Photographer Tom Hunter’s ‘Woman reading a possession order’

I first saw this photograph in Hackney Museum a few years ago, and it was one of those images – and with my visual memory, there aren’t too many – that stayed with me. I didn’t note down the name of the photographer, and so it seemed destined to be one of those things you fall in love with but never come across again.

Until I read an article in the Guardian late last year, where the artist Tom Hunter talks about how the image came about. He was living in a squat in Hackney and spent a whole day with the woman in the picture, his friend Filipa, trying to get the perfect shot. She had been sent a possesssion order by the council, and the image is inspired by Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window by Vermeer – another artist who depicted ordinary people.

As he explains in the article, he wanted  to ‘take a picture showing the dignity of squatter life – a piece of propaganda to save my neighbourhood’. You can read the full article here.

I remember reading photography guidelines for an Observer competition and it specifically stated ‘no shopping trollies dumped in ponds’, while the submission guidelines of the literary magazine Ambit categorically rejects ‘I’ve-got-no-money ‘bed-sitter’ poems and also advises writers to avoid’ shards’, ‘abysses’ and ‘iridescence’ – or, more simply, cliches.

And I think it is Hunter’s deliberate refusal of a cliched representation of homelessness that makes this picture special – you have these rich colours and beautiful light and the classic mother-and-child pairing, so in many ways it’s a celebratory, almost reverent image. It would be too easy to take depressing photos of a woman in a squat, whereas this photo is so beautiful that you can feel the photographer’s respect and empathy for the subject, and feel it yourself as a viewer.

www.tomhunter.org


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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Photographer Tom Hunter’s ‘Woman reading a possession order’

  1. Yes – and you also think, shit – what’s she going to do?!? Very recession-friendly post… your blog’s going great guns isn’t it!

  2. Thanks Katy… btw I bought your wonderful book from Salt recently – I shall post on it soon.

  3. I actually like Vermeer’s painting more. For me the thing is – with painters of old – they were also actors on the inside. I suspect this girl with her clean middle-class air and healthy happy baby isn’t quite experiencing the same thing as the girl in the Vermeer painting. But it’s a nice image.

  4. Read more about Tom Hunter as he reveals his inspirations and talks about his journey from living in a squat to being an acclaimed photographer:

    http://www.jotta.com/jotta/published/home/article/v2-published/1652/in-conversation-tom-hunter

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