VIDEO: How Dominic Hawgood created his first major solo show after winning BJP's International Photography Award
“Staging is not the same as faking.” That phrase, from photography academic David Campbell, was the bedrock for Dominic Hawgood’s Under the Influence, a highly conceptualised look at faith and meaning in a world of images. The series scooped the series category of BJP’s International Photography Award, last year, and Campbell’s phrase is now helping shape the 34-year-old’s approach to the exhibition he won, which opened late last year London’s TJ Boulting Gallery.
The series examines human behaviour in contemporary African churches in London, “and the merchandising of these modern rituals”; inspired to start it after witnessing an exorcism first-hand, he also explores “the theatrical practice of deliverance”. These techniques suggest a certain cynicism about religion but Hawgood says that wasn’t his intention. He’s simply considering whether we can experience something authentic in a knowingly constructed environment – or via carefully crafted imagery.
“Ideas are formed through the imagery presented to us, removing us from actual life experiences, adding another layer of distance that evokes a desire to experience the real, close up,” he wrote in The Therapeutic Real, the 8000-word thesis on Under the Influence he wrote for his RCA MA. “This is not deception – making something appear real when it is not. It is about finding a way to make the participants forget about the staged environment, and experience emotions as though they were really happening.”
Hawgood’s interest in lighting has a professional twist – though he’s just graduated from the Royal College of Art’s prestigious photography MA, and has already exhibited at Hyeres Festival de Mode et de Photographie, the Belfast Photo Festival, the Sirius Arts Centre in Cork and London’s Michael Hoppen Gallery, he works as a lighting assistant for photographers to pay the rent. It’s a skill he also put to good use in Under the Influence, which mixes traditional stills photography with expressionist lighting and highly-stylised colour that takes its lead from the commercial world.
Rather than simply hang prints up, he has given the space a whole new ambience, placing light panels on the floor and sticking large vinyl prints directly to the wall. “The priority is finding a way to control the lighting in the room, to make sure we can create atmosphere for the work to sit in,” he says. “I’ve worked with LED panels, dim reflectors and bounce light, to try and contrast the glossiness of the screens and the matt finish of the vinyl.
“Vinyl is normally considered quite a cheap, throwaway commodity, and its normally printed horribly,” he continues. “But, done properly, it can look really impressive. Hopefully, when all these small details comes together, it’ll give a very particular look to the images. It’s about using a few elements in the space, just to change it enough to create a certain feeling.”
BJP’s International Photography Award 2016 is now open for entries. Win a two week exhibition at TJ Boulting, get your work printed and framed, have your photography seen by some of the biggest names in the business and gain international exposure by BJP, by entering the competition now.