Jamie Hawkesworth’s a blue painted fence

Reading Time: 4 minutes

In 2010, when BJP first came across Jamie Hawkesworth, he’d just been shooting in Preston Bus Station along with Adam Murray and Robert Parkinson from the Preston is my Paris zine. Picking out passersby who caught his eye in the rundown but celebrated Brutalist transport hub, Hawkesworth’s images were published in a free newspaper and given to the disadvantaged teenagers who used the buses. They helped save the bus station from demolition, but they also helped launch a stellar career, with Hawkesworth signing up with the prestigious London agency  MAP soon afterwards.

Fast-forward to 2018 and Hawkesworth is a celebrated fashion photographer, who’s shot ad campaigns for Alexander McQueen and Marni, and editorial for publications such as Vogue Italia, W, and Purple. He’s also got an exhibition on show in London, a blue painted fence, which shows off his film, drawings, and writing, as well as new photographs from Kenya, Louisiana and Romania. Despite his success he’s still very much the same man BJP first met eight years ago, down-to-earth and modest, with a refreshingly breezy approach to his many talents. 

Of his drawings, for example, he says it’s just a case of “having room to get out there and explore, of being open to chance”. “I found myself giving it a try, thinking ‘Oh I’ll just try some charcoal’, and it went from there,” he says. “The great thing about charcoal is it’s easy to get it on [the paper] and see where energy takes you.”

From a blue painted fence © Jamie Hawkesworth

Of the video he shot in Kenya, he says it’s just “what caught my eye”. Commissioned by an elephant charity to go to the country for three and a half weeks, he shot personal work in his down time, “just being open to seeing”. “For a long time [when shooting] I’d pick a place and drive there one weekend to see what I came across,” he adds. “This was similar.”

Of his curation he says he’s “just putting things together that feel right”, adding that “there should be room for that” within photography and art. He’s displaying the Kenya video in a curved projection that forces the viewer to turn around 360 degrees to see it all, for example: “It’s a nod to me in Preston,” he says, “walking round in circles finding people to photograph.”

He makes it all sound easy and instinctive, and speaks up for the importance of this approach, of being guided by what strikes the eye, when making visual art. But when he talks about his photography, some of the sheer craft that goes into his work becomes apparent. He’s adept with both colour and black-and-white, but uses different approaches with both – for colour he usually uses a medium format Mamiya on a tripod to shoot more static moments; for black-and-white he uses a Pentax and a higher speed film “which gives me the ability to be quick”. “The colour slows life down,” he says. “The Pentax speeds it up.”

Unusually in fashion – though it does have some famous precedents – he shoots on film, and he does all his own printing from his East London darkroom. He’s warmed up his prints since Preston Bus Station, he says, but adds that these days he has more control. “When I was in Preston I wanted it to be celebratory, so I would warm the prints up; now I still like that idea but I tweak it, it’s not just pushing up the yellow,” he says. “Maybe nobody notices, but to me it’s a change in how I understand and can articulate colour. 

“Printing becomes such an interesting part of your understanding of colour,” he adds. “Even most subtle shift in colour printing is monumental, colour has such a significance. And also it’s fantastic [printing from film in the darkroom] because there are only three colours, quite a tight framework. With digital photography there so many possibilities – when I tried it [at university] I was like ‘My god there are so many options what do you do?!’”

Text from a blue painted fence © Jamie Hawkesworth

He says he “still has a lot to learn” in the darkroom though, and takes a similarly modest approach to his writing about photography, some of which has made it into this show. Some of his writing is quite abstract, about how he feels when he takes a photograph, he says, some of it is about “my relationship with the physicality of it, how it feels having a bad back because I’ve been carrying a large camera around”.

What he doesn’t want to do is write “something strident about what photography should be, it’s nothing like that”. “A lot of photobooks I’ve read are by older photographers and critics, I haven’t picked up a book where a 30 year old talks about printing or a tripod,” he says. “So just for myself, it’s interesting to read.”

“Our perspective on motion is at the mercy of chance,” reads one of his texts, used as a pull out quote for the show. “Rhythm creates a path through the day.”

A blue painted fence by Jamie Hawkesworth is on show until 19 December (10am – 6pm) at 1-7 Aylesbury Street, London, EC1R 0DR www.mapltd.com/artist/jamiehawkesworth/

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