Michael John Hunter

Photographer Michael John Hunter utilizes large scale, hyper realistic sculptures and traditional camera optics to explore how imagery can manipulate how we view our world. His latest work, "As i grow, As i lose", is an ongoing series of images depicting a 20 foot doll sculpture installed in locations in and around London. Using height as a tool, Hunter creates a trompe l’oeil in the finished images that leaves viewers questioning their initial assumptions of the work.

How do you describe your work?

I guess in its simplest form its purely photography. The fact that the images include massive hyper real sculptures is secondary to the actual image making I think.

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What’s your preferred medium to express yourself and you work? How did you come into working that way?

I’m trained initially as a photographer. It’s an endlessly fascinating medium to explore the world and your ideas with. Photography enlarges our notions of what’s worth looking at.

I guess just trial and error really. Playing around with swings and tilts of old bellows cameras and seeing what came back when I developed the negatives. My degree show had similar work to what you see now but the sculptures were crude and very sloppy. This is why it’s taken me pretty much 10 years to get my work to this level. I knew I could take the images but I didn’t have anywhere near enough skill or resources to make these huge sculptures. Moving to London and working in the film industry helped me with this.

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Where did you grow up and do you think that’s affected, at all, your vision as an artist? 

Scotland. And no, not really. My work really is ripped out of my imagination and doesn’t reflect much of my cultural upbringing.

What triggers your imagination?

I think being fascinated by scale is built into us from when we’re very small. Everything used to be so big and we were endlessly fascinated as children. We still love seeing big stuff as adults. Ever been to the Grand Canyon? It’s hard not to smile in wonder. 

I obviously love using scale in my work but I hope that people enjoy my twist on it by hiding it behind the image making process. This is what really makes it effective for me. It’s the fact that we take the images for granted. The doll is just a doll. There is no way it could be anything else than just a regular child’s doll. But when people understand the reality of the images they sometimes look at them with newer, fresher eyes. Like a kid would.

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What are some instagram accounts or artists that you particularly enjoy / are inspired from?

I only jumped on insta 6 months ago. I never really realized how great it is for artists, it’s a perfect platform for learning about others’ work. It’s especially helpful for finding emerging artists that I otherwise wouldn’t know about because they’re not necessarily getting shown in galleries.

What was your dream growing up as a child?

To be a motorcycle racer.

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What has become most important to you or your work at this moment in
your life?

Emmmm. To continue this venture and keep working very hard at it. I’m currently finishing off a new sculpture that I can start working with very soon.

Is there any specific moment(s) or memory in your life that pushed you definitively towards the arts or to pursue your creative ambitions?

Definitely. Realizing that you have to work to live. And if you’re working 10 or 12 hour days for something you don’t believe in you have to be able to take this work ethic into your own personal work. Whenever I’m not on a job for someone else these days I’m trying to give equal effort to either sculpting or location research for my own work. 

Just now the works take a very long time to produce. I’m not a production. I’m a guy. I’m one guy with a rental van and a big sculpture. It’s a very lengthy process. I’m trying to make work that would normally involve a team of people with the ability to shut down streets and build towers for the shots. This just isn’t the case for me. I’m at the mercy of logistics and chance. In some ways I think it’s kinda cool doing it guerilla-style but its really frustrating. I need height to achieve the illusion but I also need access to the location below so I can set up the sculptures and then thirdly I need the setting to create a great image with the right scenery, colours and textures. 

Location scouting is a nightmare. Finding places with all 3 of these elements is pretty hard. Then to find it and then to rock up at 4am all ready to go only to discover a truck has parked in my spot and I cant make my planned image! If my work was ever to take off I would love to get some permission and do some locations more officially but for now its just me with the sculpture in a van. Rock on.

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What does your work mean to you? If anything at all?

It’s my attempt at returning to a more childlike mindset. I’m trying to entertain myself too I guess. Trying to see how much I can get from the medium I have chosen to work in. It’s play. But serious too, with a lot of work. I take making these images super seriously.

What is your definition of ‘art’, even if it’s total bullshit?

I Google “what is art?” all the time. I still have no idea. Ha.

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Any new works or projects coming up?

I’m just finishing off a new sculpture and am about to start the process of testing it in the streets at night very soon. I’ll show you guys as soon as I can. I’m really excited. Maybe after this new series of images I’ll start approaching some galleries. That’s my end goal really, to hopefully start to exhibit my work with a good gallery at the scale it’s intended to be viewed, but for now I'm just going to keep making work.