Exercise: Tom Hunter


Read the article ‘Think Global, Act Local’ by Diane Smyth. Research Tom Hunter’s work.

Finally, listen to Tom Hunter talking about one of his most iconic images, Woman Reading a Possession Order, on Radio 3.

Summarise your thoughts in your learning log or blog.


Notwithstanding my earlier rant about using the term ‘documentary photography’ to cover what I consider “semi-documentary”, I really rate Tom Hunter’s work.

He skilfully blends inspiration from painting, Vermeer in particular, with what would normally considered social documentary photography subject matter. Listening to the radio essay it’s clear that Vermeer isn’t only a visual influence – notably composition, colour and lighting – but also a subject matter influence, as in Vermeer also used his local community as the basis of his art.

The Vermeer influence is most strong in his project Persons Unknown (1997), from which this is taken, but Hunter has said that Vermeer’s visual style continues to exert an influence over his work in a less direct way.

Hunter clearly defines himself as an artist first and foremost – the words art and artist are peppered throughout his essay, whilst documentary is absent. I’m not suggesting that art and documentary are mutually exclusive, of course – I’m just observing how Hunter positions himself and his work. In the context of John Grierson’s famously succinct definition of documentary as “the creative treatment of actuality” (Grierson 1933), Hunter’s work leans more on the former than the latter.

I admire the work, not just at an aesthetic level – I saw it in the flesh last year and it really is a beautiful picture – but as a successful piece of social (semi-) documentary, in as much as the publicity surrounding it actually led to the possession order being retracted.

I also really admire the deployment of a non-documentary visual style to a traditional social documentary subject – it really helps to make the project stand out from the noise of more traditionally shot photography.


http://www.tomhunter.org/think-global-act-local/ (accessed 01/08/2016)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00zt7ky (accessed 01/08/2016)

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/nov/04/photography-tom-hunter-best-shot (accessed 01/08/2016)

Grierson, J (1933) ‘The Documentary Producer’, Cinema Quarterly issue 2

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