The photographer speaks candidly about his creative path up until this point and the importance of remaining curious as his latest work goes on show in London
Inspiration is often believed to come by chance. That is how photographer Jamie Hawkesworth describes his process, anyway: he speaks of being “open”, and repeatedly uses the word “feeling”, as to imply that creativity happens when he shuts off the rational, calculating mind and honours his intuition. Not to say that rationality is useless in the arts, but his ideas around following one’s gut feeling seem quite appealing in a culture that values logical thinking above all else.
This week marked the opening of A Short Pleasurable Journey, Part 2, Hawkesworth’s new show in London. It acts as a sequel to the 2016 exhibition of the same name that chronicled his experimentation with the photographic medium. The first instalment included fashion editorials and personal images from the photographer’s many travels across the world.
For this new series, however, Hawkesworth focused on one single place. He followed a youth orchestra that was performing in the small commune of Floresti, Romania and liked the place so much that he stayed for three weeks.
“The show has a lot of pictures so it’s kind of an unedited trip around this place in Romania,” Hawkesworth says. This was his first time documenting one location extensively. The photographer was so pleased with the contact sheets from the trip that he even considered printing all the images, compared to normally curating and discarding stills to put on a show. “Sometimes when you’re trying to articulate yourself, for me anyway, you can get very conceptual about things, or you heavily edit things,” he explains. “This project felt so natural to leave alone that it has felt like a milestone.”
Hawkesworth says the new project evolved around “the idea that every little detail can become quite monumental once they’re all pieced together”. A series that is so context-specific calls for a narrative, but the photographer is quick to explain that he does not wish to influence the viewer’s making of meaning. “I always think it’s really important to leave a lot of space around photographs. I don’t really want to say anything about anything,” he proclaims with a chuckle.
“I always think it’s really important to leave a lot of space around photographs. I don’t really want to say anything about anything” – Jamie Hawkesworth
I wondered if someone whose work is so precise in its attention to detail ever manages to not be thinking of work. “For a long time, I would feel incredibly guilty if I wasn’t taking pictures,” Hawkesworth confesses. “But I learned to just shut that off.” Nowadays he can go weeks at a time without having his “eyes on”, as he calls it. And still, the same excitement kicks in the moment he picks up the camera again.
As much as Hawkesworth gives a lot of thought to emotion and attitude, his photographic practice is – as one might expect – the result of a long road of trial and error. “I always bang on about being open to chance but it’s all basically out your front door,” he says, “Ultimately, to get to the party, you just have to go out and take pictures, which is, I suppose, an obvious thing to say, but it’s quite hard sometimes.”
The exhibition’s statement sees Hawkesworth reflect on how much he learned since shooting Preston Bus Station, the series that shot him to fame a decade ago. He writes: “Learning photography is like learning to speak when you’re a child. You copy your parents, people you admire, then you create your own voice. It's a language that's constantly evolving with your experience.” Hawkesworth is nostalgic for the specific kind of naivety that comes from doing something that you know very little about.
He remembers his own process of learning the language of photography: “When I first started taking pictures I was trying everything: I tried digital photography, I tried with flash, without a flash, I tried black and white, I tried every camera… And then once I graduated and started to assist photographers (...) I remember I was shooting a particular type of film because I wanted my work to look like theirs. I think that’s completely natural, particularly when you’re new: you copy the people you admire. And then the tipping point: when you start to build your own path and go down a different path.”
He mentions, as an example of that tipping point, his tendency to warm up pictures that have been shot in cold places “to make them feel optimistic and celebratory”. Over the years, Hawkesworth has been exploring a broad range of subjects, methods and systems to say “something different”. “It’s sort of ironic but coming out at the end of what I’ve been doing these last few years... Just to print pictures from one place and make a show about it, it seems to anybody else like the most obvious thing, but for me, it wasn’t and that’s come from just playing around.”
How can one hold onto that spirit of experimentation? “I was actually writing it down today: “I have to continue to be curious’,” the photographer reveals. “It’s a very obvious thing to say but it is probably the hardest thing to do.”
A Short Pleasurable Journey, Part Two, runs 10am - 6pm, 17th - 27th May at 1-7 Aylesbury Street London, EC1R 0DR