Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Greg Smith - Powdermill © Tom Hunter

Greg Smith – Powdermill © Tom Hunter

Exiles’ proud journey home

Sometimes an outsider’s eye is needed to point up things that we see every day and take somewhat for granted. Hastings and St Leonards, as we know, has always seen an influx of people making their way from elsewhere to the south coast and embedding themselves in the community. But it is not only British people. Lauris Morgan-Griffiths spoke to photographer Tom Hunter about his taxi driver project A Journey Home which opens on 9 February at Hastings Museum and Art Gallery.

Londoner Tom Hunter is a frequent visitor to Hastings and St Leonards and loves the place. Inevitably, arriving here, or after nights out, he takes a taxi. People either keep shtum or they chat to a stranger in that non threatening space in the back of a cab. Hunter became interested in the lives of taxi drivers who have come  hundreds of miles  and adopted the area as their home. He wondered how they arrived here – “It’s important to understand people who live around us and to know about their communities.”

And he pondered what actually is home.

Karam Rock A Nore © Tom Hunter

Karam Rock A Nore © Tom Hunter

To Hunter home is a safe haven: a place to close the door, shut out the troubles of the world and find peace.

He worked in collaboration with Richard Harding from taxi company 247 247, who helped discover the individuals and their stories.

Stories the backbone

Stories have been the backbone of Hunter’s projects. In the past he has given voice to the the voiceless – homeless, squatters – and “I didn’t see the people around me given a voice.” They might have had a voice but, being considered outside society, they are not heard. At that time he was part of that community, squatting, living rough, ducking and diving, seeing it up close and personal. Having had that first-hand knowledge he knows the importance of talking, listening and being curious.

Artists have always been drawn to and embraced the light on the south coast. Hunter has referenced the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery and set the taxi drivers in their favourite places around the area.

Kasim Afghanistan © Tom Hunter

Kasim Afghanistan © Tom Hunter

Each picture was taken either at dusk or dawn during the periods known as the ‘golden hour’ and the ‘blue hour’. In this way, he pays tribute to Turner and the many other artists that have worked here, inspired by the natural landscape and incredible light conditions.

The golden hour is the period of daytime shortly after sunrise or before sunset when the light is redder and softer. The opposite period is the blue hour, which occurs just after sunset or just before sunrise. In ‘Master of Light’ Turner’s words, “It is the use of light that ties the pictures together and brings a sense of belonging to the landscape.”

It was a magical time. Hunter and the driver would set off in the dark, set up and wait for the light.

The whole experience was extraordinary. Amazingly, luck was with them on each occasion – the light, the clouds, the sun rays diffused through the clouds. And, being with the drivers, hearing their stories, was an important part of it all. “On the way out to the shoot they were a little reticent and nervous. Afterwards, they were much more relaxed and spoke more openly about their family and about heir home”. One Afghani man was really keen to give them something, share his culture with them. He cooked them an amazing breakfast which they ate with the family.

Marie-Louise Pett Level © Tom Hunter

Marie-Louise Pett Level © Tom Hunter

Lasting impression

Meeting these extraordinary men and women has left a lasting impression. From strife and struggle, “they were so pleased and appreciative to be here.” So often maligned by the press and people for coming here as economic migrants could not be further from the truth.

“They were really appreciative of being here and had a real love of Hastings. They were so happy to be taxi drivers, working 18-hour days and being rewarded for their work so they could provide for their families.” And home is now here, when they go away they like returning here. This is Home. That being said, some would like to return to their homeland if it was safe and secure to do so.

“The one thing I learned and was impressed by was their dignity. They had an incredible positive attitude and hope. I also learned that self-worth and confidence is so important if people can work and provide for their families.”At the moment, with so many around us losing optimism, it was a lesson Hunter took to his heart – dedication and attitude – something he would like to pass onto his family. “They have fled from something so bad, it is amazing to be so positive. It is uplifting and heart-warming. One’s own struggles seem trivial in comparison.”

Tom Hunter is Professor of Photography at the London College of Printing. He is a highly acclaimed photographer who has exhibited internationally. In 2006 Tom became the only artist to have a solo photography show at the National Gallery in London with his series Living in Hell and Other Stories. He has earned several awards during his career; the latest, in 2016, was the Rose Award for Photography at the Royal Academy in London.

Alongside the photographs there will be audio extracts from interviews with the drivers so it will be possible to hear their actual voices telling their stories and histories as to how they arrived on the south coast.

Special thanks to Richard Harding and the drivers Ali, Bob, Dave, Gary, Greg, Hans, Karam, Marie-Louise, Patrycja, Nasim, Wahab from 247 247 Taxis. Curated by Lucy Bell and David Rhodes.

A Journey Home runs from 9 February to 2 June at the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, Johns Place, Bohemia Road, HastingsTN34 1ET. Open Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-5pm, and Sunday 12-5pm.




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Posted 17:48 Wednesday, Feb 6, 2019 In: Photography

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