David Hicks has always had an eye for art. It’s a skill that led him to found the global cards and gifts company Really Good, and now it’s at the helm of his foray into photography; one that’s led him to 91 countries across the world and has resulted in creation of photomentary, a process that involves printing a collection of photographs on material related to the subject matter. For example, an exhibition titled ‘About an English Country Garden’, was printed on greenhouse glass. His latest project has seen him release several online galleries, each a celebration of ordinary life across the world. Here, we discuss drinking tea in Nepal, the magic of travel, and the poignancy of everyday life.
When did you first become interested in photography?
I think I took my first blurred film photo when I was around nine or 10, but it was when I was around 17 that I became properly interested. I then took a long break from it as I established my business, finally going back to photography when I was in my late 30s/early 40s.
How have you honed your skills over the years?
The problem, like any artist, is to have a unique look. We’re a breed that certain others want to pigeonhole and brand. While this can make you successful as the ‘go to’ person for a certain thing, it also can restrict you to producing a certain type of image or style. So yes, you have to develop something that nobody else is doing, and it takes a bit of time to find that one thing that you really enjoy and is a bit different. Apart from that, I’m self-taught. If you love something, you find out the answers to your questions, and it’s a pleasure.
What’s your preferred photography environment?
Without doubt walking the streets, particularly in other countries. My attention is greater when I travel, and I see the wood from the trees better. I always notice more. I love spotting the smallest things that are odd to me, although most others don’t see it, and don’t understand why I’m photographing something. I never aim to criticise, just celebrate the difference.
What’s your favourite thing to photograph?
I’m not one for nice landscapes and nature. I like things that have been touched by humans. It could be photographing people themselves, or a sign made and placed by the human hand. I know various people will tell me I’m just wrong, but to me a tree is a tree, a lake is a lake, and a bit of grass is a bit of grass. Each to their own. With the human touch around the world, I find so much variation, yet similarities too. It’s just what I’m interested in.
You’ve travelled the globe in search of inspiration — what have been some of your most memorable moments?
I suppose the most memorable moments have always involved a struggle, usually with myself. This might be getting up super early to see something, or on rare occasions, getting utterly lost and having to figure out a direction to walk in.
There was on time in the middle of Nepal when I got chatting to a guy who lived in a wooden shack in a field. He had nothing, really nothing, except tea, and insisted I had some. We sat cross-legged in the field and drank together talking in pidgin English. I really wasn’t sure that the drink wasn’t going to have an ill effect on me, but he gave me everything he had, and I wasn’t going to wander on. I only had my time to offer him, and he loved it as much as I did. If I can, I’ll walk everywhere as you never quite know what you’ll see. It might look boring on the map, but that counts for nothing.
Where does the poignancy lie in capturing everyday life?
I’m in Israel as I write this. Or Palestine depending on who you talk to. I’ve come here to experience it and to educate myself. As an example of poignancy, I photographed the large Jewish Western Wall in downtown Jerusalem where people pray, but then I shot the huge security wall the Israelis erected in Bethlehem. I find it interesting that both are big walls, one loved and one hated.
Can you explain ‘photomentary’? What does it mean and where did the original spark to display your photos in that manner come from?
Photomentary originated from my commercial experience and wanting to make my vision as real as possible. So, I print and present my photographs on a relevant substrate. As an example, I photographed a series set in English country gardens, and printed the resulting photographs on old English greenhouse glass, framing them with distressed wood. Another series I photographed women in saris in India, and printed them on sari silk.
Photography has got a tad lazy. There are some wonderful photographers out there who simply print on paper, mount, and put in the ubiquitous black frame. It’s dull. If you want to bring photography to life, or put life into photography, you have to think differently. I make life more difficult for myself, but isn’t that what art is about?
What’s the significance of having a tactile signifier for the theme of the photographs? What additional dimension does that add to the viewing experience?
The significance is one of involvement. I have a commercial background of wording, and I realised that a brief title is helpful in knowing what the series of shots is about. I dislike photo books that have lots of words and few images, and I was determined that my photographs should be the thing to talk with a short snappy title that relates to that series. Titling every photograph (which I used to do) was distracting, whereas for each gallery series, it helps draw people in. And, as a photographer I’m always wondering how I can get people to see what I see and feel what I feel.