“Over a Christmas Dinner, 2008 in England, sitting on the right from the head of the table, wearing a dinner suit, whilst being served by the butler of the house, I was proposed the idea of joining a family ritual, a Boxing Day Hunt and told not to forget to bring my camera…
The outcome of my one role of film was the momentum for this series. From this point onwards throughout the following five years I was allowed to paint in my mind’s eye the many images that created the compilation of this book 'HIDDEN'.”
Michael Tummings is shortlisted in the 2017 Sony World Photography Awards.
Hi Michael. Where did the inspiration for ‘Hidden’ come from?
Although it was a timely coincident which brought me to my first hunt, the idea of entering this insular and exclusive world, depicted in my youth via 19th-century oil paintings was somehow the inspiration that lead to this series.
I wanted to understand a tradition that was outside of my own experience with their ancient customs, rituals and codes associated with it, which were passed down in families over generations. To me, this seemed to be some a kind of closed community with it's own rules and an unspoken presence, which persisted and achieved importance.
On the other hand, I had grown up within a Jamaican community in east London. And even though it wasn't without challenges, the unity of like-minded individuals was something I had taken for granted in my youth.
With a certain shared grace and the understanding that knowing that I was a complete outsider to this intimate tradition of hunters, I sought always to try and understand, exploiting the beauty to embrace comprehension.
Did you build a close relationship with those in your images or stay an observer?
Sitting with a lone hunter for two hours on a stoop, a relationship begins to form quite naturally and in a harmonious way. There is also the connection with the surroundings, with the natural world. Hunting is a very intimate issue. Without uttering any words, these moments and insights bring us back to very fundamental questions in life.
What keeps you shooting 5X4?
It's dependent on the subject matter. In this case, the idea of somehow finding parallels between large format photography and hunting were a deciding factor. Both require careful preparation, patience and that famous "decisive moment". To photograph for ‘Hidden’, I had to get closely acquainted with the people involved and get to know their ideas and hunting practices as well as develop an understanding for the behavior and natural habitat of their prey.
It's a slow process that required dedication, focus, and endurance. Playing on the fantasy drawn up in my mind's eye. For this the 5x4 became my tool for a blank canvas.
I was left with only setting the exposure and focus before capturing the photograph. Therefore, I could not see this as a digital series, a process where one picks one perfect photo out of hundreds. Instead, I had to pay attention to single moments. I also could sense that the process of large format photography built a certain amount of trust and respect amongst the hunters I tried to portray. The hunters probably realized that every shot of mine was as considered as their own.
What projects do you see yourself working on next?
I do not want to reveal too much for the moment, but again it will be a project that has to do with a certain tradition within our societal hierarchies, engaging with a closed community and observing its culture and rituals from the vantage point of my English-Jamaican background in search of shared values.