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Daniel Hewitt

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In conversation with:
Daniel Hewitt
Daniel Hewitt is a man who knows a thing or two about the urban landscape. He often travels by bicycle and knows every corner of his city. He loves the city he lives in, the city of London, and for a good reason.
Daniel is an architecture photographer and quite a good one, if you ask us. London is full of incredible buildings, whether they are steel, glass buildings of more recent history, or post-modern buildings, or even the “brutalist” buildings from the Sixties and Seventies. Daniel has a soft spot especially for these big concrete monsters, as demonstrated by the fact that brutalist architecture was at the center of one of his most impressive photography projects.

Before establishing himself as a photographer, Daniel spent just under a decade pursuing academic interests in philosophy, architecture, and law, specialising in the philosophy of architectural aesthetics. Maybe that’s why, looking at his pictures, we felt like there was a lot of thought behind each of them and are inclined to say, 99 % thought and 1% instinct. We spoke to Daniel, just to see if we were right.

Daniel Hewitt: Well, I’m not sure you’re right; possibly it’s the other way around… A location or an image might appeal to me, and then from that starting point I might then notice connections with another image, and so then, that forms the basis of thinking about it. So, for example, during my brutalism project, I took a picture and then thought actually that looks quite a lot like the landscapes where I grew up... so it worked that way around. In a way, the pictures helped to form my thoughts about the landscapes that I feel drawn to. The pictures helped to clarify how I thought about them.

Speaking of brutalism, it’s safe to say there’s been a sort of resurgence of brutalism in the course of the last decade. It’s like brutalism is kind of cool again right now.

There’s definitely a resurgence of interest. I can’t say whether there is a resurgence in terms of people building it. There is quite a notable architectural historian called Barnabas Calder, who argues that brutalist buildings were made possible by the availability of cheap energy… so, not a resurgence in actual building in a brutalist style, more like a resurgence in admiration for brutalist buildings of the past.

Before, you mentioned some kind of emotion connected to the buildings’ picture. So what’s your way of highlighting the character hidden in buildings?

I don’t know to what extent there is a “hidden” character. I think I might draw attention to what I see as the character of the building, because clearly you can photograph any building in different light, in different compositions.

So it’s you, the photographer, who is giving the building the character?

Yes, I’m lending it a certain character, but I like to think that it’s visible to anyone else approaching the same building. With my pictures of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s Churches, a project I’ve begun over the last few years, for example… I think there is a certain ominous quality to these churches, that they are dark and brooding. I just wanted to bring out more that slightly sinister side.

Still, it’s just your view of these buildings.

Yes it is, but I hope it’s not an uninformed view. I read a lot about the architects and a lot about what other critics have said, before being confident. Part of my work is reading quite a lot of the history.

What are the worst problems you have to face when you work? I mean, you set up and be prepared but what if there is an old, rotten car parked in front of the building you are shooting?

Yeah, that would be just bad luck… I’ve probably been reasonably lucky over the years, ha! Usually I wouldn’t go to the location without being reasonably certain of the weather, and also reasonably certain of what might be there. That said, a cleaner once did walk into my picture... but fortunately I had enough film to take the shot again. Usually my worst problem is just having a lot of heavy gear and having to walk a long way.

Speaking of gear, it seems you like film more than digital photography.

Well, my favorite camera is a newish version of a traditional photographic technology. It’s just a classic film camera, yes. But actually it’s simply a matter of economics, because it’s the best way to get a higher resolution picture, with better technical control, and economic to produce. Each image costs about ten pounds in terms of film and developing costs, which you then have to scan; whereas for a digital camera of a similar quality to large format film, then you are spending thirty thousand pounds... so it really doesn’t make sense. I’ve got no objection to using digital, it’s just a question of cost.

So what about your post-production work flow? Your pictures feel very natural to me.

I think that what we think of as “natural” is probably just what was common, or what we got used to with analogue photography, and some of the effects that are now possible with Photoshop I might not use, because they seem hyper unreal. But hey, a black and white image is unreal to a certain extent... I guess that’s just a question of personal taste. I wouldn’t be looking for extremes of digital post-production. But I do process all the images using Photoshop, and the effects are relatively subtle. That’s just my temperament.

Do you ever include people in your pictures?

Arguably the world’s most famous current photographer, Iwan Baan, popularized including people in his pictures. And they would be not posed pictures, but entirely made up of passersby, incidental people, to give a sense of how the building is used or how people occupy the space around the building. I think it’s completely fine...

… But you don’t like including people in your pictures, actually.

Well, let’s say, in the personal projects that I’ve done so far, having people in would simply distract from what I’m trying to say.