The melting haze of a photograph is only part of its illusory magic. Film develops as light marks itself along the strapped metal, usually over a tiny space not fit for even the smallest rabbit. For Walter Hugo, a 30-year-old artist from London, the medium offers more for debate when performed in a bigger hat he builds from scratch. By combining modern chemistry, the antique ambrotype, and a bit of Warholian wit, Hugo captures his subjects without containers, freeing them in ghostly reproductions that are as mysterious as they are scientific. Made with exposure times lasting longer than a few blinks, Hugo’s glass portraits picture the architectural depth of inhabited eyes, enlivening façade by tearing down its walls.
We catch up with the art scientist, off his Reflecting The Bright Lights series, before he steps back into his lab to conjure up a new body of work, another beautiful Frankenstein.
In a video of your latest series, you’re pictured making an ambrotype: wetting a glass plate that creates a giant film, which is then placed into an even larger camera. Why go through all that work?
I see photography as a medium that can be changed. Generally, photography is made up of a picture and the content of that picture. I don’t see it as fixed. For me, the medium of photography is the content itself; the two work harmoniously.
Is it because you make the work as much about the process as its final image?
I built a giant camera because I didn’t think the original size would do the portrait justice. In this size, there’s a one-to-one ratio. In the flesh, they’re life-size. These fierce characters come in, and you wouldn’t believe that they’re portraits come out totally softened. The long exposure time and process shows you the soul. Back in the day, people used to believe that. The eyes become mellow like almost seeing through a window. They can’t hold their façades up any longer.
How is it different from modern photography?
Digital photography is everywhere. It’s instantaneous. We’re in the most photographed period of time in history. I’m a fan of technology, but I think the market is saturated. People have become almost completely throwaway about everyday photography. I’d like to adapt the new technology with the old in something that takes time, precision, and craftsmanship.
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