Hunter Freeman: Endlessly Imaginative, and Still Laughing
Contributing Author: Anne Telford
I spent a few hours over the Labor Day holiday clearing out the garage. I wanted to rediscover my vintage camera collection and display a few in a little cabinet my grandfather had built for me. Examining the various Kodak Brownie models made of resilient Bakelite, and playing with the box cameras and flashes and lenses, I thought about how much photography has changed in my lifetime.
It struck me that no matter how sophisticated the camera: Diana or 35mm, large format, Polaroid, digital, what model or style it is, the eye that frames the shot and the impulse that clicks the shutter, is of paramount importance. The same equipment in different hands will produce decidedly different results.
How has he kept his work fresh?
Hunter Freeman is a photographer who has weathered sea changes in equipment, styles, methods of shooting, but who has only gotten better with time. His marketing philosophy, “Shoot only the best,” has motivated him through a long and stellar career and has brought him many awards and accolades. That key phrase does not refer to only showing the best work to clients, but to doing the best work in every single category he has chosen to pursue. And considering his output over the years, that is quite a considerable body of work.
After six years in the crucible of New York City, Hunter and his new wife moved to Denver. There the young photographer discovered the market wasn’t segmented like NYC because of its size. “They needed a photographer, not necessarily a still-life shooter. The work was all over the board,” Hunter says.
And that’s the way it’s been ever since. Lots of photographers have general categories on their websites: people, travel, still life. The San Francisco Bay Area-based Freeman has poetically named portfolios like Arctic Vortex in which he freezes objects and creates compelling still lives, or Kids with Power Tools, which is just what you think it is.
Quirky Is Good
Freeman has distinguished himself with these quirky portfolios of offbeat topics. My favorite might be Backyard Chickens. Although he is quick to add he doesn’t keep chickens, he captures the bond between fowl and human in a touching series of portraits of folks in their yards holding their avian pets.
Throughout his career, his work has maintained a consistent playful feel, a sense of humor that pulls the viewer into the picture. Hunter remembers a high school English class where the teacher explained that one definition of humor is juxtaposition of incongruity. “That’s always been in my head since that time,” he claims, and his work certainly holds true to that premise. “I think it’s really sticking with that as a template: What doesn’t go together?”
How does science play a role in your work?
His science background often informs his approach. His father was an electrical engineer who built lots of things. Hunter studied physics in college, but didn’t feel he wanted to do it as a career, so he changed to mathematics and in his junior year, he was exposed to photography, setting the stage for his future career. But that hasn’t stopped him from applying science to his photography.
“The East Coast has had a couple years of brutally cold weather and I was thinking about cold. I have all these tools and I thought what would happen if I froze some tools?” he asked himself. He used dry ice to create the effect. “As the water vapor condensed into crystal on the various tools, they grew this sort of fur,” Hunter explains, clearly in his element. He also elevated tools with his Alphabet series that turned clamps, rulers, drill bits and such into clever DIY typography; a nice homage to his father’s early influence.
“I would love to be able to find things that are beautiful, fun, exciting to see as images, that I feel would last beyond the fact that I like them,” he muses, and in the next sentence he quotes Picasso: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” That doesn’t seem to be a problem for Hunter Freeman.