Michelle Grace Hunder : Mr Hive, Southbank : Victoria, Australia
“I want to be working exclusively in the music scene with music artists on press shots and album covers and tours. Having said that, I’m also realistic to the fact that there’s not many people doing that; I probably can’t think of many outside of maybe five and even then I think they would be doing commercial work outside of that to subsidise the music work. If I could just do it, that’s what I’d be doing 100%…working with more international artists; to be the “go to” person whenever someone hip hop related came to Australia”
If you’re a live music fan it’s likely you’ve seen the silhouette of Michelle Grace Hunder planted in an enviable position immediately front of stage; only metres away from of one of your favourite acts. She’s not there to be entertained however, as she’s focussed on dodging overly exuberant fans and homicidal selfie-sticks while elbowing her way around press-photographers and photo-enthusiasts that somehow “know a guy”. And all the while trying to anticipate the best angle for the perfect picture; to capture a split-second moment that tells the story of the gig and the artist before it vanishes forever; and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s been a varied road to “photographer” for Michelle, having navigated her way through a variety of unrelated roles over the years from temp to production assistant, but it was off the back of her involvement in a dance company that she would truly embrace her creative side by starting to take pictures seriously; and she hit the ground running. While spending time working with professional photographers she was quickly developing her own skill set and putting together a solid portfolio, and it wouldn’t be too long before she would be capturing campaigns for names like Zoo York and New Balance.
Soon after officially making the professional shift, Michelle made the decision to embark on a project of enormous proportions that would combine her passions of old and new to create a book of portraits featuring an all Australian lineup of hip hop artists; a hugely popular movement in the urban cultural and music scene that, until recently, had been commercially overlooked in Australia. It would mean trips to many areas of the country, working from remote outback areas to Australia’s major cities, but with determination – and more than a little bit of hustle – she would get it done. All this work – 118 portraits featuring 182 artists from all across the country – culminated in the release of her book in 2014: RISE.
But simply realising that goal wasn’t enough, and before she could take a breath she and a group of popular Australian hip hop acts – including Remi, Briggs & Mantra – hit the road in a pastiche of music and visuals under the banner of the “RISE Launch Tour” to promote the book and celebrate the launch of what is now an important visual work of Australian music history.
It seems like a great gig, being able to meet some or your favourite acts and capture them doing what they do best, but there are real challenges to picking up the photography medium in what is now a predominantly digital world. The change in photography over recents is obvious, and professionals have had to scramble more than ever to protect themselves from the seemingly ever-growing and invincible nemesis that is copyright infringement. Image theft. It’s always been an issue for photographers and visual artists alike, but never has it been as much of a problem as it is in a world revolving around Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; where the ability to share (read:steal) someone else’s work is literally in the palm of everyone’s hand.
“I feel like that’s an education process across the internet; that there’s a lack of appreciation of photos, copyright and all that sort of stuff is such an internet age thing. It’s exploded and no-one really understood or took the time to know what it means to post a photo on the internet. There’s so much misinformation so people think if you post a photo on the internet – and I see this every single day – “once I post it on the internet, it’s a free for all” and that’s actually not true, so trying to get an education process around that for me happens if someone posts my photo and they haven’t credited me. I’ll call them out”.
Those frustrations aside, she has tremendous faith in what she’s part of creating and the artists she’s capturing. Her photographs document acts and bands that may be the Dr Dres or the Kanye Wests of tomorrow; acts we’ll look back on, thirsting for those irreplaceable still-moments of their inception.
“Everyone has iPhones and the shots are really disposable; they’re up then they’re gone…they get a few likes and they’re forgotten about. I think what I’ve definitely realised lately is the importance of having those photos retrospectively. I feel like in 20 years time, people are going to come back to me asking, “have you got photos of X, Y, Z…?” and that’s really encouraging me at the moment to keep doing what I’m doing, because I do think it will come around and that the value of those photos will come back; even though I don’t think it’s necessarily what everyone values at the moment”.
It would seem that prophecy is quickly becoming a reality – particularly in relation to her book RISE – as the Australian National Archive contacted Michelle recently to request permission to have this complete work archived as a unique moment in time of an extremely important part of our society and culture. She’s the first to document this time in our history and it should be recognised; a movement created by a group of artists that have forged their way to the front of the pack the old-fashioned way.
And hard work is just how Michelle intends on spearing to the top of the game; to live her ultimate ambition of shooting exclusively in the music scene and being the “go to” photographer for international and local hip hop acts alike. Having just finished touring with Seth Sentry as the official “Run Tour” photographer, and capturing the main sleeve picture of the latest album release “Lost In Translation” for renowned US rapper Pharaohe Monch, it seems like the hustle she demonstrated to make RISE a reality was just the tip of the iceberg.