Photographer and director Ryan Hopkinson has made a name for himself by constantly daring to venture into unfamiliar territory. His concept-led aesthetic is born out of blending a diverse range of disciplines with a rich knowledge of technical processes.
His new work in collaboration with Nowness is a trilogy of films dedicated to the mesmerising work of United Visual Artists (UVA). UVA have been creating high concept works at the intersection of art and technology for over a decade, ranging from small-scale, wall-based pieces to large-scale sculptural installations for cultural institutions and public spaces.
Art Director Gem Fletcher discusses the series with Ryan exploring the technical and creative challenges.
Gem Fletcher: How did the collaboration come about?
Ryan Hopkinson: Matt Clark (Creative Director of UVA) and I have worked together on previous projects, we’ve always kept in touch and it was down to perfect timing that Matt asked me to collaborate with him on the series. UVA gave me alot of freedom to interpret their work and we both wanted to push this project as far as possible.
GF: How did you shape the series? What were the key themes around UVA’s work that you wanted to consider?
RH: The biggest thing for me was to avoid it feeling like a ‘behind the scenes’ with Matt talking to camera about his work.
Before we started there was alot of back and forth between me, Matt, Sibylle Boettger and Tom Turley on how to shape the series and avoid the usual pitfalls. We came up with a method to interpret the work against elements of narrative and performance mixed with a more stylised documentary approach that fits within our worlds. The most important theme for me, throughout the series was representing the depth and meaning of UVA’s work and the beauty of each installation.
GF: The project took you around the world, what was involved logistically and how did you manage that side of the production?
RH: We produced the entire project in-house with UVA, there was no production company involved. Alex Clunie (UVA producer) single handedly pulled the entire project together with minimal knowledge of film making. The beauty of it was involving everyone in all areas of production and picking up from each other where other people left off. Camera wise, most of the time it was just me and Tom Turley shooting on our own, lugging cameras up canyons and doing our best to be grips and gaffers.
GF: Were they any technical challenges you had to overcome during production?
RH: One of the hardest parts was recreating all the large scale sculptures for the film, we wanted to approach and re-shoot a lot of UVA’s previous work (see CR’s 2007 interview with UVA here) so we rebuilt it all in the studio. We recreated the Massive Attack screen, Our Time, A Distant View, Vanishing Point, Grey Area, etc. Some days we had 30-40 flight cases being delivered on articulated lorries with the full team of UVA working around the clock to bring the sculptures back to life, it was incredible to have our own ‘private view’ of all the work and have the freedom to shoot it in multiple different ways.
GF: You have a lot of similar principles to UVA blending different disciplines with ambitious ideas. It feels like one of those rare commissions with perfect synergy. How was it for you?
RH: It was a great experience, we’ve been working on this series for three months, 20 shoot days lots of late nights and the rest on production, editing and grade. It was amazing getting to know Matt and the UVA team. We spent a lot of time at locations and on the road so we had lots of great discussions about the work we both create and similarities regarding influences in nature, art and sciences.
GF: This is a three-part series, can you tell us a little about what is to come?
RH: Episode 1 is more of an introduction to the series and a general discussion about the work of UVA including their 12 year collaboration with Massive Attack. Episodes 2 and 3 are based on more specific themes such as time, nature’s patterns and machine ethics, we travel to Texas and Tasmania in each episode including a road trip through the mountains and canyons surrounding the Rio Grande and finishing with a message from an unseen world.
Episode 1 – The Shared Experience is currently playing on Nowness.