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MDX photography student recognised with solo exhibition in Australia

29/11/2023
Jennifer Forward-Hayter’s Masters project documents journalists under pressure

Cruel, upsetting, funny. That’s how MDX Photography Masters student Jennifer Forward-Hayter describes her style.

“Someone once told me my portfolio looked like a hit list, full of ugly people,” she said.

“Within art, the theory of the grotesque is not as offensive as it seems, it just means the outside meeting the inside.”

After spending the last year documenting journalists whilst working under enormous pressure, this month Jennifer’s solo exhibition, Larrikin, took place at the TAP Gallery in Sydney, Australia.

“It’s a sprinkling of my recent adventures with leading journalists across war zones, government disasters, and royal funerals, featuring a mix of portraiture and documentary,” she said.

She says she’s “so immensely proud” of being able to work with subjects such as Jeremy Bowen and Carole Cadwalladr and being able to organise an archive of images into something which can be shown to an audience.

“Journalism is still a really under-reported story,” Jennifer added, “Most big journalists write an autobiography, but they never cover the whole process; the overwhelming chaos of choosing between doing a podcast or going to a warzone to die, for the same job, and why both can be equally important.”

Jennifer says she refuses to apply for a press card when working, preferring to shoot at close-range with a flash.

“I did this to keep me on the outside. The process of being photographed – even discreetly – is really unnatural, and I like drawing attention to the uncomfortableness I get as reactions. I’ve been headbutted twice whilst taking pictures.

“I’ve often gone to communities I’m not, or never would be a part of.

“Ugly people have better stories. And people with better stories make better pictures.”

Inspired by photographer and documentarian Sinna Nasseri, whose work has been featured in Vogue, New York Times and Rolling Stones Magazine, Jennifer picks out a particular shoot with talk show host Jimmy Fallon, who appeared in Times Square dressed in a yellow jumpsuit.

Jennifer said: “Fallon is obviously uncomfortable with interacting with ‘normal’ people, and there is a threatening undertone of a possible riot. In one image, a group of tourists line up and stare down Fallon.

“Nasseri’s assistant can be seen sticking in an extra flash gun. This playfulness creates scenarios with his subjects which obviously challenges them.

“Photography is a really dangerous medium – it can see things that the human eye cannot, yet it also lies all the time.”

Documenting journalists has been the theme for Jennifer’s MA photography work and for the module Collaborate she contacted to some Australian satirists.

“They run the oldest, still running satirical media organisation in the world, and I spent a month documenting their process,” she said.

“Australia is unique in the history and continued development of journalism. It’s still a remote, isolated island, with an intensely concentrated media ownership. As an extra fourth estate, satirists have to not only react to journalists, but become better in order to mock.”

Despite never telling people when she was going to turn up, Jennifer was given access to budget meetings, delicate pitch writing, and computer screens.

“I especially liked capturing the journalists walking around the office – normally a quick dash from desk to kitchen,” she said.

“It was like shooting someone who’d finally taken a peak above a parapet, and they became vulnerable.”

After showing her images to the organiser of a local photo festival - who had never seen images of well-known people during moments of intimate, everyday stress - Jennifer was invited to appear as a solo exhibition in Sydney, supported by XD Law/Xenephon Davis.

She said: “Australia has a different relationship to portrait photography, and historically favours landscapes, so to be able to capture these very human reactions, and really visualise that, is really special.

“The reaction to my work was amazing. The Chaser, the satirical group I had shot the year before, still intrigued and unsure of why I wanted to shoot them, hosted a special, sold-out, artist talk for me. They discussed why arts funding should be abolished!”

Jennifer, who also received an undergraduate Photography degree from MDX, is grateful for her university experiences.

“The technicians at MDX are above and beyond,” she said.

“They want to be proud of the work which they are around and help to produce, and make sure you get to a point where you can create to these standards. The photographic prints made at MDX are better than many printing spaces available outside of the university. “

When asked about her future hopes, Jennifer said: “I would like to continue using photography as an excuse to be places I shouldn’t! Particularly through shooting my MA project, I’ve been told so many amazing stories by a variety of people – observing how they work, on frontlines, members clubs, and online empires.

“There’s a hundred more small snippets of life, and photographers can push to the front to experience these.”

Jennifer's solo degree show, Penknife, will take place in London in January.

To find out more about studying photography at MDX, click here.

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