Since finishing his masters degree in Photography at the Royal College of Art two years ago, artist Dominic Hawgood has been making waves in the fine art world.
His previous project, Under The Influence, documented the world of African churches and exorcisms in London and won him the British Journal of Photography's International Photography Prize.
Hawgood's interest in this scene, and arguably the reason the photos have been so well received, is the concept of what is real versus what is staged.
Last year, off the back of this success, Hawgood was commissioned to create a new project by the EPEA (European Photo Exhibition Award). This was developed into a new body of work Casting Out The Self, a reflective look at the aesthetics of the psychedelic compound DMT, and what Hawgood describes as “a door into the digital world”.
The project will be exhibited in Paris next month.
We caught up with Dominic to chat about his new project and how he got to the position he's in now.
Konbini: Tell us about Casting Out The Self.
Dominic Hawgood: I was looking for a way to build upon my last project, bringing together and elaborating upon the various areas I've been exploring over the past few years. I have an interest in technology, states of mind and playing with reality, so Casting Out The Self was the perfect opportunity to really push photography to its limits. I've been interested in DMT for a while and it’s something I’ve been experimenting with, it’s an experience I was really struck by and something I found inspirational.
"It was like being placed inside a computer."
The first time I took DMT I felt like I had literally been flipped into a digital world. It made me want to analyse what set it aside from our normal way of seeing, what made it so different and feel so digital? In this process of trying to understand the aesthetics of an experience I started building Casting Out The Self.
I wanted to tell a story, not to just describe a drug experience but try to make someone consider the feeling of transferring into a digital world. I was drawn to the idea that this digital vision had been accessible for thousands of years, so suddenly 'digital' seemed less contemporary. Was digital something within us? Is it a realisation rather than something quite abstract and being created around us right now?
To start to talk about this digital world I began working, amongst other things, with 3D scans, something I’ve been doing for the last few years. For me they represent the transfer of real world into digital, and techniques like photogrammetry have this kind of pure digital-ness to them; taking real world objects, creating virtual models from them, rendering them out. This allows you to view reality in a new way, to transfer the analogue into the digital, an analogy I also use for the DMT experience, analogue being our reality and digital the psychedelic world
Your previous work has focused a lot on religion and faith, what inspired the move onto something more personal?
The last project [Under The Influence] was personal as well. It wasn’t really to do with faith it was more about my experience of watching exorcisms. I went along to churches services and watched exorcisms, but I could never really figure out what was real and what wasn’t real. I wanted to find a way to describe this sensation and recreate the feeling that I had when I was at church.
So I built a project, I took the idea of confusion and interpreted it as ambiguity, and simply looped the idea... you can never work out what is real, how it’s been produced or made. Documentary images look staged or vice versa, they might look like an editorial, or advertising but they don’t function in that way.
The images installed look like monitors but they’re light panels, photography looks like CGI and CGI looks real. The project exists across platforms, as part of this I built architectural renders that look real and were released as exhibition documentation, however you just assume that they’re my installations shots, this whole thing just loops continuously.
It’s the same idea [with this project], I'm describing a feeling, except this time I ask you to imagine what it’s like to enter a digital world. The tools I’m using to achieve this are not just scanning related but also involve other unusual photographic processes. In many ways I’m deconstructing photography, breaking it down and then rebuilding it.
You’ll be exhibiting the project in Paris next month, how did this come about?
I was nominated to participate with EPEA, the final outcome being a touring group show starting in Paris then moving to Italy, Norway and Germany.
Your previous shows have been innovatively curated, how will you exhibit a project like this?
This project is still growing and evolving so this is just the start with the aim to realise it as a future installation. I've been working in part collaboration on high-resolution animations so there's going to be a combination of projection, prints and a hint of a light installation.
"Right now it's not how I want it at all, but that'll come later on."
I’ve run into technical issues on this project that are hugely limiting my progress unfortunately, I simply don’t have the computing power to render what I require, or the finances for render time. I’m currently trying to solve these obstacles but it’s tricky. I put a great deal of time into research, so now I need to secure additional funding in order to complete the series in the way I want.
You graduated from RCA two years ago, what advice would you give to other photographers straight out of education?
My strategy was to take full advantage of the facilities whilst at college, try as hard as possible, take risks, and make contacts. I was always careful to build relationships with people who I found interesting and were supportive, and when I finished this turned into publicity, people writing and talking about my work.
"You need to win some awards. Get as much publicity as possible."
You’ve spoken before about starting out by drawing before moving into photography, what inspired this transition?
I used to spend a lot of time drawing as a teenager, studying from photographs, and it seemed like a natural progression from one to the other.
Your photos have a very striking visual style, other than fine artists, what visual culture are you inspired by?
Literature inspires me more than other things. I look towards commercial lighting for inspiration, lighting design and window display. There’s often an interesting loop back to the arts through set design via advertising. I spend a lot of time walking around looking in shop windows. I find that inspiring. I like observing.
'Casting Out The Self' will be exhibited in Paris at Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation from May 20 – August 28.