Walter Hugo is a young artist with a clear vision. Using photographic techniques from 1850, he creates mesmerising glass portraits of familiar faces.
Originally from south London, Walter had no formal art training, but despite this, is more passionate and confident in his aesthetic than many other artists of his age and standing. The industry are crowding around, lured by the originality of the works, which feature various London creatives including Gary Card, Oli Sims, Charlie Casely-Hayford, Lucy Bridge, Hannah Marshall and Carson McColl. In order to create the portraits, his sitters must stare at a bright light for 10 seconds without blinking, creating an intense and concentrated glare, a glass window into their souls. Before the opening of ‘Practice to Deceive’ (the SHOWstudio based group exhibition the artist is involved in) Walter told i-D Online about his roots, the process behind the practice and the first time he was inspired by art.
Tell us a bit about your background… Since I can remember I’ve always loved to make things, to pull things apart and find out how they worked. I was once electrocuted and propelled across the room when I was 7 whilst taking apart a record player. I grew up in what would be regarded as a fairly rough area, I guess. All of my interest in art has been something that I’ve developed myself, growing up there was no connection to art in my world. The first thing I remember inspiring me artistically was a Gilbert and George exhibition during a school trip when I was about 11. They are still two of my favourite artists. All of my art comes from a desire to transport individuals from their day-to-day existences.
How did you come up with the idea of using glass? I really like the idea of creating a one-off piece of art, rather than a photograph (which is re-printable and re-usable). I like the idea of creating something so permanent (the prints will last for at least 150 years) on something that is so potentially fragile.
Can you talk us through the process of making a glass photograph? Ok, I’ll try and simplify this as much as possible as it’s quite a scientific process. The process I’ve developed pre-dates modern photography, it’s from around 1850. First I had to build a camera, in order to make the glass plates in the size that I wanted. My camera houses a dark room, so the whole process takes place inside that, something like a 150 year old Polaroid! I prepare the glass meticulously before each sitting, cleaning and applying the chemicals that I have made specifically. My subject will then have to sit absolutely still for between five and ten seconds. This is more difficult than it sounds, especially with bright lights shining at them. Once the image is developed and fixed I can bring it out into the daylight and show everyone for the first time (including myself). This is a lovely joint experience.
What are you working on at the moment? I’ve been really enjoying using the different techniques I’ve developed to shoot fashion editorials, this is something I’m looking forward to developing further. On the art side, I’m currently making photographic sculptured busts, which will involved casting individuals’ heads and using another new technique to ‘paint’ a photograph of their faces onto the sculptures. It’s kind of hard to describe, you’ll just have to wait until it’s done!
Tell us about the SHOWstudio collaboration… It will feature some of the glass plates from my current series ‘Reflecting the Bright Lights’. We are then collaborating on a SHOWstudio LIVE piece, where I’ll build a room-sized camera actually in the SHOW LIVE space, and film the process of taking four further portraits for the series, broadcast live on the internet.
Are you an artist or a photographer? Definitely an artist. Photography is one of my favourite mediums, and I’m always trying to find new ways to progress it as an art form. Having said that, fashion photography has always danced with the art world, which is something that will always interest me.
Walter Hugo will be showing his work ‘Reflecting The Bright Lights’ at SHOWstudio as part of ‘Practice To Deceive, Smoke and Mirrors in Fashion, Art and Film’, from 15th April- 16th July.