Michael Hunter Blends Photography and Sculpting to Create Illusory, Nostalgic Images

1xRUN is excited to debut three new print editions from photographer and sculptor Michael Hunter! Hunter has dedicated 10 years of his life to perfect a unique photographic style that is both endearing and perplexing. The English artist uses a tilt-shift camera technique to capture larger-than-life-sized sculptures, which he positions in an outdoor setting. The result is a dizzying illusion in which the surrounding environment, and not the oversized sculpture, appears to be out of proportion.

Read below for our exclusive interview with the artist, where Hunter reveals his process and shares behind-the-scenes photographs.

1xRUN: Tell us a little bit about these original sculptures, anything immediate you would like us to highlight about these large scale works?
Michael John Hunter: The beauty of this for me is that it’s about so much more than creating large scale sculptures. For people seeing my work for the first time it’s important for them to understand that the settings are real and are not dioramas. Some people pick up on it quickly and others can’t see it. I use an old camera that allows me to adjust the focus in a certain way that can make the whole scene appear sculpted. It’s a process I’ve been trying to perfect now for ten years and it still entertains me a lot – there is no digital intervention in my image making at all. 

There are a lot of brilliant artists making images using dioramas or small sets. I don’t think anyone else is crazy enough to do it the other way around! For me, that’s one of the things that makes my work special, it presents the real world in an uncanny way that’s fun and absorbing to look at. It also presents interesting challenges to me as an artist and makes the whole process really exciting.

3. Toy Glider1x: What’s the time frame that all of these pieces were created?
Hunter:  Each image takes me around one year to make. The three images for sale were made over the last three years. Everything is hand-sculpted from polystyrene and resin. I then photograph the scenes on a 5×4 film camera from the 70s.

1x: How do you go about finding your subjects for your pieces and assembling things beforehand?
Hunter:  I study toys in detail and pay a lot of attention to how they sit on a surface. The real art to this is making a 20 foot sculpture appear light. I prop them up a lot and lift them off the ground with custom made supports to make them sit in the landscape convincingly. Finding locations to shoot them is another story and involves a lot of exploration, trial and error. The conditions have to be pretty specific as I don’t have lighting rigs or support towers to get the elevation I need – or usually the permission. Anywhere I shoot I have to be able to get in and out of quickly and be able to attract minimal attention.

1x: How long do your pieces typically take to create from start to finish?
Hunter:  Just now it’s about a year per image. It’s very labour-intensive. First I have to build the sculpture and after this I take test images for specific heights and angles to understand how best to work with it. Every image is very planned as I can’t afford to make mistakes. I always understand how to pose the sculpture for the final image for example. I have to do this beforehand because when I’m working in the street at 4am I don’t have the time to not understand the final desired result. After all I am illegally blocking streets with giant sculptures with no permission.  

1x: What is unique about these prints compared with your other work?
It’s the combination of detailed sculpture and photography that I enjoy. My other work is more traditional photography, but I still enjoy the analogue processes.

1x: Why should people buy this one of these prints?
Hunter: The prints are endlessly entertaining. Sometimes I smile with disbelief looking at older projects and understanding just what went into making them. In the simplest terms, it makes me feel happy like I did when I was a kid playing with toys.

(screen from making of)

1x: When did you first start creating artwork and what were your first pieces?
Hunter:  Art school about 15 years ago. The first works were very unrefined versions of what you see now but I experimented with objects other than toys. Looking back, I can see that playing with scale in this way is something that has always fascinated me.   

1x: What are some of the ways you’ve been trying to push yourself as of late with your work?
Hunter:  I had my first ever solo show last year with a great gallery called Jealous in London. It was the biggest step of my career as an artist yet and generated a lot more interest in my work. The next step is to just make more. The ball is rolling. I’m going harder and faster now. The response to what I’m doing has been so positive that its really pushing me further.  

1x: Any recent artists that have been inspiring you as of late?
Hunter:  Always Thomas Demand, he’s also a model maker and a photographer. If you haven’t already, go and check out his world. It’s next level.


1x: Any big shows or events coming up that you’d like to share?
Hunter: The next sculpture and image is coming along nicely. I’m hoping to have it done by spring. My instagram has some video of the making of process. This sculpture is by far the most detailed and technical I have ever made. I’m hoping to exhibit as a stand alone final work as well as the street install image.

1x: Any thing that we didn’t touch on that you want to include?
Just a thank you for your support. 1xRUN is a brilliant platform and it’s a great honor to be working with you guys and your clients.