With “Huntsman I”, you have created a hunting figurine for the Porzellan Manufaktur Nymphenburg. At first that seems unusual for a Brit with Jamaican roots. How did you come to tackle the theme of hunting?
It wasn’t really about hunting when I looked for a subject to shoot seven years ago. I returned from South Africa back to London after an absence of more then 20 years and found myself walking throughout London seeing groups of youngsters, street gangs, fighting like clans from one neighborhood against another. I recognized that the respect for each other somehow disappeared. But instead of depicting this as a subject and running behind what is falling apart, I thought I search for a group that still represents what was instilled in me, being a young man. My father has been a tailor but the understanding of a dandy man and gentleman. The proudness and boldness is also a part of the West Indian culture I was surrounded with. So one evening, I was introduced to a hunting group…and that’s where it all started.
What do you find so fascinating about hunting?
My curiosity was about following a group of people who possess a kind of timeless manner in the midst of these hectic tick-tock times: traditional, nature-driven, ritualistic, emotional, familial, communal, archaic, in the moment. It’s the anthropologist in me who wants to dig deeper and understand, open-minded and without judgement, what it means to walk the path of one’s ancestors.
What was the first idea for your project?
All my projects are in a way about the relationship of men and nature. The forest still takes on that magical place, even in a modern society in which digital mapping and navigational achievements have enlightened almost every corner. Going, like a hunter, into nature defrags one’s noisy, societal code, allowing the compass of the self to be reset. One is literally engulfed by nature. When in the forest, one is no longer the centre of a manageable universe, but one instead shrinks into being a part of a chaotic whole. There’s an ambivalence within the forest, a game of creation and destruction, of eating and being eaten.
Do you go hunting yourself? Or in what other ways have you got to grips with the theme?
No, I am not hunting. I have even been a vegetarian when I started my hunting excursions. But I was participating and involved, being a part of the group, acting as a beater for example or eviscerating the deer. It never was about the hunt itself, more to document a special group of people, being outdoor orientated and nature loving.
You work as an artistic photographer. How did you first get the idea of creating a three-dimensional piece?
When I was putting my photobook together, because everything then became so one dimensional, like doing the layout via the computer etc. So much time passed between being amongst the group and putting the series into a book. I was asked to write an essay about my work and creating the figurine was a nice way to return to scenarios and get a deeper understanding on why I took the project on.
How did you end up choosing porcelain as the material?
So I thought maybe the idea of a figurine in Nymphenburg porcelain could bring a quality of innocence. While I was in the hunting environment, I touched on something more than hunting, I touched on the innocence within the ritual and the porcelain allowed me to bring this alive. Seeing these bold characters in my work for the last six, seven years and then implementing to do a figurine was a weight, because the outside world looks into hunting like this barbaric thing. It has a really strange stigma to it.
Is the figurine based on a real person, like a portrait, or should it be seen more as a symbolisation of a hunter?
It basically startet out of one character who somehow characterized to me what a perfect hunter was. But saying this, it is an amalgation of my time being with this group. It is all about the stance, where this one person stands for a bigger group. Its proudness, its austerity, its mannerism…
What was it like for you to set aside your most important instrument, your camera, in order to dedicate yourself to a figurative piece for the first time? Did it change your view of the subject?
It became a lot more alive. The camera was somehow stop-action. You went into a live environment and stopped literally the action by pressing the shutter of the camera. It was just capturing a singular moment. Putting the camera down and going further in my visual periphery it helps me to step further into the dynamic. When I took a picture and shot it, the world was in the four corners of my view of the image, but taking on the figurative work it actually was like going into the world itself and give it a soul. It was like a play on being in that environment in live in my mindset, looking at a fold, a leg or a shadow detail. I understood the layers within a character.
You transformed your limited edition into porcelain in collaboration with the experts at the master workshops. Did the product development process present any special challenges?
There were many challenges. On my side it was the situation that I was working with the material for the first time. Every day was a challenge but at the same time it was also an expansion. I was allowed my freedom for the design and the experts from the master workshops transformed it into porcelain in a complex technique. “Huntsman I” is a quite intricate figurine with a lot of undercuts for example. Empty space between the body and the jacket for example, this was like a no-no but the experts of Nymphenburg somehow found a way to realize it. The craftsman who did the plaster mould for example had to do 57 pieces, but if you see it now, you see it was worth it.
Has your work on site in Nymphenburg changed your relationship to porcelain? Does it now have a different significance for you than it did before?
When you consider that there is so much development going on with technology, porcelain for me was taking a step back into purity. The material is so pure, so connected to the earth with all its minerals. For me it has a bit of magic with each individual figure creeping, wandering and moving its own way.
When you now pick up a camera and take photographs, to what extent has the way you work changed following the intense creative period on site in Nymphenburg?
Maybe the understanding of patience is maybe even more instilled in my work going forward. Within Nymphenburg nothing is rapid nothing is quickfire you can maintain a level of quality through being calm. But I already started learning this from being within a group sitting three hours and hearing a twig crack and ooh…
Michael Tummings Biography.