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Tess Hurrell's quietly explosive photography

Wolfgang Tillmans' Zimbabwe-born photo assistant steps out on her own with Chaology series
Tess Hurrell's Chaology Series (left to right) numbers 4, 6 and 1 (2006)
Editioned 20 x 24 inch silver gelatin prints


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On first glance, Tess Hurrell's photographs seem like they've captured the after effect of a devastating atomic bomb blast. Clouds of smoke and scattered debris suggest an image taken at great height and distance, bringing to mind those unforgettable images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In reality however, Hurrell's photographs are taken in the studio. Born in Zimbabwe in 1975 and now London-based, Hurrell used to love playing with her father's unloaded Nikon camera as a little girl, "my sister and I loved the role play and heavy click". She has spent the past four years working as a studio assistant to the eminent art photographer Wolfgang Tillmans who has proved to be  a great source of inspiration. Hurrell told Phaidon - "I have always been inspired by Wolfgang's work, it has a natural rich fullness I admire".

For Hurrell's own photographs she creates sculptures which are then captured on film. She tells Phaidon, "I started to use sculpture when I was studying photography at university. It was actually instigated by a frustration with photography, I wanted to get inside the image, make an intervention."

The objects captured in the gallery of photographs above from her Chaology series have been constructed using cotton wool, talcum powder, string and pipecleaners. All of them have been carefully manipulated into eerily beautiful images that play with the viewer's sense of scale. "I did a few projects with sculptural elements but Chaology was the first project that really seemed to bring together the potential of sculpture and the stillness of photography that was interesting to me" she says.

But what does does 'Chaology' actually mean? "'Chaology' is the study of chaos theory," she says. "It appealed to me for different reasons. I like the idea of a system being so sensitive that small changes can cause unexpected effects, action and consequence. The title's intended to be playful but the meaning held this duality of my inspirations - of scientific enquiry as well as the asking of bigger questions about our state of the world and violence."

The printing process is an important element of the creation of the finished work. "So much can happen creatively whille working with images in the darkroom or printing, its like building a relationship with them individually. Often I’ll find something new or abandon an image during the process, it’s important for me to physically play with the image."

Flick through the gallery above to view all the works in Tess Hurrell's photography inspired in her own words by "contradictions, light, ideas that I can’t quite understand, futuristic books and films, economy of means, growing plants, scientific and old photography."

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