever piece of art that brings together myth, tradgedy and beauty – all of which are very real and very human.
Fig 1 – Hunter, T; 2010; Death of Coltelli; At http://www.tomhunter.org/unheralded-stories-series/
Fig 2 – Hunter, T; 1998; The Way Home; At http://www.tomhunter.org/life-and-death-in-hackney/
Aitkenhead, D; 2005; Life is Grand; In The Guardian [online] at https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2005/dec/03/photography (accessed on 14/06/2017)
Wilkes, R; 2014; Reinterpreting the Pre-Raphaelites: Tom Hunter; At https://dantisamor.wordpress.com/2015/12/15/reinterpreting-the-pre-raphaelites-tom-hunter/