Dominic Hawgood shares what he’s been upto since winning the Series Category at the International Photography Award 2014 and how the experience helped shape his career
“I think it’s important to enter the IPA with ambitious work. The photographic landscape is changing fast and if both sides take risks then interesting results will follow,” says Dominic Hawgood, winner of the series category at the International Photography Award 2015. Examining the human behaviour and paraphernalia involved in exorcism ceremonies, his selected series Under the Influence centres around the dichotomy between real and fake in the context of religious rituals.
Hawgood conceived of the project after he witnessed an exorcism. Researching the practise in Evangelical churches across London, he became familiar with the performative gestures and objects intrinsic to the ritual. Raised hands, contorted bodies, and the accessories of faith are all rendered in great detail, either set against luminescent LED screens or realised in a monochrome palette. Borrowing the aesthetics of advertising, the images push the boundaries of conventional photography and embody the ambiguous line between real and fake, which the subject-matter symbolises.
Hawgood was the first to receive a solo show at TJ Boulting gallery as part of his prize and the experience marked a defining moment in his development as an artist. Working collaboratively with Hannah Watson, the curator of TJ Boulting, Hawgood used the exhibition as an opportunity to experiment with the pairing of light installations and photography. “I see the exhibition as a reference point to the start of my career. I have been able to further expand and revisit many of the ideas that I touched upon from that time,” he reflects.
The resulting show transformed the gallery space into an enclave of light and illusion, with carefully positioned LED panels, dim reflectors and bounce lights creating a unique ambience and accentuating the matt finish of the vinyl prints hung along the walls. “Seeing the final exhibition gave me a confidence in my vision and capabilities. The experience of creating it, having the freedom to experiment with the potential of narrative beyond the photographic, transformed the way I work,” he observes.
A graduate of the RCA’s prestigious photography MA, Hawgood was already exploring new forms of representation during his degree. Winning the IPA however offered him an opportunity to really develop his work, and it has been central to the progression of his practise. “The IPA helped in the diversification of my practise, and without it my work would look vastly different,” he says.
His most recent series Casting Out the Self was inspired by the experience of smoking the hallucinogenic drug DMT, which momentarily plunged his psyche into “what felt like a digital realm”. The series draws on themes he had begun to explore in Under the Influence, notably ideas around the aesthetics of experience, the division between real and fake, and the limits of the photographic medium.
“A strange odour prevailed as I inhaled the acrid smoke from the pipe, and fought to keep it down. Eyes closed, bronchi tingling, a low humming commenced as I rested with my head on my knees, and my heartbeat melted away … Darkness promptly followed, then exquisite light. Turning to the side I glimpsed a face dissolve into geometry, the voice crystal clear, razor sharp. This was ultra high definition, a new mathematical perspective, the digital realm,” he recounts in the introduction to the work.
Through employing new forms of digital representation, including 3D scans, light-capture techniques, scanning, CG and animation, the project aims to reconstruct the sensations that Hawgood experienced whilst high. Casting Out the Self “hints at the transfer from our world (analogue) to the psychedelic (digital),” he explains, and again ultimately leads back to questions concerning the authenticity of experience.
After a major solo exhibition of the project was cancelled, Hawgood went on to create a site-specific installation and animation that digitally reconstructs the show, entitled Chasing Demons in the Night. The animation imbues the work with an additional layer of meaning, raising questions about the role of the gallery and how light installations can be experienced in the virtual realm.
Winning the IPA not only encouraged Hawgood to explore new creative avenues but it introduced him to people who would help him to realise his creative vision. The ambitiousness of his exhibition demanded a group effort and he has continued to work with many of the individuals involved. “Winning helped generate visibility and greater dialogue around my work, the importance of which is immeasurable,” he says.
Following the show Hawgood was selected for the London Open at the Whitechapel Gallery and he has since gone on to have two further solo exhibitions: The Anointing Water Version 1.0 at Oonagh Young Gallery as part of the PhotoIreland Festival and Casting Out the Self at Brighton University.
Hawgood’s work is defined by his unremitting desire to translate internal experiences into tangible works of art. Technology has played a central part in this and, with rapid advances in this sphere, he has been able to achieve this to a greater degree. Driven to explore the creative potentials of new media, Hawgood says he will continue to investigate new realms of experience and is currently forming ideas for an installation in collaboration with a scientist and music producer.
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