Religious Iconography For the Modern Age, In the Work of Dominic Hawgood

Dominic Hawgood, a recent MFA graduate of Royal College of Art and Design in London, constructs photographs that create tension between human and technology, the real and the performative, and the social and personal. A primary focus of his work is the emotional and devotional intensity that is present in many modern-day religious movements.

Two recent series have touched on aspects of religious practice in Texas—“Shrine,” which homes in on the minimalist constructions that serve as devotional signs displayed outside of many American churches; and “The Conversation,” consisting of portraits of women who express religious fervor though glossolalia, or speaking in tongues. For the latter series, Hawgood placed an advertisement in a Texas newspaper seeking those able to achieve this altered state, and developed a relationship with a group of women who he eventually photographed in staged scenes that imitated their ecstatic reveries. These photographs depict a type of magical realism—by constructing portraits of real practitioners of this cult activity in anonymous settings and emotionally exaggerated poses, Hawgood compares his subjects to saints or other religious figures depicted in many traditions.

Continuing this exploration of spiritual movements, in 2014’s “Under the Influence,” Hawgood takes as his subject an evangelical Christian church in London primarily attended by African immigrants. This series also exemplifies the artist’s interest in technology, particularly through the use of LED light panels. In still lifes, he restages moments common within this new devotional tradition, depicting everyday materials used in their worship—such as anointing water used for exorcisms, a microphone held by a preacher, or tissues used by those overcome by emotion—and elevating them in vivid, hyperrealistic images. Corresponding portraits in noir-ish black and white depict the emotional fervor of the movement’s practitioners. By setting apart his subjects with exaggerated lighting and coloration, Hawgood juxtaposes the imagery of religious idolatry with that of consumer culture, creating glistening symbols of devotion for the modern age. His photographs cross romantic and objective traditions, isolating and emphasizing signifiers of human emotion, while employing imagery that questions the role of religious devotion in contemporary culture.

—K. Sundberg

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