Hugh Arnold on the Front Cover of Edition N°418 St-Barth Weekly - Local News in English.
Pictured here detail of Signature Piece, 2017
Born in Chester, England, and trained as an actor, artist Hugh Arnold’s solo show at Space Gallery St Barth in Gustavia opens with a cocktail reception on Monday, December 30, from 6-9pm.
Hugh Arnold chats with The Weekly about his work as an underwater photographer and his large-scale prints that are found in private collections all over the world. He shows regularly in Paris, London, the US, and now Saint Barth. Films of his work will also be shown outside the gallery.
Ellen Lampert-Gréaux: What attracted you to the art of photography and how were you trained?
Hugh Arnold: As an actor I started taking portraits to fill in the gaps in between jobs. I pretended I knew what I was doing and got a job an assistant photographer in a studio to three very diverse photographers in Sydney, they taught me all the basics. The Australian landscape was hugely inspiring and helped foster my early passion for photography
Ellen Lampert-Gréaux: What attracted you specifically to underwater photography?
Hugh Arnold: Deep down, from very early on in my career, the idea of shooting in a gravity free environment, I found deeply appealing and fascinating. I had come across a postcard of a black and white underwater image shot by Annie Leibovitz, which made a huge impression on me. I made a storyboard of what I planned to do, but based in Paris at the time, the idea never came to fruition. 20 years later I found the envelope with these ideas and the underwater journey began. At the time underwater cameras were really primitive in the sense that you had to dry the camera housing and change the film every 36 exposures. Obviously now the fact that you can shoot several thousand digital images has revolutionized the concept.
Ellen Lampert-Gréaux: What are the challenges inherent in the underwater shoots and how to use light and shadow so successfully?
Hugh Arnold: I have been taking pictures a very long time, so a lot of what I do technically is instinctive. However you have to combine buoyancy and often be able to work in undertow and currents and communicate your ideas well before you dive. I usually spend a total of six to seven hours underwater each day on a shoot, so you need to be super fit and most importantly I work with Olympic-level swimmers to achieve the results I aim for. Their talents never cease to amaze me. But also, you are in a sense, the conductor of an underwater orchestra and subject also to the meteorological conditions of the moment. It is probably the one field where there are virtually no references. There is not a Google underwater map, so choosing where you shoot has an element of trial and error and there are literally a handful of people doing what I do and virtually no one doing it in the ocean.
Ellen Lampert-Gréaux: Is there a specific emotion you would like to evoke in your viewers?
Hugh Arnold: Nudes suspended in water evoke a certain element of freedom, as do the naked figures represented in say the religious paintings such as Michelangelo’s on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. The project is very much on-going. The “Agua” journey starts with conception and birth and goes through childhood, adolescence, and the many facets of our lives beyond. I work very much from within, so I would like to feel that the end result is pure and the messages inherently felt. The more life-size the final image is, the more powerful it appears.
Ellen Lampert-Gréaux: What kind of camera do you use and do you enhance the digital images, and if so with what software…
Hugh Arnold: I use a Canon 5D Mark 3, 35mm with a housing specifically built in Canada. I spend up to three months editing and fine-tuning the 50,000 images I usually shoot during a typical trip. Then I sit for weeks on end, compiling and composing the final result.
Hugh Arnold Signature Piece, 2017 (Edition of 8) Limited edition color c-print photograph mounted on Dibond with UV acrylic (40 x 60 in / 101.60 x 152.40 cm)