Tim Hopwood



1991  “One of the most exciting moments in very recent photographic practice emerged with a generation of artists in the 1990s. Understanding and relishing the complexities of the medium, as outlined by a generation of theorists and photographers, these artists incorporated elements of fantasy, artifice and make-believe into their work. By scrupulously staging events and working with their subject matter in a similar way to that of a film director, artists created often sumptuous and seductive fictitious tableaux in which narrative elements come to the fore.” Art Photography Now, Susan Bright, London, Thames and Hudson, 2005.


I began this series of images in 1987, working in black and white, and finished it 1991. I had no idea that there was a ‘movement’ in Europe and America doing the same thing. The first time I heard of Jeff Wall was in 2005. The photographic section of the library at Rhodes University was ridiculously under-resourced in those days. The most contemporary book I ever recall seeing there was Josef Koudelka’s Exiles. The only photographer working in a style which could be termed ‘narrative tableaux’ whose work I saw a little bit of was Sandy Skoglund. Having said that, my teacher Obie Oberholzer’s work contained definite fictive/narrative elements, although I always saw it as rooted more in the documentary approach. Obie went out into the world to find the elements he would use in his narratives, whereas I stayed in my lounge, regularly inconveniencing my housemates by removing all the furniture and convincing them to be actors in my stories. (Thanks Roger and Jimmy and the others for being such willing participants!) I was, however, very influenced by one of the older students, Phillip Mostert, in this approach. For a few months my work was almost indistinguishable from his, and for a while he was much more my mentor than Obie was. I’m not sure where he got his ideas from. I never asked. After producing a bunch of images that were bad copies of Phillip’s approach, by 1990, I was producing images that were distinct from his. I’m not sure how. It was a bit like feeling my way in the dark, really. When I look back now I realise that the black and white images I initially produced in this narrative style, before I began studying photography full-time, were very much the foundation for what came in 1990. I have no idea what the references were for that first one in 1987. I think I simply wanted to convey a feeling of being enclosed by some kind of structure. The only photographer I was really looking at during that time was Bill Brandt, and that definitely steered me towards push-processing the film and going for heightened contrast. People would sometimes ask me “What is going on in these images?” but I could never really say, or perhaps I was reluctant in that there were sometimes underlying autobiographical elements present. Probably as a result of this, I soon stopped giving them titles, and now simply use terms like “Roger and TV” to differentiate one from another.

Tim Hopwood is represented by the PH Centre, Cape Town.

To order prints, contact Simone Tredoux: 021 461 3904, simone@phcentre.co.za, www.phcentre.co.za