Tom Hunter

I first came across Tom Hunter’s work a few year’s ago in one of the colour supplements, either in The Guardian, or The Sunday Times.  Many of his images have a strong relationship with the work of well-known artists, particularly Vermeer.  Hunter is highly engaged with the community in which he lives and he often sets out to change the perception of how the people based in communities such as squats or other often marginalised environments are viewed – he portrays the pride people have in their homes and their lives.

I have picked up three themes that recurred in Hunter’s talk and his work:

  • the ability of an outsider to see and capture the essence of a community and place
  • ‘staged’ images, their meanings and relationships with ‘real’ photographs
  • multi-culturalism.

Hunter grew up in a village in Dorset, yet has no photographs of the life he left behind when he moved to London more than twenty years ago.  During his presentation, he talked passionately about the vibrant multi-cultural mix that makes up Hackney and contrasts completely with his Dorset background – this difference being key to his ‘outsider’s eye’.  Hunter has lived in Hackney ever since he moved to London and is proud of its multiculturalism and refers to some of his work as:

“going around the world but never leaving Hackney”.

Hunter’s image, (below left), comes from his first ‘staged’ project which concerned letters from the courts, i.e. eviction notices, to ‘persons unknown’ – apparently the usual way in which courts address correspondence to squatters.  This contrasts sharply with Vermeer’s subject, believed to be his wife, reading an amorous letter.  Of course, Hunter’s image can be read differently depending upon whether the reader is aware of the circumstances, an idea also touched on in the previous post on Rut Blees-Luxemburg. You can hear Hunter talking about Vermeer on BBC Radio 3’s ‘The Essay’ here.

Another of Hunter’s staged images, ‘Anchor and Hope, 2009, echoes the painting ‘Christina’s World‘ by Andrew Wyeth.

Anchor and Hope 2009 ©Tom Hunter

Anchor and Hope 2009 ©Tom Hunter

In this image, Hunter strives to:

“bring together elements that others think need to be got rid of, in a style of ‘beauty’.

The use of staged photographs enables Hunter to convey a clearly articulated depth of meaning within his images, especially given the role of people within his work.

Hunter often lives within the communities he photographs.  Even so he goes far beyond this in building his engagement with the people he photographs.  Currently he is working on a project with a 5×4 pinhole camera.  He explained that using this approach meant that he felt that he was not “grabbing” from the place and it felt it was more contemplative.  The long exposure times required also gave him to have significant conversations with his subjects, such as the stall holders on Ridley Road Market.  He is having similarly engaged conversations during current projects which see his pinhole camera being taken into synagogues, mosques, Baptist churches, community halls and social clubs.

I shall certainly seek out more of Hunter’s work which is widely exhibited, for example he was the first artist to have a photography show at the National Gallery in London.  You can find out more about Tom Hunter on

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