APHE Photography Conference | Reception at Mission Gallery with Tom Hunter

The reception for this year’s APHE Photography Conference was held at Mission Gallery, during Tom Hunter’s exhibition ‘Unheralded Stories’. Introduced by Mark Cocks, Assistant Dean of Art and Design at Swansea Metropolitan, it began as an ‘in conversation’ between Tom Hunter, Professor of Photography Research at the London College of Communication, University of the Arts London, and Paul Duerinckx, who Head of the BA (Hons) Photojournalism degree programme at Swansea Metropolitan, and soon turned into an open discussion on this years theme of ‘ethics’.

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(L-R) Tom Hunter, Mark Cocks & Paul Duerinckx at the reception

Preceding this, Hunter gave a short explanation of the exhibition ‘Unheralded Stories’. The photographs were taken in Hackney based on fables and stories that he had heard and then reconstructed in the style of French tableaux painters. These French painters travelled to the Middle East to capture scenes of tragedy, but Hunter states that we don’t need to put the emphasis on the exotic as being somewhere else, these tragedies and struggles can be found here, in Hackney or even in Swansea.

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‘Unheralded Stories’ by Tom Hunter at Mission Gallery

Ethics is extremely relevant in terms of Hunter’s work. In order to portray an individual’s misery and poverty, he has to build up a relationship with these people based on respect. His approach to his work, its intentions, is to make us see ‘our relationship with our own lives’ through the portrayal of these universal struggles.

The theme of the conference more specifically was questioning issues of ethics of photography in education. The discussion then led its way through questioning a student’s technique of capturing and production of presentation of work. Some issues that were discussed mentioned that printing quality in some cases becomes second to the actual image. Also, they discussed that students need to spend more time thinking about printing quality and how best to present their image. Hunter uses predominantly analogue processes and emphasises that it gets you to think more about the work. Is this a question of darkroom vs. digital?

Is this lack of thought about printing quality a result of an increase in looking at images in digital formats on smart phone, tablet and computer screens? This then led to highlighting the extremely large scale of Hunter’s work in the gallery around them – what is the cost of production of a work that size? What is the cost of the framing? What is the price tag on it? Hunter explained that when he was a student he had to pay a lot of money to develop and print his images sometimes with images failing. Can students afford to print on this scale? Or can they afford not to? The discussion led then to deciding on promoting values in printing their images but is this not a question about the individuals intentions – where and how they show their work? Is it about questioning the student’s approach to their work and the appropriate way to present them?

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‘Unheralded Stories’ by Tom Hunter at Mission Gallery

With Hunter’s work, the images are intended for exhibition spaces, that is their context. They are meant to be experienced, there is a ‘physicality’ to them, the scale and the place are more than relevant, what is the experience of these narrative portrayals like alone or shared?

The discussion then came to a close influenced mostly by the unrelenting heat inside the gallery which the fans blew around and around. The discussion then continued at the conference at Swansea Metropolitan the next day.

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