An Interview with: Richard Hamilton
Who are you, and where are you from?
My name is Richard Hamilton, I’m a 25-year-old photography graduate from University of Ulster, Belfast. I’m originally from Derry, Northern Ireland.
What initially drawn you to study at Ulster University?
Well, initially, I had actually been accepted to UU in 2010 to study Food and Nutrition – but I came to the realisation that I would only be going for the sake of going to university, so I took a few years out to explore myself creatively and decide what I wanted to do with my life (I mean, I haven’t figured that out completely, but I guess I’m on the right track).
I knew the type of work that I wanted to create, so studying close to home was important so I could take advantage of shooting where I grew up. Attending UUB allowed me to study and only be a few hours away from everything I needed.
When I saw the work made by students at the time, it made me feel confident that it could be a place for me to explore myself and my work. After researching further into the course, I discovered that Donovan Wylie and Martin Parr were both involved in the teaching and development of students – so the prospect of first hand advice from two Magnum photographers was a bit of a draw too!
Tell us a little bit about The Oaks – what do you think influenced your project from both a personal and visual standpoint?
The Oaks was the first piece of work I created at university that I felt was representative of me. The first couple of semesters, I was too aware of what others around me were creating, and, I guess I was apprehensive to do what I wanted to do, in fear of being told it wasn’t very good.
The Oaks was primarily influenced by my upbringing within the working agricultural environment. I was aware that I didn’t fit the formula of a typical “farmer’s son”. As much as I felt comfortable in my surroundings, that feeling came when I was alone. I spent a lot of my teenage years on horseback, roaming the countryside with my camera – basically taking myself far away from the possibility of being coerced into some sort of farm activity. Traditionally, children of a farming background would continue the family run business; I wanted to explore the disconnection that I felt regarding that tradition as I knew it wasn’t for me.
To create my work, I retraced the paths I explored as a teenager, carefully choosing times of the day when the farm was most vacant. As it is a working farm, it wasn’t always possible, so I would set up my equipment and shoot in sometimes tense 1-5 minute intervals until I got the shot I desired.
Visually, I took influence from Renaissance art and contemporary portraiture. Conceptually, I looked at Doug Bubois’ My Last Day at Seventeen and Rich Gilligan’s Rituals. Aesthetically I looked at Ryan McGinley’s Four Seasons as well as an abundance of Renaissance paintings such as Jose de Ribera’s Tityus, Gyula Benczur’s Narcissis, and Jean Germain Drouais’ A Naked Warrior.
Looking at your work, I get a sense of McGinley meets Yatrofsky meets Hart & Leshkina. How would you describe your aesthetic?
Thank you, I appreciate that mix, you really get it! I’d describe my aesthetic as contemporary with a Renaissance-esque influence. I always find it difficult to answer this question but I think my Instagram bio sums it up pretty well too with “daydreamer haunted by nostalgia”.
Your project The Oaks won a Curator’s Choice from the annual Source Photographic Review and was also printed in their Autumn 2017 issue. How helpful has it been to have your work exposed through this platform?
That’s right! I was so surprised and humbled to be chosen from such a huge pool of talented photographers. I guess its been most helpful in providing myself with the reassurance that sometimes I doubt. Off the back of it I was invited to show my work to a gallery in Belfast, where I was asked to take part in a group show in December. It has been helpful but I’m not sure to what extent just yet.
How did the reality of post-grad life differ from your expectations?
That’s a very good question. Hugely.
I had these visions of moving away, working in the industry, honing my skills and experience and in my free time, creating my own work and shooting in these exciting new places that I had created in my mind. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’ll keep trying. I guess the biggest reality check for me was the amount of rejection there is, it had really got me down towards the end of the year and self-doubt began to creep in.
I think you’ve just got to remember that when the time is right, things will work out, I’m just hoping that time comes around soon. I mean, I’m not even 100% sure what I want my next step to be, I’m stuck between the idea of applying to do more commercial work just for money and stability, enabling me to move from Ireland; or perhaps remaining in Ireland and taking some time out to take part in a residency. My main problem is that I overthink things to the point of exhaustion, so I’m trying not to do that as much in 2018.
Nude depictions often come with a handful of preconceptions, such as that you are dealing with sexuality or gender by default. You touch upon themes of disconnect throughout your oeuvre, and so, how do you maintain a disconnect in your work from extraneous concepts?
I’m always open and intrigued to hear how people connect with my work. There are a lot of undercurrents present, that for me, aren’t the primary focus, but they are there, and they are relevant. Art and photography are very ambiguous and subjective, it’s wide open for interpretation. I feel the viewers connection with my work will always be individual – dependent on their own experiences and feelings, which is important as not everyone will connect with the experiences I’ve had that allowed me to create my work.
To answer your question though, I believe the approach I took was most helpful. The juxtaposition created between the agricultural background and the pale flesh, paired with the sometimes awkward and strained figures present in the work, intensifies the feeling of disconnect.
Let us know what we can expect to see from you in 2018, as well as where to keep up with your work.
I recently directed a music video for the really talented singer/songwriter Miceal (Until The End), which is released on the 29th of this month, so I’m excited about that. As I mentioned before, maybe a residency or a change of location and job, who knows? Mainly, I’m aiming to explore my work further, push myself creatively, collaborate more and travel too!