Hunter’s work is greatly influenced and inspired by historical references, paintings and mythologies, especially by Johannes Vermeer, a Dutch Baroque Period painter from the 17th century who specialised in domestic interior scenes of middle class life. My most favourite works by Hunter, Persons Unknown, was especially influenced by Vermeer’s work. Hunter was very taken in by the fact that Vermeer focused on a middle class portraiture in an era where paintings were considered the prerogative of the rich. The fact that Vermeer took unknown middle class people and painted them with great detailing using beautiful sources of light upon them inspired Hunter to do the same with his friends and people who lived in his neighbourhood in north-east London, Hackney.
His recent works, Figures in a Landscape, inspired by Thomas Couture’s Romans during the Decadence (1847), beautifully fuses mythological figures, legends and myths to an urban context, by setting it against a post industrial British landscape. These ancient figures reminds one of childhood memories, taking one back into time, into the realms of magic and myth.
His photographic series, Unheralded Stories, is my personal favourite. The scenes that he has recreated from the old paintings is phenomenal. Once again the setting of most of these recreated scenes is own neighbourhood – a middle class life, but they have a much larger context, one that all of us can relate to. The staged scenes that each of these images portray are detailed with great focus and clarity, be it the backdrop against which the scene is set or a simple gesture of the human form within. Each one of these images tell a story, each one invokes an emotion and each one can be understood by different people within their own contexts. What is most striking in his works is the fact that it takes ordinary people and make them look ethereal.
His work not only links the old and forgotten with the modern and new but also crosses boundaries of the local areas and settings they have been made in – no matter where one is geographically located one can relate or put themselves in that scene effortlessly. His compositions, simplistic and modest, imbibe a certain dignity that they wouldn’t draw ordinarily. He draws attention to social, cultural and political issues faced by the people of East London with his series ‘Persons Unknown’, a series of powerful portraits, reflecting the life and adversities faced by a community of people who made the abandoned warehouses of Hackney their home. Hunter believes in the power of art, particularly photography, to invoke social change, and in a way standing up for and giving back to your society. He has been inspired by the local area and community that he lived in, taking a sense of pride in areas of London many wished didn’t exist. These poor and neglected areas became the source of inspiration that Hunter drew from for his creative spirit. The rich and powerful visual narratives he created by portraying ordinary people in an extraordinary way broke the conventions of art that is usually reserved for the rich and elite.
The unusual chronicles of contemporary and urban Britain is convincingly and beautifully demonstrated by Hunter’s work, where the rich and luminous colours fuse with subtle natural light to evoke powerful imagery of daily life.
“Those who make us believe that anything’s possible and fire our imagination over the long haul, are often the ones who have survived the bleakest of circumstances. The men and women who have every reason to despair, but don’t, may have the most to teach us, not only about how to hold true to our beliefs, but about how such a life can bring about seemingly impossible social change. ” – Paul Rogat Loeb(Loeb, 2004)
Key points and learnings from Hunter’s works-
- Taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary
- Marriage of old and contemporary
- Giving back to society
- Getting inspired from the mundane
- Invoking social change through art
- Focus and detailing
- Getting inspired from one’s surroundings
- Powerful visual narrative
- A story within an image
- Impact and story telling
Fig 1 Hunter, T. (2020) Persons Unknown | Tom Hunter. At: http://www.tomhunter.org/persons-unknown/ (Accessed 15/04/2020).
Baird, N. (2009) Tom Hunter – “ART HAS GIVEN ME A VOICE”. At: https://nadiabaird.wordpress.com/2009/11/25/tom-hunter-art-has-given-me-a-voice/ (Accessed15/04/2020).
Behind the scenes with Tom Hunter at the Royal Shakespeare Company | RSC (2011) [Behind the Scenes Video] At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PE_hI6peZ-c (Accessed 15/04/2020).
Hunter, T. (2012) ESSAY: Under The Influence | Tom Hunter. At: http://www.tomhunter.org/essay-under-the-influence/ (Accessed 15/04/2020).
Purdyhicks.com. (2020) Tom Hunter Portfolio At Purdyhicks Gallery. At: http://www.purdyhicks.com/display.php?aID=10#8 (Accessed 15/04/2020).
Smith, D. (2018) Tom Hunter’s Personal Odyssey At: https://www.bjp-online.com/2018/06/tom-hunters-personal-odyssey/ (Accessed 15/04/2020).
Tomhunter.org. (2020) Life And Death In Hackney | Tom Hunter. At: http://www.tomhunter.org/life-and-death-in-hackney/ (Accessed 15/04/2020).
Wilkes, R., 2015 Life And Death In Hackney – Pre-Raphaelite Reflections. At: https://dantisamor.wordpress.com/tag/life-and-death-in-hackney/ (Accessed 15/04/2020).
Yanceyrichardson.com (2020) Tom Hunter – Artists – Yancey Richardson. At: http://www.yanceyrichardson.com/artists/tom-hunter (Accessed 15/04/2020).