C type print, edition of 5, 76.2 x 96.5 cm
PURDY HICKS, LONDON 16.1.11
There is art where you have no time to stop and look at the picture - because you are drawn straight into it. Which is what happened when I saw first London Fields, one of Hunter’s empty interiors in his current show at Purdy Hicks. Just as there are artists whose fantastical works invite speculation about reality, Hunter’s realistic photograph invites fantasy. It’s empty of narrative so I make up my own.
This is a photograph of a community/ church hall in East London. At once I was bounding over the parquet floor, up on the stage to take a good look at the Wendy House with its turquoise roof, a folded Z-bed; a stack of black plastic chairs, a bare table. Fire extinguishers stand guard each side of the stage. Six wooden doors are painted lime green, with cupboards above. What’s inside? Theatrical costumes? Toys for the Mother and Toddler Group? Dozens more chairs for bingo or a baptism, a funeral or a Fair Trade stall? I glance up at the ceiling (painted the colour of margarine) and find fixtures which might mean there are sliding partitions to divide up the space. Then there’s are a couple of cords which could release a screen for a projector. There’s even a small door accessing the space under the stage. Everything is standing quietly to attention waiting to disgorge its hidden possibilities.
It’s a bit melancholy. I’m looking at an alien space, empty of commercial interest. No one can make money out of it so what is it worth? All it has are ghosts and histories: ladies who pour you out a cup of tea for 50p (custard cream thrown in); boys and girls who stand at the entrance selling you a programme when the Young Wives Group dance to Blue Bayou wearing crepe paper lei leis over their blouses and raffia skirts; ladies crocheting blankets, stitching layettes for refugees and their babies; an allotment club; a fat slice of home-made Victoria sponge with raspberry jam.
The title is London Fields. The parquet floor could be a field, stretching away from view in lines which suggest rows of crops or of furrows ploughed. The light from the widows on the right falls on the polished floor like a pool of water. Wikipedia tells me there’s a real London Fields which has been used for over 400 years for many purposes and currently offers cricket, tennis, swimming, galleries, markets, cycling, picnic spots... This picture also hints at fecundity.
Tom Hunter takes some of his pictures with a pin hole camera. He says it’s less intrusive, quieter. He talks candidly about photography sometimes being like an act of prayer, a time of suspense and concentration, allowing the atmosphere to pour in. Perhaps it's the opposite of photographers-as-dentists or miners, intent of extracting what they want when they want it, however intrusive and costly.