Thu | Jul 2, 2020

Alain Hottat invokes the spirits

Published:Friday | January 24, 2020 | 12:00 AMPaul H. Williams/Gleaner Writer
Photographer Alain Hottat beside ‘Mask of Humility’.
It is all about reflection.
Could it be the ‘King of Fire’ that Evan Williams, principal at R Hotel, and photographer Alain Hottat are talking about?
‘Mask of Considerations’.

Last Saturday, the Gene Pearson Gallery at the R Hotel in New Kingston, St Andrew, possessed spirits of all sorts. The high spirits of those in attendance, the fine wines, and Alain Hottat’s ‘Nature Spirits’. This is his first solo photo exhibition, which lasts until the 25th.

Hottat calls it “a psychedic vision of nature spirits”, and hanging from the walls are 19 aluminium panels on which were burned, in archival ink, photographs shot in daylight on Long Bay Beach in eastern Portland, where Hottat has been residing for several years. In the photos are things that are created by nature, arranged and framed to tell a variety of stories.

Love of nature

His love of nature, he said, goes back to his life as a child in the Belgian Congo, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where, like in many parts of Africa, people believe there are spirits everywhere. “And because everything has a spirit, it can talk back to you,” he told Living.

He did not have friends as a child, thus he “would talk to trees and other things around them”. He even had dreams of the trees talking back to him, and he still sees things in trees, he revealed. Thus, from his photographs he is invoking the spirits of nature.

Each piece is a mirrored image of the other half, juxtaposed reflections. They look like paintings, but they are not. In each there is some amount of geometry going on with triangle motifs, which Hottat said were not intentional, but were created by the technique that he used.

“Maybe the way I handled my camera causes the triangles to come into play,” he quipped, also noting that because he is a “Buddhist kind of person” ,he sees the triangles as Buddhist temples.

What, however, was deliberate were the faces (masks) that were created by Hottat’s symmetrical approach. To achieve this mirror effect, he arranged the objects (leaves, roots, seaweeds, pebbles, bamboo, driftwood) he sees on the beach before shooting them.

“I put my camera on a tripod and then I block a half-side of the image, and then I put a mirror in the middle to create a reflection ... and when I see a face I snap the photo,” he explained. And ‘faces’ are indeed staring back at you from these abstract photographs, from which people might infer a variety of interpretations.

“Since I was a child I would see faces everywhere, in the shapes of clouds, trees, and so on. This is what I present today with this mirroring technique, walking on the beach every day, searching for faces and structure,” he says in his artist statement.

This ‘obsession’ with faces was developed from his love for African art, especially masks, which he would get frequently instead of toys. His house in Africa was full of them, he said. This is the influence behind the ‘masks’ in his compositions, “which compelled the viewer to search for hidden patterns, structures and stories”.