Life and Death in Hackney, is Tom Hunter's first solo exhibition at Green On Red Gallery and his first exhibition in Ireland. The show - 15 works in total - consists of 3 large-scale, cibachrome photographic portraits of squatters living in and around Hackney in Northeast London.
Hunter, himself, has been living illegally in the neighbourhood for years and documents the lives of his friends/subjects in situ. He does so in a way that gives a dignity and power to a community more often demonised as pariahs of society than associated with, and elevated through, the art of the portrait. His sympathetic imagery of fellow squatters and evictees is based loosely on classical images taken from the history of painting ranging from Vermeer to late nineteenth century English Pre-Raphaelite artists like Holman-Hunt, Gabriella-Rosetti, Millais and others. The contrast between the culture of these earlier works and the underground nature of Hunter's works is stark and emphatic.
The calm of these dignified and dignifying representations is as far from the cruel voyeurism of Richard Billingham's family portraits as Walker Evan's photographs are from those of Margaret Bourke-White. From squatters, travellers, to tower block residents, the utopianism of a communitarian spirit underlies Tom Hunter's representations. They avoid the trappings of sensationalising and abjecting his subjects. Hunter's is an essentially humane project, finding a hope and optimism from and in the lives of others, a welcome and respectful counterpart to so much documentary which seeks to confirm alterity and difference.
(Mark Durden, Aesthetic Realism: Portraits by Tom Hunter, Portfolio No. 30, December 1999)
With reference to Hackney, Hunter looks for interesting and often surprisingly rural locations in which to stage his photographs. The newest work in the series - exhibited for the first time here- called The Outlaw, is one such image. Based on a pre-Raphaelite painting called The Hunted, and in a more dramatic twist and departure from the original, a woman cradles a fallen man at the riverside. He is seen against a dramatic backdrop of over-arching viaduct while his camper van stands ablaze in the background. The drama in this image is in contrast to the poise and calm of earlier works in the exhibition.
Tom Hunter recently exhibiited in the Neurotic Realism exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery, London and in Breathless! Photography and Time at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. He is represented by Jay Jopling/White Cube Gallery, London.