Rick Poynor | Exposure

Exposure: Rise Up You Are Free by Dominic Hawgood

“Rise Up You Are Free” by Dominic Hawgood, from the series Under the Influence, 2014

This is a photographer’s picture of his own picture. The image leaning in the corner of a space that reads as a gallery, though it might not be, is part of a series by Dominic Hawgood titled Under the Influence. I considered showing the photograph of the arm on its own—it can be found like that online—but if we must summarize the project with a single image, then an installation scene is closer to Hawgood’s aims. As well as physical space, he uses CGI and lighting design. An Arduino-controlled LED light panel illuminates the picture.

Hawgood’s subject matter is intentionally ambiguous. He is fascinated by states of inner experience that are unfamiliar to him and he has attended gatherings of evangelical Christians in African communities in London, including exorcisms. Under the Influence consists of images in hyperreal color, which are reduced to a few elements—a floating tissue, melting ice cubes, a pointing hand holding an atomizer filled with holy water—and black-and-white close-ups of participants purged of background detail. Hawgood offers no information about the church involved or its location, and it isn’t clear whether he took the pictures during real ceremonies, or set them up later as re-enactments in his studio.

He has worked in advertising photography and the arm’s glowing, intensified presence mimics the ecstatically bright color values and burnished promise of backlit advertising posters. All the picture needs is a slogan and a product name and it could be selling something at a bus stop. As a way of investigating the theme, this kind of conceptual, “post-photographic” detachment is leagues away from the immersive agenda of photojournalism, which would have attempted to orientate and educate viewers with visual descriptions of individual character, the congregation’s responses and interactions, and the architectural setting. The images correlate instead to the overwhelming interior sensations, or we might decide, self-deceptions, of charismatic religious experience (an earlier project by Hawgood focused on speaking in tongues). The pictures’ oblique perspectives invite us to ask questions about what cannot in the end be directly apprehended or known.

Hawgood graduated with an MA in photography from the Royal College of Art in London in 2014 and won first prize in the “series” category of the British Journal of Photography’s recent International Photography Awards. In the latest issue, he is selected as one of 25 emerging photographers. His work will be on show at the TJ Boulting gallery, London, from February 19 to March 7.

See all Exposure columns

Posted in: Arts + Culture, Exposure, Photography

Jobs | July 21