Tash Hopkins at Western Springs
TASH HOPKINS The Western Springs Project. Thian 2013 Digital print from 4x5 sheet film
I follow Tash Hopkins on Instagram, that’s how I found her Western Springs Project: a suite of candid portraits of students at an inner-city Auckland high school. Her images caught my attention; there was something in her subjects that was strong and quiet; they weren’t selling anything. Like many contemporary photographers who post on Instagram (I follow Wolfgang Tillmans, Bruce Connew, Stephen Shore, Ava Seymour, Juergen Teller, Jordana Bragg, Martin Parr, Gabrielle McKone, Edith Amituanai, Conor Findlay, Derek Henderson, for example), the platform suits her, delivering clean, clear images with a minimum of fuss.
I had not heard of Hopkins, but it was easy to track her down via her website, where I learnt that she was based in Auckland and was ‘an experienced photographer whose work covers editorial, portrait, architectural and landscape photography’. But her Instagram images were clearly a personal project; these kids seemed especially natural; each strikingly individual, they shared an awkward grace as they looked towards the camera, a little wary perhaps, but with remarkable composure.
Speaking subsequently to her, I’ve learned that she approached Western Springs College back in 2013 and has been visiting the school every few months since then. Her idea was to take photographs, with the students’ permission, during their lunch break. There was just enough time to set up her large-format camera and take one shot of each subject on 4 x 5 sheet film. That’s why the photographs feel considered but casual, and why the images have that peculiar depth of field, where the sitter is crisply delineated but the background is slightly blurred, while the luminescence comes from shooting in bright but filtered sunlight.
I think the ‘success’ of the series lies in its candour, in the photographer’s ability to let her subjects be, catching them on that marvellously awkward cusp just before adulthood. There is little of the auteur here, no voyeurism; she seems genuinely curious about who these people will become, and the goal of the series is refreshingly open-ended.
In New Zealand, Hopkins has worked as an assistant to Derek Henderson, and in London, where she lived for four years, for the British photographer and filmmaker Elaine Constantine. Both have made names for themselves as fashion photographers and each has developed a unique body of work (landscape for Henderson; youth culture for Constantine). The influences are obvious, especially from Henderson. But even so, Hopkins’ project has a quality and integrity all its own.
It strikes me that today anyone can be a photographer, we all have cameras on our phones in our pockets, and platforms like Instagram can make artists of us all. But Hopkins is a ‘find’, for the way she quietly and persistently seeks out a subject and locates it not only in the young people she photographs but in the direction of their gazes.
TASH HOPKINS The Western Springs Project. Pearl 2013 Digital print from 4x5 sheet film
TASH HOPKINS The Western Springs Project. Edwin 2015 Digital print from 4x5 sheet film
TASH HOPKINS The Western Springs Project. Honor 2014 Digital print from 4x5 sheet film
TASH HOPKINS The Western Springs Project. Edie 2017 Digital print from 4x5 sheet film