Smoke and mirrors

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With just a couple of weeks until his exhibition opens at TJ Boulting Gallery, Dominic Hawgood is hard at work finalising the prints. His project, Under the Influence, is a deliberately stagey look at the theatrics of modern-day Churches, so he’s creating a carefully controlled, immersive installation to show it off.

“The priority is finding a way to control the lighting in the room, to make sure we can create atmosphere for the work to sit in,” he told BJP earlier this month. “It’s about using a few elements in the space, just to change it enough to create a certain feeling.”

Hawgood won the show after scooping the series category of BJP‘s International Photography Award, and is working with competition sponsor Spectrum Photographic to create it, making two lightboxes and five large black-and-white vinyl prints that will be stuck directly to the wall. “I’ve worked with LED panels, dim reflectors and bounce light, to try and contrast the glossiness of the screens and the matt finish of the vinyl,” he explains. “Hopefully, when all these small details comes together, it’ll give a very particular look to the images.”


Three of the vinyl prints measure 1526mm x 2035mm, which means they have had to be printed in two sections. “The vinyl is printed on Epson 9900, the same machine that we use that for all our inkjets, so the bigger ones had to be printed in two halves,” explains Andy Ford, one of Spectrum’s master printers. “Dominic will then cut them with a razor blade [to minimise the join].”

Hawgood has opted to use a matt ink for the blacks on the vinyl – very fragile, but very absorbent, this ink offers rich blacks and very high contrast as a result. “It’s quite delicate – as soon as you touch it it’s ruined,” explains Paul Lowe, Spectrum’s other master printer. “But it looks amazing.”

The two images for the lightboxes were printed as 813mm x 1067mm Fujitrans, and the challenge there was to reproduce the very flat colours without any blemishes. “If there are any undulations at all in the whole process it will show up, and Dominic is printing them big so that accentuates the problem,” says Ford. “We’ve done quite a few tests there.”

Spectrum has also printed 30 more traditional A4 prints for Hawgood, which he intends to sell as an edition, but what stands out is his interest in supposedly commercial processes. The rise of LED lights have made backlit prints a popular option for cosmetics counters and bill boards, for example (with Fujifilm itself describing them as “suitable for backlit displays, signs, and other commercial applications” online); vinyl prints, meanwhile, are “normally considered quite a cheap, throwaway commodity, and normally printed horribly,” as Hawgood puts it.

Hawgood adds that vinyl prints can look really impressive if they’re done properly though, and the Spectrum printers agree. An increasing number of artists using photography are opting for processes like these over traditional framed prints they say, and in fact they stopped doing framing in-house a couple of years ago to make room for a wider variety of media and print finishing, and a Zund cutting table (they continue to offer framing via a third party specialist).. “It’s about seeing things in your environment and using them in an art setting,” says Lowe. “Vinyl can make a great impact.”

“Dominic is a lot more interested in the fine details and process [than other artists Spectrum has worked with],” adds Ford. “He’s got very detailed understanding of the technical systems – the construction of the images and the settings.”

Dominic Hawgood’s exhibition is on show at TJ Boulting from 20 February to 07 March, with a private view on 19 February. The exhibition also includes an image taken in Lagos by the IPA’s single image winner, Jane Hahn; a 889 x 582mm c-type printed by Spectrum on Matt paper and mounted on aluminium.

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Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy