This week, we went inside the studio of British photographer Justice Hyde. Justice took an interest in photography while he was at school, learning the techniques and skills required to use in a darkroom, which developed his new passion for film.
The artist explores several different themes in his work, but all relate to human condition, studying our interaction with our environment, with many shots taken in and around his hometown in the North of England. Each attempt is unplanned, but forces the discovery and study of psychogeography, a keen interest of the artist.
We were delighted to see the artist’s evident passion for his medium and find out more about some of his more recent series.
When did your interest in photography begin?
My father was a keen amateur photographer. I think I got my first SLR as a Christmas present at around 11 years old, and used to go out into the woods with him to photograph fungi, which were his favourite subject. At the same time I was getting into music in a big way, and buying the NME religiously every week. I very clearly remember being struck by Anton Corbijn’s black and white photographs of bands like Joy Division and The Smiths, many of which have become iconic. I’ve done a lot of different things between then and now, from club promoter to magazine editor to restaurateur, and there was a long period when I didn’t even pick up a camera, but I acquired my first digital camera in 1998, and I’ve been shooting ever since, though it was nearly another decade before I really began to get serious about it.
Did you study Photography or acquire any training, or are you self-taught?
Largely self-taught, although I was lucky to attend a school with a very well-equipped darkroom, so learned developing and darkroom printing techniques at a very early stage, along with the technical basics of photography as a craft. That’s the extent of my formal training though. For a while I spent nearly all my time either out shooting photographs or in that darkroom. I’m a firm believer though that there’s no substitute for experimenting, making mistakes, and learning from them to experiment some more. Educating oneself is important, whether formally or otherwise, and I make every effort to learn as much as I can about photography and art in general, but actually studying light and shadows through constant and repeated observation will teach you more than you can learn from any book or in any classroom.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Inspiration can come from almost anywhere. I’m inspired by the things which have preoccupied artists for thousands of years…sex, death, and the meaning of life. The human body with all its shapes and possibilities, the strength and fragility of our environment and our place within it, our control or lack of it over our identity, and relationships with the past, present and future, both individual and supra-personal. More specifically, I’m interested in perception and reality, and how they converge and diverge but rarely if ever actually meet in a true sense. There is always more than one way to see something, both physically and intellectually. Everything is multi-dimensional, from the scientific level of quantum physics to the mental level and metaphysics. Exploring these multiplicities, and doing so through a medium which is regarded as a two-dimensional device designed simply to record a single scene at a single moment, is simultaneously challenging and fascinating. And while I greatly admire the work of Edward Weston, Francesca Woodman, William Eggleston, Daido Moriyama and Todd Hido, this is also why I derive more inspiration and influence from painters and other visual artists than from other photographers…Bacon, Rauschenberg, Rothko, and in particular Cy Twombly (who was actually also a very accomplished photographer, especially with Polaroids), among many others.
You shoot a lot of your work in traditional 35 mm. Could you tell us why you choose this over a digital camera?
I shoot with film because it suits my artistic vision and practice, not because it’s hip or different. Film requires a more careful and contemplative approach, and a different set of priorities. It’s not just a matter of taking 100 shots and choosing the best one, which is a huge temptation with digital because it’s so easy. The physical process is also very important to me. A digital photograph is a software interpretation of the subject created by a computer, whereas a film photograph is a physical object created through the interaction between light and the film emulsion. There’s a purity to that which is significant, for me. And it also opens up other possibilities to alter the process in a physical sense. Using different types of film with different characteristics for example, or multiple exposures, or processing the film in a particular way. Some of these things can be achieved or replicated digitally of course, but it’s important to me to take these artistic decisions and make these interventions during the actual capture or creation of the image, rather than afterwards on a computer. Working with film also allows me to introduce an element of uncertainty and serendipity to my work, through using old or unusual equipment with idiosyncrasies either known or unknown, or expired film which may have unpredictable results. To me, photographic art is not just about ‘capturing a moment’ in a documentary sense, but can also be about capturing the essence of a moment or distilling it into a story which is both deeper and wider than what was in front of the camera when the shutter clicked. Shooting on film is, for me, a key part of that.
Do you have a favourite camera?
I love them all, for different reasons. Vintage cameras in particular all have their own quirks, almost like personalities. Some are easy to get on with and fun, others are harder work but have hidden depths worth exploring, and some are obtuse and unpredictable but fascinating nonetheless. There’s a cliché in photography that the best camera is the one you have with you, and the truth is that it’s easy to get caught up in the technical stuff about equipment and craft, and lose sight of the art. The film photography community can certainly be guilty of this, spending its time talking about cameras, lenses, film and chemicals while seemingly sometimes forgetting about the actual photographs. Ultimately the camera is just a tool…much less important than the vision, what you have to say, and how you say it. Despite their variations, all cameras do essentially the same thing. The tool creates the image, but it’s the mind of the photographer which makes the art. The equipment and process is part of that of course, but it’s the final (printed) photograph which has to stand (or fall) as a meaningful piece of work.
Your work includes interesting themes including preservation and deterioration respectively. Do you have a favourite theme to explore?
My favourite theme is always the one I’m exploring at the time, although that can change very quickly. Deterioration, and deteriorated surfaces in particular, has been a recurring theme for many years, both in terms of the pure aesthetics and the metaphorical aspects. Rusting metal or a crumbling wall with peeling paint, for example, are often things of beauty in themselves, and I enjoy the process of examining these surfaces for interesting areas of composition. But I also see these things as evocative of our own humanity, and mortality. The inevitable process of decay in all things which begins at the very moment of their creation, and always ends in disintegration at the hands of natural forces far beyond our control. This is as true for humans as it is for our creations and constructions, though many of the things we create as a species far outlive us as individuals. I don’t see the inevitability of decay and death as a reason to be pessimistic though, merely a reminder that individually we are ultimately quite insignificant, and it’s up to us to make the most of the time we do have before it’s too late. Preservation is in some ways simply the other side of this coin, in terms of attempts to stop or reverse the process of deterioration (futile though they may be), but more recently I’ve also developed an interest in how and why we deem something worthy of preservation, and how or why in fact we assign importance to anything either historical or contemporary. All the themes and ideas I explore are about the human condition in some way, whether it’s our interaction with our environment, with our collective or personal history, or with each other at the most primal level of sexuality and fetishism.
A lot of your photographs are of scenes and architectural sites in and around Manchester and the North of England. How do you choose a location to photograph?
I almost never go out specifically looking for something to photograph, but unless I’m only going as far as the supermarket, I will almost always have at least one camera with me. I have an interest in psychogeography, and the idea of interacting with the environment in an unplanned but engaged form, be it urban, suburban or rural. I walk, observe, and discover…without necessarily ‘looking’ for anything, because the ability to see something different, or see something differently, is enhanced by opening the mind as much as the eyes. Living where I do, within half an hour of two great modern cities, within an hour of hills and coastline, and right at the heart of where the industrial revolution changed the lives of the people, the local landscape, and the world, there is no shortage of interesting material for that kind of engagement. The series ‘Nine Arches’ is a good example of this. I was walking along a canal path, experimenting with multiple exposures and water reflections, and it was a pleasant afternoon so I decided to push on a little further. A mile or so beyond, I found myself standing directly under one of the most magnificent pieces of Victorian railway architecture in the country, with a great historical significance, but also an aesthetic feast of compositions, tones, surface textures, lines, curves, and angles. With ‘Mancunian Misinformation’ on the other hand, placing myself in the centre of Manchester at night obviously creates an immediate 360 degree panorama of potential images, so I deliberately take a slightly different approach in directly addressing the disorienting effect of the modern city with unusual angles, reflections, and multiple exposures.
Could you tell us more about your series “An Experiment To Measure The Weight Of History” and where the idea derived from?
I’m going to be somewhat circumspect here, I’m afraid, simply because this is a project which is very much ongoing and continuing to evolve. As I mentioned, this is where the themes of decay and preservation converge, in terms of the subject matter, but also the physical medium of the work. The first two groups of images, already released, represent a kind of thinking out loud, about why some parts of our heritage are deemed worthy of preservation while others are discarded, and about how those judgements are made. Alongside this is an exploration of how the concept of heritage is constructed. Literally, how do we ascribe ‘weight’ to history and the historic, and how do we weigh different types of historical value against each other? The contradictions are exemplified in the first series of the project, which are multi-exposed, ghostly images of a ruined medieval castle, the kind of ‘heritage’ which tends to be revered, and preserved…except in fact they are a replica of Liverpool’s castle, built in the twentieth century and designed to look like a ruin which had stood for years. Meanwhile our industrial heritage, and the great engineering and architectural achievements which it spawned, is all too often obliterated in the name of ‘development’, a process often made easier by their urban settings and the perceived need for ‘regeneration’ which drives politicians and property developers. There are more questions than answers still at this stage of the project, and I expect to continue working on it for some time, alongside other projects, before hopefully pulling it together, possibly into a book and exhibition, possibly in 2018.
Alongside your nature and landscape photography, you have a collection of nudes including the “Polarised Soul” series, in which you used a vintage Polaroid camera. How did you discover the technique used in this series to apply the effect without manipulating the photo?
The techniques in Polarised Soul are actually relatively uncomplicated. Instant photography presents many opportunities for creativity, and Polaroid cameras are often deceptively simple, but in fact can be quite sophisticated in terms of controls and adjustability. I make use of the unpredictable chemistry in the film, along with multiple exposures (a favourite technique in general), and to a lesser extent also adjusting the exposure itself. The film comes from Impossible Project, who bought a Polaroid factory in the Netherlands after Polaroid ceased producing film in 2008. Impossible have part reverse-engineered and part created a new range of films for original Polaroid cameras, including the Image (or Spectra) which I use. Early versions of this film were quite unstable, and became even more so as they expired, so results were often strange. Susceptible to light conditions when ejected from the camera, and temperature while in development, you never knew quite what you were going to get (and sometimes you might get nothing), but sometimes it could be wonderful. Now the film is much more stable, and the Spectra makes multiple-exposures very easy…with a little dexterity, since the camera’s folding mechanism has to be closed to prevent the photograph being ejected, then reopened for the next exposure. Even this is just scratching the surface of what’s possible though. There is a vibrant community of instant photographers, and some dedicated artists producing breathtaking work, well worth seeking out. I have some more Polarised Soul work in the pipeline too, hopefully in the near future.
What is your favourite photograph that you have ever taken?
Whatever answer I gave today, it would be different tomorrow. So I’m going to avoid answering this by saying I sincerely hope my best work is yet to come.
What would be the ultimate scene for you to photograph if there were no limitations?
That’s another really difficult question. I do have a long held and as yet unfulfilled ambition to visit Japan. The juxtapositions of ultra-traditional with ultra-modern would be a fascinating photographic opportunity there, I’m sure, along with the chance to compare and contrast with some of my current work while continuing to explore the same themes.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions?
Nothing currently confirmed, but I hope to be involved in a couple of group shows during 2017. I’m also working on two ‘secret’ projects of completely new work, one personal and one collaborative, either or both of which could with a little luck come to fruition and be ready for publication or exhibition in the second half of the year. Can’t tell you any more about those for now though…watch this space!
We hope you enjoyed reading Justice Hyde’s story as much as we did. Make sure you view Justice’s full collection of fine art photography, and find a beautiful limited edition print that showcases some of England’s undiscovered places of natural beauty while allowing you to explore the artist’s themes in detail.