Meet Tif Hunter
I discovered Tif’s work through Instagram and the reason I use and enjoy Instagram is precisely because without Instagram I would possibly not discover the work of talented ceramicists, photographers, floral artists, I would not be inspired by certain landscapes, I would not be trying certain dishes, I would not have certain thoughts… For me Instagram is a window to our world and you take and share what you truly feel like, you can inspire and feel inspired. Tif and I met a few weeks ago at his beautiful studio in Bermondsey and discussed a collaboration involving jewellery and hands. There were a few questions I was too “reserved” at first to ask but he has kindly agreed to answer them by email.
Valery: “How do you decide if you are going to accept or decline a commercial project? I guess there is a difference here with your more personal work. What influences you?”
Tif: It would of course be a total luxury to be able to choose only the most inspiring commissions. However, I am generally very lucky being asked to work on a variety (which I like) of interesting commercial projects. These will inevitably require collaboration (which I like a lot!) with a range of amazing talents – set builders, stylists, designers and art directors. When everyone on the team is working towards a common creative goal, the process is always enjoyable. With every photograph I take, whether self motivated or commissioned, the intention is for it to be a portfolio piece. And sometimes it is!
Valery: “When it comes to personal projects, what are your main preoccupations?”
Tif: I am looking to feed my artistic soul. Each project begins with an idea that then grows and develops. Initially in notebooks and research and subsequently in the making of images. I’ve learned that it’s really important to get to the making stage. Only then can one truly see the direction it’s going and the relevance of completing a body of work.
Valery: “Can you maybe explain more about the tintype technique you are using and the beauty of it? Tell us more what it involves, the technique but also all else.”
Tif: A tintype is a direct positive image created in camera on a sheet of sensitized metal. Think of it as a 19th century polaroid! I follow pretty much exactly the steps developed in the 1850’s. For me, the results as well as the process itself, have become addictive. The coating of the metal with various chemicals to sensitize and then develop it and the slow and deliberate way that goes into lighting and composition make the craft deeply satisfying. The resulting beautiful warm monochrome photograph has no grain, incredible resolution, subtle gradations of tone and a truly sculptural quality. Being handmade, there are also glitches and marks, mainly around the edges, which add to the unique nature of each tintype. And I am not shooting masses of alternatives as has become the norm in the digital world. I usually just shoot one plate.
Valery: “What do you want to convey with your work? Who are your big influences and why?”
Tif: I know that the word ‘beauty’ is not very popular in art circles these days. But I am looking for beauty. I think we need to find beauty. And it’s there in details, in colours, in texture and in the freckles on someone’s face. I have recently been to the amazing exhibition of Irving Penn’s photography at the Grande Palais in Paris. He has always been a massive influence as has been Edward Weston. These two photographers have both been obsessive not only in their pursuit of the image, but also the quality and physicality of the print itself.
Valery: “How do you see your role as a photographer? Do you feel your role has changed from when you began your career to today? What is your relationship with the subject and the object as a photographer?”
Tif: My role as a photographer is to convey something singular about the person or object that is in front of my camera. My ability to see things in a particular way is the skill I have been honing all these years. Today that’s no different to any other time in my career. The tools available and some people’s expectations have changed. But too much choice and excessive retouching don’t interest me. I grew up with the phrase – the camera never lies. Unfortunately that’s not most people’s experience any more. I’m looking to expose a truth whether it be in a portrait or a still life. With that in mind, the ‘honesty’ of the tintype is one of its most endearing characteristics. It cannot be retouched.
Valery: “What have you learnt from shooting portraits? What do you feel is important when shooting objects?”
Tif: More often than not, for whatever reason, I don’t have a lot of time with a portrait subject. I try to find something about them, emotionally or physically, that I can work with to create a lasting image. What’s important to me is to create a photograph that contains, within it, more than just the moment when the camera shutter clicked. If I can locate an essence of that character – great. And that goes for objects too – finding and depicting an essence of their existence is my goal.
Valery: “Any projects you personally want to work on and develop ? You mentioned tattooed individuals when we met and you showed me a beautiful picture of a pregnant woman too?!”
Tif: I have numerous projects either on the go or that I’d like to begin! The tattoo project will be fascinating. We definitely live in an age of considerable body adornment. There are as many clichés on people’s skin as there are images of them. By shooting this project as tintypes I hope to create an honest narrative – and I’m looking to record some of the more personal stories that exist on people’s bodies. I’m definitely also interested in shooting more nudes. The tintype of the pregnant woman that I showed you is a beautiful picture of such a significant moment in a woman’s life – one to be celebrated. And I’d like to celebrate more people’s bodies – female and male. One still life project I have in the pipeline concerns the tools used in a variety of crafts. I visit numerous workshops to look at ceramics, carving, jewellery etc. And along with what people make, the tools they use to make it are completely fascinating and objects of beauty in their own rite.