Few times have I ever been ignited and tactile over the diction and locution of a person’s speech. Whether diphthong or preposition, W.M. Hunt is a man you can put in your mouth. Results may vary. Tongue and touch, cheek and insight, my meeting with Hunt was not dictated by my intention. It was made by the content of our conversation. It was a bit about him, but more about parts and big ideas: Pictures! and Seeing!
Hunt has allure hidden behind a curtain of extreme intellect and curiosity. He is obscured by mischief. He likes it that way. What might surprise most about him is how much he loves to teach. All kinds of teaching, beyond classroom and assignment, though he does both. He loves and is so damn passionate about photography. And I mean really committed! Hunt’s approach is very hands-on, mixed with a good bit of hocus-pocus. Talent is a given and he’s not afraid to share, that often photography comes down to not being afraid to do it enough times wrong until it’s right. It happens often in this way for photographers. This is also how it has happened for him as a collector and curator for the past thirty years. I hesitantly asked how collecting and his interest in photography started, “No. It’s not a bad question.” He says, “I dunno. Madness.”
What a fucking rock star, I thought. What a big photo nerd.
“Go for the cool shit. Don’t be a dick.”
Hunt’s tether to photography makes sense. He takes me back to when he was young. There were long stays with his grandparents, where he loved exploring a house filled with little cubbyholes and passages, letting him get lost and discover. Here’s where a birth of imagination occurred. Whether in monograph or displayed in exhibition, Hunt uses imagery in unconventional ways. He will construct a room inside a room, hiding images in a way so you have to press your body around a corner for the visual reward. Or maybe he’s forcing you up on your tiptoes or getting you down on all fours, to see photos that are hung way too high or far too low. The way Hunt presents work gets you looking and experiencing differently. “At FOAM I filled rooms with photographs in all sorts of ways. For the opening I asked that chairs be scattered around the middle of the room.” People look, they sit down, they talk to each other, they get their eyes and ideas flexing and interacting. You pull in and out, experiencing the parts that grab you. You sit and contextualize, and you chat and banter. Something grows inside, based on of what and how you see. “Go for the cool shit. Don’t be a dick,” he’s says. I dare to suggest that his grandparents’ home seems to be where his interest in pushing viewers to rethink their preconceptions was born. He smirks, “Huh? You may be right.”
Hunt’s been collecting all kinds of photos for the better part of his life. However, one body of images he collects, is his jewel. The images are of people with their eyes obscured, turned away, missing, or just plain gone. Presented together in a book by Aperture, The Unseen Eye: Photographs of the Unconscious, is the culmination of a style by which he seems to like to live. “I love to be provocative, it’s an impatience with the thoughtless perpetuation of dull ideas.” Hunt has created a place for us to get away with anything. Ideas and thoughts are not out of bounds; they’re engrained in our lives. These things can be religious and idealistic, perverse and sexual; maybe all these things or maybe none of them. The stress is put on taking a chance, on yourself more than anything; to reach for those feelings and own up to them. Hunt’s collection changes the metabolism of looking. The photos are building blocks of a structure that allows for making stuff, good stuff, bad stuff, right stuff, wrong stuff. And somewhere in between, the book acts as a guide, big enough to be comfortable in the bathroom, but not so devastating, so as to break a toe if you dropped it.
Live in your head, a lot! This is the show! As I watch him shift in his chair and share his story I notice his hands and eyes. They are crafted and mindful and he thinks long, before he speaks. Hunt is a single bolt of lighting. Men like him, catch flies, one shot, sharp and poignant. Teaching makes you take responsibility for what you’re saying. In this way, Hunt is humbled. He sets a stage and sits back and is thrilled by the chance to watch people inform themselves, opening their minds and sharing ideas. He poses questions and makes himself available. This is what allows for chances. The last image in The Unseen Eye is the only of an open eye, looking straight into the camera. For Bill, wanting and having this photo was profound. “This isn’t what I do man! But this photo was so good. I needed it. And suddenly, after years of collecting all these closed and obscured eyes, I realized the moment the eye opened, that I was done.” In ways this may be an end, but not to ideas.
Making a photo is about that one eye, putting it to the viewfinder and making something. That shot looks beyond. There is no end. It lasts forever.
Get your hands on a copy of The Unseen Eye: Photographs of the Unconscious. Find out how here. You won’t be sorry!
Also, for more info on Erwin Olaf, see his detailed Artsy page here.
Efrem Zelony-Mindell is an artist who lives in New York. For more of his work click here …
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