An Interview with Hugo-Victor Solomon: Affective Documentary Photography

The common thread that first attracted me to Hugo-Victor Solomon’s work is the honesty and candor of his portraits.

Hugo, originally from Seattle, Washington, now resides in Montreal, Canada, where he creates emotional, portrait-focused photography. To clarify, affect can be thought of as emotions or subjective experience.

Hugo started photography in 2016. He had a very documented childhood with both his parents taking many pictures of Hugo and his siblings. It has “photographic memory” – in the sense that photographs act as meaning and have a certain intention stored in them. Family documentary images act as a sort of repository of emotional energies. Or, as photo theorist Roland Barthes might put it, there is a certain punctum stored in these images.

His upbringing established an interest in documentary-style portraiture. When he finally received his first camera, which coincidentally was his sister’s old camera, he was finally able to articulate visual language in a way that his camera phone at the time couldn’t. He started taking more and more pictures.

I love taking pictures of my friends…taking pictures for other people.

Hugo mentions that he has difficulty in social situations.

I’m too shy to contribute. I am very neurodivergent. I have a lot of trouble in social situations. I have Autism Spectrum Disorder, among other conditions. It manifests as extreme social anxiety.

With a camera, however, he is able to relate to people better. Through photography, he can contribute to social settings and better understand others. He confesses that he looks and looks – always looking and searching for something.

Being queer and neurodivergent at the same time makes her work very queer and tender at the same time – there is a certain focus on the self and the self-portrait. All photography is a type of self-portrait: the most authentic images carry some aspect of the essence of the photographer and what he has seen. To elaborate, he points out that photographers who see models as strictly bodies and photographers who see their own bodies as irrelevant don’t feel good for him. He believes that artists, role models, subjects and muses are all interchangeable and that everyone should be able to not limit or separate these aspects of self. Don’t label yourself or assume yourself the “wrong” way. That’s how creatives have traditionally operated, but it shouldn’t be that way. It doesn’t have to be that way.

I have always photographed in a way where I command the subjects I photograph to move fluidly. I find the beauty in the intermediate micro-expressions that people have or in this little affect that is there and disappears.

Contrary to this, Hugo works strictly from pose to pose and will not move until he knows what his next pose will be. He does not pre-plan the poses as such and lets them happen spontaneously during the photographic event. There are so many things for everyone that are not in our control. So by working this way, he hybridizes the pose by controlling the pose but letting each pose happen organically. It’s a push and pull to allow an opening space that works for him and works for him.

Additionally, much of his work, particularly his self-portraits, uses nudity as a tool.

Its good. I am vulnerable. Are you?

Hugo encourages people to think that self-portraiture, especially nude self-portraiture, is a great way to connect with oneself as a means of self-actualization. It’s not so much that you’ll become a better person if you take selfies, but rather turning the camera on yourself will set you on that path. To clarify, it’s not really about the final image or what you do, but rather the actual process of making it.

In a way, the self-portrait is a way to bring out all the perfections of one’s own body, but also the imperfections. And then just kind of take stock of it all and learn to accept it. What do you like in your body? What don’t you like about your body? It’s like that.

Often, working on-site comes with an inherent set of challenges. It offers tips for getting a tripod if you plan to create self-portraits. It’s really boring to do it without a tripod. He made self-portraits in mountains and jungles, wheat fields and real snowstorms. The goal is to be in those places and really be in the scenery. There is indexed documentation of being in a place and using it as an extension of truth.

You need to be honest with yourself. What’s in your head translates into the picture.

I would say 99% of my photos are in the moment because I have a camera and I see something I want to capture.

It’s really frustrating to create art sometimes where viewers aren’t trying to look strictly at the surface. Or try to see the intangible behind the material. That is to say, art is an expression of nuance and often people don’t take the time to appreciate the multiple perspectives. An image is not just what is in the photograph, but rather is in a certain context. There may be things that are not visible in the frame or that have happened since the time the image was photographed, which further instills a qualitative context into the image.

That is, it can be an image of something – but it’s not strictly an image of that thing. There is more than what is shown in the frame.

Art requires making room within yourself to appreciate something else.

An image of water or a lake is an image of water or a lake. But individually, he might have a certain affect or emotional response that he might elicit from the viewer. So if you’ve been on a family vacation by a lake or had a good or bad experience with the water, an image of this thing may make you feel (or maybe even think) these things or events.

Images provided by Hugo-Victor Solomon. Used with permission.

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