Sewanee Artist of the Week: Hunter Swenson (C’18)

Hunter Swenson (C’18). Photo courtesy of Lucy Wimmer (C’20).

By Anna Mann, Executive Editor

In kindergarten, Hunter Swenson (C’18) swiped his mother’s film camera from their home in Colorado to take pictures during the school day. Despite his belief that the camera magically replenished its own film, and that his mother never noticed his small-scale heist, Swenson states that this represented his entrance to the world of photography.  

This third generation artist came to Sewanee on a pre-med track, but after taking physics and organic chemistry, he decided to continue the art classes he had taken on a whim. “I came here solid pre-med, did not even contemplate art. I was thinking I needed to take one class to humor my mom and grandma. Then I met Pradip [Malde] and he showed me his work with platinum palladium and I was immediately seduced by the idea.”

Sophomore year, Swenson went to Haiti with Malde in order to use his photography as a community building technique. The use of art as a tool of societal improvement rather than simply an aesthetic undertaking changed his view of the medium.

“I learned what it was like to come in as an outsider with a certain amount of privilege into a community that didn’t know me,” he explains. “That changed my art a lot. The art I came into Sewanee doing is nowhere near the same as the kind I produce now.”

Along with his Haiti trip, Swenson swears that his double major in philosophy has greatly impacted his art. In freshman year, he took his first philosophy class, asserting that once it flipped his world upside down, he had to continue the study.

He went on to explain that his current reading generally affects the production of his work and vice versa. He states that philosophy taught him that “my own experiences are different than everyone else’s; how can I take my own innate understanding and put it in my art for other people to understand? How far can I express what’s innate to me for others?”

In this vein, his honors candidate project, Solitude in the Everyday, deals with four years’ worth of Sewanee experiences expressed through photography. He explained that rather than expressing any sort of sadness, the exhibit stems from simple moments of isolation without any negative connotation. Swenson stated that the careful placement of the photographs around Nabit came from “five days’ worth of me pounding my head against a computer screen and my desk.”

Yet, the hard work paid off on the weekend of April 13-15 when his exhibit opened to the Sewanee community. Swenson described the experience as “exhilarating.” Still, he articulated that he didn’t care to look at his heavily-examined works for a while again, saying that “I get sick of my work if I look at it for too long, I have to take a break from it.”

He finished his interview with The Purple by expressing his amazement with the medium, articulating that “photography will always fascinate me, I mean you’re capturing light, its definition is light painting. It’s amazing that you’re opening up the shutter and capturing a moment with light! That’s freakin’ cool if you think about it.”

As for future plans, Swenson hopes to move home and get his feet underneath him before applying for graduate school with hopes to become a college professor. In the interim, he states that perhaps he’ll work as a barista, saying, “Thank you, Stirling’s, for giving me the universal skills to serve coffee. Hopefully, I’ll have time to create too. That’s the dream.”