Visual Resonances

by Karin Bareman

English Essays

Always On The Lookout – Bill Hunt Explains How to Collect Photography

Former Independent photographer Brian Harris once stated during a workshop that every practicing photographer should have a small but continuing side project. In his case it was photographing couples kissing. He stated that being alert to couples embracing anywhere at anytime really trained him to snatch that decisive moment. It also taught him to really look at the world around him, to develop an eye for everything surrounding him, and to anticipate what might happen. And over the years it has systematically led to a collection of photographs on the same theme.

Bill Hunt practices what Harris preaches, but then as a photography collector. During a talk at Foam in Amsterdam Hunt explains how he came across a picture of Imogen Cunningham about fourty years ago. He describes it as a dreamy and beautiful image. However, the eyes of the woman in the photograph are completely invisible. And this is what really gripped him. So he bought the image without any idea of what to do with it or even how to pay for it. It turns out that this particular work formed the start of his collection. Throughout the years he has collected hundreds of portraits in which the eyes of the subject are either closed, or completely invisible. This latter category includes images where the eyes are directly but visibly hidden, or pictures where the absence of eyes is alluded to, for example photographs of shadows. Hunt also includes in his collection photos that do not depict eyes, but remind him of them either through shape or form or composition. His collection ranges from 19th century to contemporary photography, from amateur snapshots to staged portraits by conceptual artists. The theme of the unseen eye really binds together a large collection of disparate images of varying quality and makes it interesting and coherent to a larger audience.

It is clear that the collection is deeply personal to Hunt. He explains how he sees something of himself back in the pictures, or something of friends and relatives that are close to him. It does not matter that the photographs in question are of completely random strangers. No, the magic lies in his identification with the people portrayed. According to Hunt good pictures are provocative. They should cause a gut reaction, an almost physical response. He links the absence of the eyes in the photographs to the enhancement of other senses. Portraits without eyes enable Hunt to collude with the artist as to the meaning of the image, since the lack of eyes indicates to him that information is being withheld. It keeps up the mystery of what the picture might have been. Listening to the photography collector really gives the impression that buying that one Imogen Cunningham picture has been a life-changing event. It led him down a road to discover photography and dedicate his life to the medium as a collector, and later galerist and teacher. It is an inspiring route for any budding photography collector to follow.


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