Mentored by Jacob Aue Sobol, and inspired by manga, Surrealism and film noir, the Australian photographer has created a gritty series now on show at Arles' Voies Off
Born in 1973 in Sydney, Meg Hewitt got into photography after studying sculpture and painting. She’s since reached the finals at the prestigious Moran Prize for Contemporary Photography and the Maggie Diaz Photography Prize for Women, and won a silver medal from the Prix de la Photographie – among other accolades – and exhibited her series Tokyo is Yours at Place M Gallery in Tokyo last year. The series is now being shown at the Voies Off, Les Rencontres d’Arles’ fringe festival, alongside work by her mentor, Magnum photographer Jacob Aue Sobol.
Shot in Japan over two years, Tokyo is Yours is inspired by manga, surrealism and film noir, and uses a gritty monochrome that Hewitt first experimented with back in Sydney, where she was founding director of the 10×8 Gallery from 2012-2014. “When I started shooting on film I couldn’t afford to process colour, so I would develop black-and-white film myself in the bathroom,” she says. “It was a natural progression to shoot at high ISO with a flash, and pushing the film then created part of the aesthetic. It emphasises grain and texture, enhancing drama and emotion without the distraction of the colour.”
While working on this “visceral quality” in her photography she discovered Daido Moriyama, Masahisa Fukase, Anders Petersen and Jacob Aue Sobol, and felt an instant affinity with their images. “It is not simply the same because it is high contrast black-and-white,” she says.
“Daido has a speed and immediacy, a flow or outpouring of time and experience, the edit and sequence are important in his work. Fukase draws on a deep emotional connection and particularly in Ravens a transposition of his inner psyche into the world of the ravens. Jacob Aue Sobol focuses more on connection and intimacy with people, and Anders Petersen on both that connection and the strangeness of ordinary things.
“I was also very inspired by fellow Australian Trent Parke’s images, and the idea that he could process the film as he went on the road in his campervan.”
Inspired, she headed off to Japan with a bunch of films and a developing tank, shooting all night, developing the film in her bathroom, and sleeping all day, before going back out again at dark. Hewitt went on to assist Aue Sobol in Denmark from 2016-17, and credits the photographer with mentoring her.
With his help she’s now editing Tokyo is Yours into a book, and he’s also introduced her to a very special publisher – “Narayana Press, which is a Buddhist commune in Denmark with very high quality printing”. The book will be launched alongside Aue Sobol’s new work at Arles this summer, alongside work by two other emerging photographers he has mentored – Natnada Marchal and Sarah Michelle Riisager.
After that, Hewitt is looking forward to moving onto her next project. “I will probably focus on a new story based on my family history in Australia, and my country’s inappropriate relationship with the original indigenous owners of the land,” she says. “My mother is seventh-generation Australian, and the family was very poor.
“Many of them were convicts, and they were sent to a farm in the harsh environment of the north-west where it was almost impossible to grow food. They were sent to a country they did not own and that we actually still don’t own now. Descendants of English, Irish and Scottish, they were also unwelcome in their home country. Australia is a strange place, with many dark stories.”