The extraordinary banality of Jamie Hawkesworth
"I’m just trying to take the pictures that I myself am proud of. I’m never thinking about the customer."
The two words Jamie Hawkesworth uses the most when we talk on the phone, via a remarkably scratchy line, are ‘simple’ and ‘weird’. Though surprising, his reliance upon them is understandable. Jamie looks at scenes that seem extraordinary in their banality ‒ or weird in their simplicity.
Jamie’s training initially came from forensic science, but he’s been lauded for the romance of his images; their warmth and openness. From his Preston Bus Station images ‒ a series of nuanced and empathetic pictures of architecture and people in Northern England ‒ to his commercial campaigns for the likes of Marni, Alexander McQueen, JW Anderson, Loewe and more, his eye captures quirks and cultural tropes.
He seems to see objects, garments, people and landscapes as shapes that reward each other equally. Fundamentally, Jamie Hawkesworth seems to still be weirded out that his so-called simple ideas are bringing him so much pleasure ‒ and success.
Your most recent show, A Short Pleasurable Journey: Part 2, sees you in Transylvania, following a youth orchestra.
I was working on a short film and was looking for an orchestra to make a score for the film, so I contacted a youth orchestra, the LSSO ‒ the London Schools Symphony Orchestra. The conductor said, they’re actually performing in Romania, if you want to come along, feel free. And I thought, well, this is a great excuse to go somewhere, so I followed them there and then I ended up going through this small town and fell in love with it and thought, right, I’m staying here. So the orchestra actually left, but I stayed around for about two and a half weeks ‒ and that’s basically the show. I like the chance nature of it.
I’ve heard you speak before about how you think of yourself as a documentary photographer ‒ seeing these images felt very much like that identity was actualised.
Yeah, I’ve always done these trips. For the last ten years, I’ve constantly been travelling around England and I’ve always sat on the photographs a little bit. Of course, I do fashion and it’s similar to the way that I approach fashion, but I’ve never really articulated this type of working within a space. It’s about taking a couple of steps back in being very simple. You’re completely right in that it’s embodying what I’ve been talking about ‒ which is nice.
Are you still inspired by fashion? When you see clothes or collections, do you still see the potential for creating imagery?
Yeah, massively. And again, it’s a playful act using an interesting costume I suppose, so essentially creating a play. I think 100%. I never really know how this will manifest, but when I see [clothes] work together, it will make a great picture.
Adam Murray pointed you in the direction of fashion photography, but do you think you always had a kind of inherent interest in clothing and design?
No, not at all. I was walking around taking pictures and portraits of people and naturally, what people wear becomes an important element of that portrait. Obviously, because it’s part of the photograph, I was starting to get quite fascinated with details, and what people would wear and how that would show people expressing their personality. In the bus station, I was photographing everybody from old people to young people to kids. I remember one girl turned the corner and she had this Christmas outfit in June and that was such a thing, that! I remember photographing three old ladies and they all had an identical anorak on ‒ and it’s things like that which you could never imagine, and that started to creep into what I would be inspired by.
You’re looking at moments of reality and making them fantastical, which is what fashion itself really tries to do.
I did a shoot with Benjamin Bruno and he put a big suit on this kid on the street and it was like, I would never have been able to imagine that and that’s what’s so interesting about fashion: you can put it on someone and completely change them and create a narrative for no reason, apart from that you were inspired by something.
Are you conscious of putting a narrative arc into a photo?
Yeah. With the Romania exhibition and previous ones, the narrative that I want to create is so open that something small and insignificant can become quite monumental. That you’re experiencing this place and it’s sort of magnificent, but actually, if you went there, it might not be. And again, it’s like the kid with the blue outfit, it’s a weird aim, an exaggerated version of that, just walking around a normal town. Say you saw kind of a normal girl in a normal dress and then you chuck that thing on and it becomes this monumental picture and ‒ it’s slightly different in that it’s fabricated ‒ but it is that idea that you can take something quite normal and exaggerate it.
Do you feel pressure to keep evolving and changing? You’re at a stage in your career where your work is very recognisable ‒ do you feel the need to keep pushing yourself?
To me it’s not really pressure, it’s keeping curious. I think that’s where the pressure is ‒ because actually, I think the hardest thing for me is just getting out the door and taking pictures and going to a place and being open to chance. That just allows curiosity to keep evolving even if it is as simple as showing all the pictures you’ve taken in a place, it’s still the hardest thing. That’s where the pressure comes from ‒ the ability to be curious and maintain it.
Would you say you don’t succumb to the need to continue to have a claim in the industry?
Yeah, if you talk in terms of industry, for sure. You know, I’ve very consciously and actively taken a step back from it. I’d been working with lots of people and the energy wasn’t there. There was just my own excitement, so I’ve definitely, consciously, tried to move away. I know that above any kind of industry is my own feeling towards trying to be curious. I’ve taken a natural step away, so I can go to places and do projects where you don’t necessarily have to have a framework.
Do you think you can put your finger on what that shift was? Why was the energy not there?
It’s a good question. I’d need to think about that.
For people just coming into the industry, it would be interesting to know how to react when things change and when they’re not necessarily in sync.
I guess it’s giving yourself a sense of space. I think what happens naturally within an industry is you can ask, ‘What am I doing this for? For me.’ Anyway the space around you becomes smaller and smaller, because you’re in your flow of work and you know what works. For me, I was slowly starting to lose that sense of space and freedom in a weird way, or maybe that’s just my own feeling. But I guess what I’m trying to do and what’s so great about going to a place like Romania is just walking around and the sense of space around you is huge. And the endless possibilities, there’s no end, no walls, you can just keep going. Naturally, working in this industry, walls appear and particularly now, in my experience, things have gotten so much quicker.
Has the rise of Instagram changed how you look at things? Can you remove yourself in a setting from the possibility of a photograph?
What makes a photograph and what makes a photographer is your ability to build something, and each picture becomes a building block. Then you really start to articulate yourself. I think actually this is why this exhibition for me is so important ‒ you then translate that over to print and someone can experience that outside the framework of using a mobile phone that you might order a pizza on. You’re then creating another conversation in a very different space. You know, walking into a space and deciding why someone saw something is obviously such a hugely different experience to being on your mobile. I mean, it’s fine to post a picture on Instagram to illustrate, ‘come to this show’, that’s what it’s there for, to make people aware that you’re coming to a space and that’s great. I don’t know if this has answered your question …
It’s kind of answering a different question, but it’s an interesting one. So, are you more interested in imagery in a physical space?
It’s such a way to take someone along with you. The idea of me just walking down the street and taking some pictures, that’s nice and you can talk about it, but using a space means you get pretty bloody close to someone being right alongside you and experiencing that.
When you’re creating an image and when you’re working on it, are you thinking about the context in which that image will be received?
No, not at all actually. I’m just so incredibly happy taking the picture in the moment that I’m not really thinking about where it might go.
Do you think that’s why your work in fashion has been so successful? Because the imagery that you’re creating wasn’t necessarily aimed at a traditional fashion audience?
I’m just trying to take the pictures that I myself am proud of. I’m never thinking about the customer. I think particularly with fashion, it’s just a playful act. Experimenting with clothes, I suppose and that playfulness becomes something exciting and creative. It’s about trying to turn that switch off and take pictures you’re proud of. Even with Zara, when I was asked to do the campaign and it was extremely commercial, I was suddenly excited because I thought I could take something I’m proud of into the most commercial context ever.
I wonder how you approach the concept of success.
In what respect?
In terms of personal definitions ‒ and of how you approach the pressures of feeling like that’s necessary.
I guess it’s just ultimately if you’re happy with your photographs. If your end goal is expressed, it kind of feels like your success. To take myself as an example ‒ because I guess I am, successful myself ‒ now that I did the show, I feel like all of those things I’ve just talked about do come across. I looked at the print and I was happy with it. So, I feel it has been a success. I guess if you’re talking about photography, you’re just happy with your practice and your craft allows you to express your experience. I guess that’s success.
Are you happy with your work right now?
Yes, I am. Yes. I’m excited. Like I say, it’s very funny that it’s such a simple idea that has allowed me to think that I’m doing something kind of interesting. Just to show a place and every step along the way is very simple, but I’m very happy that that’s happened.
It feels satisfying.
Yeah, it does feel satisfying.
Jamie, thank you so much. I’ll let you get back to the delights of Norway.
Cool, no worries, thanks a lot.