The Artist's Hand | Visual Art | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Culture » Visual Art

The Artist's Hand

Troy Hunter turns a neurological disorder into photographic beauty.



Artists are usually thought of as being possessed of a sure hand and purposeful eye. This is especially true of practitioners of the art of photography, which at least begins with the actual particles of light entering the lens, an analog for the human eye, although the image may be manipulated in creating the final result. A local artist who is so “emerging” that he is just mounting his initial show at Art Access Gallery, Troy Hunter’s work isn’t quite like anything created by any other photographer.

This uniqueness is largely a result of his photographic “method,” informed by a neurological disorder he suffers from called “essential tremors” which causes his hands to shake uncontrollably. A landscape architect, he is very aware of visual design and compositional elements, and even steadies the camera with both hands to take shots for work. But in his artistic work, he just points with camera set on automatic and lets whatever will happen, happen.

The results are a dizzying blend of colors and shapes—most taken at night—created by subjects like neon signs, Christmas lights, fireworks or astronomical bodies like the moon and Venus. One looks like a Spirograph drawing, with circles inside of circles. A shot of fireworks resembles a jellyfish underwater. “People tell me they look like all kinds of things,” he remarks.

When he tried to capture the fireworks at Liberty Park, the shot didn’t work until he got within a block of the site where they were being ignited.

The tremors take a different shape each time, sometimes resulting in geometrical patterns or letters of the alphabet. A shot of icicle lights resembles shooting stars.

Parking lights at the airport resemble UFOs taking off. A ghostly fog unaccountably lurks in the background of some pieces.

From thousands of images, he boiled down his collection to 33 to fit in the gallery space. Never having hung a show before, he notes that he used architectural drafting software to plot the location of each piece on the walls.

He used to discard these shots taken on a Sony digital camera but showed a friend one of these dazzling images and, Hunter says, “He threatened me if I ever erased another one, he’d ‘take care of me.’” Local architect Ray Kingston was fascinated by the complexities of the images, seeing almost mathematical equations, Hunter recalls. Kingston suggested that Hunter should exhibit the works.

This first exhibit has been in the works for two years, since Hunter initially submitted a proposal to Art Access, a nonprofit that provides arts services for people with disabilities.

“Ruth Lubbers (of Art Access) has been very encouraging to me,” he notes. “Troy has taken his disability and used it for something extremely positive and original,” Lubbers says. “He brings an artist’s eye to something that started out accidentally.”

The native Salt Laker travels a lot and gathers images from all over, like one of the deck of a cruise ship in the Caribbean. His steady photography is accomplished as well, and a shot of a boat at dock in Grenada is due to be featured in a travel book. One of his more recognizable images is the rose window from the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., where Hunter traveled singing with the Salt Lake Men’s Choir. Others stand out vaguely, like the lights outside the Century Theatres in South Salt Lake.

Hunter says his landscaping work is a way of helping people realize their dreams, and his photography is doing the same for him. “My mother said that, even as a child, I always carried a camera around,“ he recalls. Although his condition is hereditary, and his father also suffered from it, his mother once told him she thought it was caused by drinking coffee.

“I’m not giving up my coffee,” he says.

Art Access Gallery
230 S. 500 West
Feb. 20-March 13