January 11th, 2018
Jamie Hawkesworth Doesn’t Believe in Boundaries
A rising photography star bridges the divide between art and fashion.
By Adam Murray
Last fall, I met the photographer Jamie Hawkesworth at Central Saint Martins, London, to reflect on his recent exhibition, Landscape with Tree at Huis Marseille in Amsterdam. The college was a fitting location for such a discussion, as it was during my time as a lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire in the northwest of England that I first encountered Hawkesworth’s work, when he joined the undergraduate photography course in 2008. His deservedly quick rise from novice student to the photography establishment is long documented, with key moments often discussed, such as his work in the Preston Bus Station, his longtime collaboration with fashion designer J.W. Anderson, and his commissions for fashion and current affairs publications. All of which have contributed to his Huis Marseille exhibition, for which he was given free reign of the entire building—sixteen spaces filled with well over 150 hand-printed C-type prints.
Built around 1665, the Huis Marseille is housed in the former residence of French merchant Isaac Focquier. The combination of seventeenth-century architecture, eighteenth-century interior embellishment (including intricate stuccowork), and a room with a painted ceiling depicting Apollo among the clouds, accompanied by Minerva and the nine muses and twenty-first-century reconstruction, makes for an unusual yet compelling setting for photography. This being Hawkesworth’s first major exhibition, I made the trip from Manchester to Amsterdam for the opening weekend. As I walked into Huis Marseille, I was confronted by an ambitious body of work, which had the feel of an early-career retrospective.
One gallery featured seven prints from a reportage project in the Democratic Republic of Congo commissioned by the Wall Street Journal. On the main wall hung three photographs: a young girl peering around a wall, a close-up of a torso clothed in a turmeric-colored blazer, and a green landscape with a single tree in the center, from which the exhibition’s title is derived. Each print was monumental in scale, allowing viewers to see every tiny detail that Hawkesworth’s 6-by-7-cm negatives have been able to capture.
The focus for another space—this one dominated by a rich gold and red décor and the Apollo ceiling—was a project originally commissioned for Mastermind, a niche fashion publication directed by Marie-Amélie Sauvé. In this body of work, the beaches of Ipanema, Brazil, provide the backdrop for a styled editorial that features street-cast teenagers alongside models dressed in Louis Vuitton’s 2017 Resort collection. A less minimal curatorial style was given to a long, narrow space that displayed every photograph from Hawkesworth’s recently published photobook Preston Bus Station (2017)—139 images of people that he fleetingly encountered during his many visits to the Preston Bus Station in Lancashire.
The trend for producing “fashion exhibitions” in photography spaces has long been used as a way of bringing in large audiences through the network of press platforms that the photographer is already part of. No doubt Hawkesworth’s work is most often seen in a fashion context, a context that gave the work a major audience at an early stage. But for Hawkesworth, this does not come without its frustrations. “I do feel pigeonholed and I struggle to understand why people still distinguish between art and fashion,” he says. “My approach is always to try to take on work regardless of the context, where I feel like I am going to appreciate these pictures.”
Landscape with Tree was a seductive exhibition in a seductive space, not an exhibition intended to bamboozle the viewer with overcomplicated contextualization or a gimmicky hang. As Hawkesworth explained, “I liked the idea that you moved through someone’s sensibility, through many different rooms, but it all felt like one perspective. Nanda van den Berg [the curator] and I spent time walking through the space and instinctively identifying what work lent itself to each particular room.” Hawkesworth used the word “instinctive” many times during our conversation, which is not a flippant way to justify decisions that have not been given much thought: this has always been his approach. It is very much about actively responding to the time and place that he is in, exactly the behavior that the viewer was encouraged to engage in when in the exhibition.
Adam Murray is a lecturer at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, and Manchester Metropolitan University. He recently cocurated North: Fashioning Identity with Lou Stoppard, on view at Somerset House, London, through February 4, 2018.
Jamie Hawkesworth: Landscape with Tree was on view at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam, from September 9 through December 3, 2017.