Photographer Michael John Hunter manipulates scale perception in the most spectacular way. His images could – at first glance – appear to be normal objects in model environments, but look closer and they are in fact enormous sculptures in real-life locations. Inspired by hyperreal sculpture, miniature art and artists like Ron Mueck, Lori Nix and Slinkachu, Michael has made giant models of a Barbie and a mammoth bluebottle, and photographed them in various London streets and countryside.
It all started when he studied Fine Art Photography eight years ago. “I was obsessed with large format film cameras and the way you could skew focus with them,” he says. “I use these old cameras that have an ability to make the focus seem unnatural and allow me to trick the viewer. It’s basically ‘tilt shift’ photography done in-camera, not post. I guess I’m interested in purism in art, I like traditional techniques.”
Since Michael left art school, he always had these ideas in the back of his mind, but explains he neither had the skills as a sculptor nor the funds to make them happen. He found his way to a career in the film industry, and in the background saved money to make his personal work. “I knew that to undertake such projects and pull them off, the sculptures had to be flawless. The illusions would only work if the viewer believed they were real-sized objects.”
The sculptures are photographed at night, from a certain height and angle and using a specific focus technique that Michael says “fakes macro photography”. “People tend to think it’s a small set around a normal object, but when you give the viewer the information they’re able to reassess the image with totally virgin eyes. As a child I had toys and model sets that mimicked a grown-up reality, and this was full of fantasy and endless possibility. As an adult we lose a lot of this amazement – this is where my work starts. It’s about deception and illusion, the sense of wonder and possibility we felt as children.
As I grow, as I lose is Michael’s most recent piece, featuring a 20ft doll. “Logistics are a nightmare – I’m just a dude in a van doing this with a friend in the middle of the night. And it’s financially ruined me! But staying true to something I believed in so long ago has made me happy.”