An Interview With Tom Hunter – The Print House

2nd March 2013

When I booked my train journey for this study day I found out that to get there in time for the lecture I’d need to be up by 5-45 am to get ready and down to the station in time.  I honestly had to ask myself if this was going to be worth it not knowing much at all about Tom Hunter.  The joining instructions had as usual provided information on the subject, in this case the man himself, but my normal method of operation is to keep an open mind about what I’m going to see by NOT reading up on it, seeing the exhibition for myself then read the blurb and make an informed decision.  Luckily I got some idea that it would be worthwhile from another couple of students who new a fair amount about Tom, or had been to another event with him and had convinced me it was necessary to go.  Glad I did.

Arriving at ‘The Print House’ along with about twenty others over a period of half-an-hour we had the opportunity to discover the images of Tom in an exhibition being held there in the foyer.  I must admit to being unimpressed with the offerings and couldn’t reconcile the artist statement about the work with the work itself, which for me isn’t at all unusual, and the fact that a pinhole camera had been used to produce the images seemed entirely irrelevant to me.  Perhaps not the most auspicious start.

We were all ushered into an upstairs room via bridges and fire escape type stairs where several rows of slatted hard-back chairs were laid out with an overhead projection onto a white-painted wall, the consolation was the room was warm (it was very cold outdoors).  Unfortunately Tom was late but the company was good so there was plenty of chatting and discussion. It soon became clear that Tom is a very relaxed sort of person and is a very good public speaker.  After a couple of minor technical issues had been resolved the lecture got underway at a fast pace which was maintained until the end about 2 hours later.

I don’t think Tom has any radical left-wing leanings, just a very well-developed sense of social injustice and is very keen to ensure that what he sees as a travesty of poor planning, total unconcern for the downtrodden, blight and all the other manifestations of bad inner city management at local and national level is brought to the attention of those who don’t really want to know and don’t want to care.  He’s irreverent and outspoken in a charming and informed way about issues he sees as important, particularly housing.

He led us through a swift resume of his early life and career as a tree surgeon, his wandering in the USA and his re-discovery of photography at about the age of 23, when he started making images of customers who came to his Saturday morning market stall, no engagement, no please or thank you, just bish, bosh give us your dosh, onto the next.  He then went on to describe how he became involved and passionate about his social conscience and the work that gave him resend être.

I was impressed with his highly articulate and passionate discourse on how and why he makes the images he does and what drives him.  It may not be the type of work everyone wants to become involved with, but I doubt anyone could not be moved to understand his commitment and passion, which can be harnessed to anyone’s work.  Describing how he gets his inspiration and then the  lengths he goes to scout the right locations, light, timings and prop details made me realise that the acclaim he now receives has not come from a few excellent shots which have just happened, a lot of really hard work has gone into his rise to fame and he believes that even though he might now be considered to have ‘made it’ he doesn’t believe that he can rest on his laurels and now works harder than ever to remain where he is.

I was also very impressed with his dedication to the work he’s obviously put in to studying classical painting and now uses that knowledge to recreate tableaux to work his messages to a wider audience who will undoubtedly appreciate the references to this earlier work.

So what did I takes away from this?  A much better understanding of what it takes to make genuinely good art in the medium I’ve chosen and a much clearer understanding of the methodology I need to use to research and make the work I want to portray.  I also think it’s helped me decide on the subjects that I feel passionate about in the same ways he obviously does and the will to now take that forward and start making the work to support it.

I’m still not impressed with the images I saw in the foyer, but I can understand why he made them and the sentiment behind them.

3 Responses to An Interview With Tom Hunter – The Print House

  1. watlvry says:

    I attended a similar audience with Tom (and Rut Blees Luxembourg) in 2011 so when I heard this event was over-subscribed I dropped out to give someone else a seat. I sympathise with your impressions of his photos in the building and I find this frequently myself, most recently in the Man Ray show at the NPG. I’ve been on study visits where the photos had no captions and you really had to know what was going on, and at this stage in my learning that can be both frustrating, but also challenging me to go away and find out more about why the artist is being exhibited. So as you understood from listening to Tom, I only understood a bit more about Man Ray from further research.

    • Eddy Lerp says:

      I think that the majority of his other work seems to have a meaning for me, it’s just that group of images taken inside churches, working men’s clubs etc with a pin-hole camera that I couldn’t grasp the significance of. When I looked at his other stuff I get the impression he’s a great artist, I suppose all great artists don’t hit the point with all their work with everyone.

      • watlvry says:

        He does provide fairly unique images though, and that provokes us to apply our own experience to understanding what it is that we’re seeing. When I saw his interiors I was very impressed and actually went out and tried pin-hole photography myself. It does bring a different view of the world, and I’d love to go to the same locations that Tom visited and take the same views but with a digital camera, and I’ll bet they would be very different images that generated very different responses. I also think that the point of focusing on recognised practitioners such as Hunter means that you start to waste less of your time on photographers with nothing to say. I think that most of the locations were of quite old buildings, and the use of pin-hole on film certainly adds a feeling of a time long gone, if nothing else.

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