TEXTS


INFLUENCES ON THE FEMINIST PHOTOGRAPHY OF ALEXIS HUNTER.

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The photographs of Alexis Hunter have been influenced by her training as a painter. Her photographs have the same narrative sense, in that a painting can only be made ‘over time’, and not in the instant of a camera shutter closing.  In Art Photography, the light source is very important and the subject is controlled by the photographer to achieve an aesthetic composition. Hunter, by concentrating on the narrative, employs moving sunlight on her subject to express the emotion of the viewer/model. This gives the images an expressionistic aspect, especially when the sunlight is combined with a tracking aperture that goes in and out of focus, and then the images are put into a sequence of stop-frame shots. (Approach to Fear IV:  Change – decisive action, 1977)

As a feminist, she is also aware of the ‘looked at’ body, and includes the chance passers-by on the street that infringe on the subject of her image.  Reportage Photographers are commissioned to take images of war and disaster for the news industry and also have a tradition of ‘photo-essays’ detailing their own subject of interest. Although Hunter’s photographs are constructed, as in Art Photography, they have the illusion of Reportage; of the sudden moment, the chaos of time and the place of the factual news image-maker. One of the images from The Tattoo Series, 1973 depicts a naked woman with a bird tattoo on her shoulder. It is only through the mass of male photographers in the background that gives some clue that the shot is taken at an American Nude Beauty Pageant.
Hunter’s images are also formed out of the theories of Radical Feminist Art History and the inherent criticism of the viewer as voyeur. A Portrait Photographer takes commissions from the public, continuing the tradition of portrait painting. Hunter, although focusing on one person, defies the portrait genre by erasing the face of the models, to make them anonymously objectified (The Object Series, 1973-6) or even the whole body except for the hands, as in The Approach to Fear Series, 1975-1981, so the viewer may identify with the photographer/model. 
After reading the new writers of feminist theory (Greer, Friedan, Millet, Firestone and earlier social commenters such as Alexis De Tocqueville) Hunter was interested in the spirituality in the writings of Jung, the uncanny residing in our own concepts of the role in art of ‘the Nude’, ‘the Housewife’ and ‘the Sexual Object’ inherent in the image of ‘woman’. Even ‘the Goddess’ of matriarchal feminism is also present in later work, War and Nature, 1979, where toy soldiers, fighting over a landscape of newspapers from the second World War become burnt and buried by ‘Mother Nature’ herself.  
She combines these photographic genres because the aim is to communicate the conceptual idea rather than the ‘service’ the commercial photographer delivers. The problematic situation of the subject of the feminine is tackled by this combination of Art and Reportage genres, and why she introduces chronology and montage. She evades the problematic politics of the use of images of other women by posing herself, (The Model’s Revenge 1974-77) as an everywoman, using the radical performance genre such as used by the artists VALIE EXPORT, Carolee Schneeman and Yoko Ono.  The important function of the title also brings a question into the viewing of the work. 
She was influenced by the early avante garde film makers, Bergman, Rossellini and Godard as her father belonged to a film club whose screenings she was taken to as a child. She was exposed to the films of Warhol and Morrissey as an art student in the 1960s and the feminist films by the French auteurs Chantal Akerman and Babette Mangolt at the filmmaker’s co-op in Primrose Hill. One film that made an impact on Hunter was The Fox, a 1967 American drama film directed by Mark Rydell based on the 1923 novella of the same title by D. H. Lawrence. This  film’s symbolic colour and sensual use of materials, the shifting roles played by the two women and the male role moving between positions of predator and prey, stayed in Hunter’s mind as a visual iconography.  She used this ambiguity in the works Approach to Fear II, Pain: identify with aggressor, 1976 and Incubus/ Succubus, 1978. 
Hunter became very interested in the psychology of the function of the brain in 1975, and researched versions of scientific papers on the human brain’s response to sudden accidental death in Eastern and Western science. Using the photographic camera like a film camera, she documented sudden deaths - falling, heart attack, stroke - and worked out the sequences of the differing emotions and bodily reactions (Perception in Crisis Series, 1975).These experiments were merged with the concept of the Fourth Dimension after reading the New Zealand pilot H. E. Dunn’s book on the subject and The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind 'by Julian Jaynes.  

This book was concerned with the different ages of the human brain development and led to the choice of images in the Approach to Fear Series, where an atavistic psychological fear was shown, for instance, as a cat biting a woman’s hand, a rat moving towards a woman’s pubis and other creatures such as spiders, snakes and other phobic startlers, which are stored in the early reptilian part of our brain.

 Feminist Film Theory was an exciting area in the 1970s with such academics as Laura Mulvey and Griselda Pollack publishing essays on the inherent voyeurism of the medium. Hunter wrote Towards a Feminist Perception, for the art magazine Artscribe, as an overview of British  Feminist art made at that point. She joined the Artist’s Union in 1972, meeting Marc Chaimowitz and Stuart Brisley, whose performance at the Goerter Institute had a profound effect.  The Women’s Workshop meetings, which included Mary Kelly, Rozsiker Parker, Margaret Harrison and Tina Keane,  led to the early feminist exhibitions like Socialisation and Sexuality, Northern Arts, 1976. Hunter travelled to New York and showed her work in the studio of her friend May Stevens, met Miriam Schapiro, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Anna Mendieta, Mary Beth Edelson, Camille Billops, Hannah Wilke, Nancy Spero and Lucy Lippard and gave lectures on British feminist art at the Air Gallery in SoHo. Later she was a member and curator of the Women’s Free Arts Alliance in Regent Park, London, and met the filmmaker Nina Kellgren. In 1979 they set up a darkroom and studio in Hoxton together. 
In a visit to New York in 1976 Hunter did a master class in colour Xerox, where she made Suicide 1976 (part of the Perception in Crisis Series), but it was not until 1978 that she started to produce her sequences in the copying device. She felt the need to produce numerous versions of her of work for exhibitions, for less cost at the time, but she also liked the Xerox’s similarity to the television screen in that its image was also comprised of small dots. She felt it gave immediacy to the image, and a distance as her works become about wider issues that were affected by Feminist theory. She had been working as a colourist in the animation film industry and held an ACCT Union card, working on the Flora adverts and films for television such as The Snowman. It was her knowledge of Dope Sheets for the camera to time each piece of advertising artwork that led her to successfully time the stills sequences. 
Playing the role of the archetypal Western woman that is represented in A Young Polynesian Considers Cultural Imperialism before She Goes to the Disco, 1981, Hunter comments on the problems of mono-culturalism in 1981 New Zealand, but also on the pervasiveness of American cultural consumerism that might contain the seeds of an identity for a depressed minority. 
Feminist issues of the day such as the Wages for Housework campaign are combined with a radical feminist critique of socialism. In The Marxist’s Wife Still Does the Housework, 1978 a woman’s hand cleans the husband’s image, an image of Marx and the words “Thinker, Revolutionary”, but the wife has a problem with the word “Man”. The more she cleans Man the dirtier it gets, as in ‘A Woman’s Work is Never Done’ as a humorous metaphor for Marx’s refusal to include the important domestic role of women in his critique of Capitalism. 
Working in the intuitive way that painters achieve a combination of ideas, Hunter would find thought-provoking objects, or by reading anything non-fiction from the local library, to act as a catalyst for new observations. She also used the authenticity of real circumstance, pinning down images in sequence such as Approach to Fear I:. Pain- denial, 1975 where she has an allergic reaction to a wasp sting, using the antidote, washing blue, as paint. 

One major work, Dialogue with a Rapist, 1978, started from the reading of When I Say No, I feel Guilty, a popular book on cognitive assertion by Manuel Juan Smith. At the time of the real attack, she put into practice the different methods in the book “Brick wall”,  “Repetition”, “Denial” when she was confronted at night by a young black man while walking back to Bermondsey after working with Sky Editions in the London Docks. This text, which ends with a discussion of racism, was made into ‘scenes’ after the curator Sandy Nairne convinced Hunter it was important to visualize the text for the Art For Society exhibition in the Whitechapel Gallery.

Later Hunter went back to the same street with a friend to pose with a knife to re-enact the event into ten black and white images, almost abstracted by super-imposition. Hunter said:

“I wanted to get the feeling of time stopping, as it seems to happen when you have adrenaline flooding all through your body. Even with a knife at my throat I saw a piece of paper blown by the wind, just hanging there in space.”

This is an example of the use of the Perception in Crisis and Fourth Dimension experiments she was making two years earlier in her first sequential works. By combining that scientific theory with practical feminist activism, Hunter has made a socio-political artwork that is still as relevant today as it was thirty-two years ago.

pdf poster of Dialouge with a Rapist Norwich Gallery

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