Philobiblon: Tom Hunter: Painting with a Lens

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Tom Hunter: Painting with a Lens

Traditionalists often complain of the lack of craft in modern art, yet the photographer Tom Hunter, in his composition and use of light, shows an equivalent level of skill to any "Old Master" with horsehair brush and oils. There is something astonishingly painterly about his work with a lens.

It is thus something of a shock to come suddenly upon his show at the National Gallery. Walking into the Sunley room, your gaze is attracted by the distant prospect - several galleries on - of Van Dyck's famous giant equestrian portrait of Charles I. Then you look left, to an image that seems very familiar; a young woman stands holding a letter in the light of a window.

Looking closer, you realise that while you might well have seen it before, this is not the familiar Vermeer painting, but Hunter's Woman reading a Possession Order, which was modelled on it. Made in 1997, and winner of the Kobal Photographic Portrait Award the following year, it is a highly accessible, yet highly effective, image. Instead of the rich bourgeois setting of the original, this is a dilapidated Hackney room, and beside the woman is not a bundle of richly embroidered cloth but a baby, who looks anxiously at his straight-backed mother, who is carefully holding herself together. READ MORE


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