. artist

H.M. "Filling In For Cerberus" (2015)             


.. about hunter madsen


Hunter is a photographer who hails from a family of writers and artists working in diverse media, in a line that traces back to Samuel F.B. Morse, the 19th-century American painter and inventor.


Trained originally as a social scientist, Hunter earned degrees from Dartmouth College and Harvard University, where he received his Ph.D. and lectured for a few years before joining the advertising industry, first in Manhattan and later in San Francisco. With the advent of the internet, Hunter rose quickly to become a senior partner at agency giant J. Walter Thompson, was invited to lead JWT’s first worldwide center for excellence in digital media, and was awarded the first-ever international Atticus Prize, from global media leviathan WPP, for his innovative writings on the future of marketing.


Hunter subsequently took on leadership roles at Wired, Yahoo, and other startups in Silicon Valley, championing early data-driven technologies for services online such as personalized shopping bots, behaviorally targeted advertising, and the first intuitive music browser. Working on the side, he co-authored the controversial book, After the Ball, and gained prominence as a pioneering strategist for LGBTQ civil rights in America.


A citizen of Canada and the United States, and a frequent visitor to Europe, Hunter is based near Vancouver, British Columbia, where he lives with his German-Canadian partner and their rescued Persian greyhound, Weltschmerz. Hunter now devotes his time to visual art and local politics.


H.M. "Hannah and Bernd Search the Shore for a Useful Structure" (2015)             



.. about the art   .   new beauty in our time


Part observation and part commentary, Hunter's photographs locate bits of heaven and hell in overlooked corners. His images range widely in subject, at times delighting in sour metaphor and the incipient weirdness of ordinary moments, and at other times celebrating the inherent rhythms of man-made objects, grieving the collapse of the natural world in the hands of man, or exploring the mysterious power of beauty to establish itself in the face of chaos, decline, and spiritual darkness.  


More broadly, Hunter's body of work reconsiders a proposition that Euripedes posed in ancient times, and that Edward Steichen's groundbreaking 1953 MOMA show, The Family of Man, proclaimed triumphantly for photography as a fine art: "Shall not loveliness be loved forever?"   Hunter answers this question with a hesitant Yes, but if you asked many artists working today on the photo-conceptual frontier, their short answer regarding the beauty imperative in art would probably be No, not so much.  At play is a persistent underlying tension in contemporary art culture that Hunter's work straddles and challenges.


aesthetics take a step back. At this stage in the short history of photographic art, some of the field's more admired artists appear to have subordinated aesthetic impact in the art they make to more coolly conceptualized and soberly self-conscious agendas. The art objects produced by these experimentalists are often stimulating in their own right, and are usually not unattractive, having been crafted with meticulous care and freighted painstakingly with intellectual content.


Even so, creating fresh beauty is not usually the point of photo-conceptual work. Indeed, in many cases the image output would seem designed to operate chiefly as though it were, in effect, illustrating a patent application for intellectual ownership of some interesting new art-making process, theoretical insight, or social experience that the artist wishes to brandmark. Once the idea or process behind a given image of this sort is explained and grasped, the photograph has successfully delivered its main payload and the viewer can move on.   Any kick the image's design and finish might additionally provide may come off as almost beside the point, for the intended viewing experience is more cerebral than aesthetic.


beauty's retreat into tropes and sentiment. How did visual reward come to take such a back seat? Understandably, the field's front-runners are eager to leave behind the tired beauty tropes and over-sweetened sensibility of conventional photo art, which still sells vigorously because it works within welltrod paradigms of beauty that reliably trigger a warmly sentimental response.  Consider all those breathtaking landscape panoramas, refined floral shots, wildlife closeups, dramatically gritty street scenes, high-gloss fashion pouts, and erotically arty B&W nudes that a legion of skilled, traditionalist photographers has long since flogged to the brink of cliche. 


So is that where beauty ends in our era, with a jaded sigh?  Although they saddle up quite a menagerie of disparate themes and topics, taken altogether Hunter's images amount to an exploration of potential beauty in less expected places and more varied forms.

H.M. "Hard Love" (2014)            


True, we live in an era that is all-but-buried in pix of conventionally pretty things to look at, and some worry - the artist, among them -  that this superabundance is dulling our minds' underlying capacity to respond deeply to beauty in general.  Our brains come to anticipate stereotypic images and plug them into their standard groupings by automatic reflex ("another vivid sunset," "another stunning model," "another delicate yellow rose"...) rather than encounter each new image as a fresh, unique experience. As we keep reacting to the onrushing barrage of gorgeous things in all the expected categories of gorgeousness, numbness and a sense of predictability quietly yet inevitably set in. Soon we see Gertrude Stein's point, because a rose is a rose is a rose. What, really, is the good of artists pumping out yet more "new" images along those lines? 


the pursuit of unexpected beauty. Hence, the challenge confronting art photographers today: with eyes now glazing before its familiar charms, can one possibly awaken viewers to fresh beauty arising in contexts - often, uncomfortable, unexpected, or unpromising ones - where beauty's very presence still has the power to surprise and to feel somehow original?  


More than that, in a contemporary culture where the experience of beauty has been framed so often as little more than the eye candy come-on of commerce, might one still manage to create original images whose aesthetic character - their distinctive composition, design, use of light and values, energy, emotional overtones or spiritual feeling - becomes the chief point of engagement that merits return viewings of the image and calls forth its own distinct wonder, for reasons over and above whatever animal, vegetable, or mineral happens to be standing before the camera? 


This is the underlying question driving much of the work on this site, which, across 40 different galleries, brings together several hundred images, plus a diverse selection of text-and-photo essays, completed over the last half decade. Rather than unearth yet more images from the places where beauty is traditionally mined, most of the photography here starts by looking elsewhere, in places where beauty can emerge from resonant metaphor, from invigorating contexts of order or disorder, and from emotionally complex (rather than merely picturesque) landscapes.  The aesthetic dimensions of many images here are modified further, in subtle or obvious ways, so that their beauty might strike the eye as somehow unexpected or even alien to its subject matter, since alienated beauty heightens attention and engagement in a way that expected, familiar beauty cannot.  


In .. ideas you can read further about art photography's aesthetic divide, and about this site's offbeat framework for perceiving beauty.  On the other hand, if you are someone who is only marginally interested in this stuff anyway, then you have already made yourself slog through quite enough artspeak here, and now you're probably best advised to simply poke around the place in search of something unexpected.

H.M. "Life Is Interesting" (2015)                




Unless otherwise indicated, all text and images at www.HunterMadsen.com are copyrighted by Hunter Madsen (2019).  All rights reserved.