Young photographer Rory Hamovit was born in Augusta, Maine in 1991. He grew up in New England and graduated from Bard College with a BA in photography. He’s currently based at San Francisco. Images featured here belong mainly to his series ‘Fortieth Parallel’ and ‘Visitations’. ‘Fortieth Parallel’ is a body of work based on 19th century American exploration photography of Timothy O’Sullivan. ‘Visitations’ is a series of bizarre black and white photographs taken in surreal manner. These humorous images taken in domestic environment seem inspired by horror and science fiction movies.
Please tell me about yourself. What’s the story behind your name ‘Rory William Hummingbird Hamovit’?
The story behind my name is that I was given it at birth so I may have to forward the question to my parents. Hummingbird is in fact my middle name, always have to show people my passport to prove it. There is a story behind it but it’s too adorable to go into here. Since then, I have attended Bard College in New York where I got my degree in photography and am currently based out of San Francisco.
Photography is the artistic medium that best fits my imagination and my projection of the world as is and as it could be. My degree work solidified that assurance and gave me a greater appreciation of all the mechanics and perceiving the practice as a skill. The school was almost entirely “fine art” oriented, which I loved, but has put me in a slightly different position as a lot of other photographers and their approach to the medium.
Not exactly, those are just good friends of mine who all make great work and enjoy supporting each other. In recent months I’ve met a lot of other young artists I need to put up there as well. Lately it’s been a forgotten corner of my site. Sorry, everyone. I do co-run an independent press with some friends called Inpatient Press which features a lot of young artists and writers.
“Death Stalks” is a grouping of individual images that I made in the year or two between focusing on more serious projects. If anything, it’s more of a snapshot (pun intended) of a confusing moment of my life. Or, as I once put it more similarly: “The series is a collection of loose ends and non-starters. They’re all lumped and made to fit together and then artificially given a theme of the semblance of life and the act of living and, continuing with this train of thought, death’s imminence (more or less). “
Humor and whimsicality have been an attribute of my work since the beginning. I believed it developed as a personal trait, using jokes (arguably poor most of the time) as a defence mechanism to skirt troubling altercations. It has a similar function in my artwork, with humor allowing me to ease closer to more arduous subject matter, or at least subjects that have always bothered me. It has permitted me to examine severer things like mortality and the destructive nature of modern man without feeling like I’m wearing a suit made of emotional-concrete.
I really enjoy familiarity. Not comfort per se, but a better knowledge of the place and people I’m working with found by simply being there. My decisive moments come from repetition, the scenes I see everyday and their monotony and slight alterations that appear over time. That’s where I begin to see the veil of this plain lifting and behind it the innumerable tangent universes exposed. Either that or I’m just a homebody.
I do a lot of research, read a lot, go on a lot of Wikipedia binges. Then I make a lot of notes. Then I begin to write out the image ideas, like “smoke in distance behind neighborhood with dogs.” I refine these and begin making lists of materials and locations and sometimes, to better visualize, I draw sketches. Then I eventually make the photograph. Most recently I went through this whole cycle with the 19th century photograph Timothy O’Sullivan and his photographs of the American west.
Most recently I’ve been using my Toyo 4×5 but I can’t say that I use large format exclusively (though one day I hope to). Sometimes it’s easier just to use my Nikon D800e, which I also love dearly. I just use a 28-75 lens on that mostly because my deep, dark photography secret is that lenses are what I worry about least (though not entirely, I do have certain requirements). I recently bought a Fuji GA645 which I’m thrilled about. It’s a medium format point-and-shoot which to me sounds fantastic. When it comes to Photoshop I like to work as little as possible with it, not because I dislike it but because I’m scared of its extreme capabilities. Recently I’ve been focused more on printing and using a variety of machine and papers, printing and re-scanning for certain effects.
One of my favorite photographs of all time is Timothy O’Sullivan’s photograph of the man in Steamboat Springs, Nevada that I recently paid homage to. As for a memory in my preceding years, it’s tough to say. I didn’t really begin concentrating on photography and being a photographer until late in my teens. At the time I loved Arnold Newman and Harry Callahan and I remember seeing “The Americans” for the first time and being smitten and just wanting to drive around and snap away for the rest of my life. I know this is what everyone’s says but it’s a testament to the work.
To be perfectly honestly I have little to no interest in contemporary photography, or mainly how it’s manifested first on the social media level. And I’m not just talking about the white-border photographers of Instagram. In general I find a lot of the new photographic work circling the web that then makes it to shows and publications at times visually striking in its concentration on pure visual content but that’s about it. I find most of it very repetitive and self-aggrandizing. That’s not to say I ignore it entirely and spend hours a week looking at it, because I do, but I really do look mostly at 19th century work which you can say a lot of the same things about. My favorite photographic work of the past few years is still the ESA’s comet surface photos from the Rosetta space probe. Those images are out of this world.
Most of my achievements so far have been great features on websites and magazines and being part of several group shows, the most recent being a show at the Distillery Gallery in Boston. In the past few months I’ve had the great pleasure in partaking in a few wonderful artist residencies, including the Fjuk Arts Centre in Husavik, Iceland and De Liceiras 18 in Porto, Portugal.
In the near future my primary aim is to just make more and more diverse work. I plan to continue working on the “Fortieth Parallel” hopefully getting a chance to shoot some of the locations I didn’t make it to last summer. I’ve already begun working on a layout for it. In fact, I hope to put out a few self-published works this year- time willing. I’ve been doing a ton of reading about the spiritualism movement of the 19thand early 20th century but I’m still developing a lot of ideas over that. Might not even be a photographic project, we’ll just have to wait and see. This is all top of my aspirations for finding the world’s best sandwich this year.
Recently I re-read Roland Barthes’ “Mythologies” which is always a blast. Also been re-watching Goddard’s “Alphaville” since it’s one of my all time favorite movies. Maybe it’s because I was just in Paris, but now I’m home and all I do is watch “Antiques Roadshow.” I love music but it’s hard to say what I’ve been listening most to these days since I feel everywhere I go they’re playing David Bowie, which is at least one nice outcome of such a terrible loss.
I do not feel wise or accomplished enough to be handing our parting words yet, but if you want to be like me—as unlikely as that is—read more than you think you should and never skip breakfast.