The Sculptor as Photographer

Photography has moved on a bit since I first started sculpting. I used to click away and never be sure how those images would eventually come out. I could head off to Africa, fire off 30 rolls of film, and not be sure I’d got the shot! Thankfully, it is quite different these days in our digital world.

Hamish with camera in field

Now, I can view images on my laptop taken earlier the same day. This has been especially valuable for getting the most out of research trips. It is so easy to then bring those images and films from the field back into my studio.

Hamish photography with penguins

Photography is an integral part of what I do. There are over 1500 images on my website alone. Slowly over the years I have built up a photo reference library of over 30,000 images. The images also become a source of inspiration for future sculptures. Last time I was in India, I photographed elephants, and in Kenya, impala, because I know that I want to sculpt them in the future.

Hamish photography with elephant

When I am in the field, sculpting and photography go hand in hand. I find sculpting small scale sculptures and taking photos while I work helps me to get the subject into my head. I tend to then make large scale sculptures in the more controlled environment of my studio. That’s where I gather all the information together like a jigsaw. I have my photographs on a large screen TV and roll down slide projector.

Hamish working on kudu sculpture

My sculptures are as much about the story behind them. And there is always a story! When I was researching dik dik in Kenya, my bedroom window overlooked a river bed. I occasionally saw dik dik there, but they are shy, elusive animals. When I visited the river bed with my guide, he showed me all the tracks left in the mud. It was like a snap shot of what had happened the night before. The bush telegraph! You could see from the marks which animals had been there. When I came to sculpt the dik dik, I knew I wanted to incorporate this part of the story. So the base of the sculpture shows the footprints of elephants, leopard, and warthog in a river bed.

bronze sculpture of dik dik

My photographs are absolutely essential to this process. They act as aides-memoire and reference points. They document my trips and the details of my observations. I occasionally use Bushnell trail cameras on research trips to gather visual information. I have learnt from experience though, that you need to be careful where you place them! When I was last at Il Ngwesi in Kenya, I put them out to capture passing wildlife. When I came back later, the hyenas had eaten them…

trail cameras damaged by hyena

I also do most of my own photography for my website, catalogues and social media. Mine’s a very visual world. Finding the right camera for the job in hand is essential. The modern digital camera has become a vital piece of equipment for me. I have three cameras for different situations.

My Leica V-Lux 24-400mm bridge camera has to be the perfect safari camera. It takes high quality images with a fantastic zoom and is incredibly lightweight. It also has an electronic viewfinder which is crucial for framing fast moving subjects.

Hamish using camera

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ100 is a compact digital. I carry this in a shoulder strap almost everywhere. It is light and discreet – great for unobtrusive shots when I don’t want to draw attention to myself!

I use the Nikon D810 with three lenses depending on the situation. The 24-120mm is a great all rounder. The 200-500mm zoom lens is great for wildlife but to heavy to carry on foot all day. I use a Sigma 85mm prime lens and interfit continuous lighting for studio shots. I have only recently moved onto a prime lens, and the results are fantastic pin sharp images of my finished sculptures.

silver kingfisher sculpture

In studio shots, I am obviously trying to portray the sculpture in its best light. But I am also trying to communicate the mood of the subject I was trying to capture. Studio photography is about light manipulation. This can be tricky with reflective surfaces such as stainless steel, silver and polished stone. My work has always been about mark making, so a lot of the time it’s about capturing finger print detail. I am always experimenting to get it right! I’ve just changed my colorama back drop from black to grey, which I think will be more suitable for smaller social media images.

Masai warrior with phone

Of course, my iPhone has also become an important part of my kit. It is vital for keeping on top of social media and impromptu photos on the go. It’s also great for keeping up with friends and collectors all over the world!

Photography is very much part of my creative process as an artist. It doesn’t always have to be in perfect focus. It makes my work real and forms part of its provenance. During my last solo exhibition, we enlarged some of my photographs and hung them around the gallery. They really helped to tell the story. These are now for sale, so if you’d like one, give us a call in the office on 01608 737859.

Life in Bronze exhibition at Mall Galleries