Beginning her career in professional photography just three years ago, Michelle Grace Hunder is now considered one of the most revered Australian urban culture photographers.
Nearing the release of her highly anticipated photographic book-RISE, a detailed insight of her personal journey into the world of Australian Hip-Hop, Michelle also spreads her creativity prowess into a number of different avenues, showing an agile versatility – from fashion, to international cultural events.
To date, her successful portfolio boasts an impressive list of musicians, models, artists and popular celebrities. After shooting with literally every major player in the Australian Hip-Hip scene, Michelle recently traveled to the United States where she worked with Internationally regarded artists such as Pharoahe Monch, Raekwon, Talib Kweli, Dizzy Wright and more.
What are your earliest memories of music?
Earliest memory was listening to Dire Straits on cassette on the way to school with my dad in our little orange mini. I must have been in Prep or grade 1. Around that time I actually started having lessons playing the Yamaha Electone (google that for a laugh) and I studied that for 12 years after that. I also played the flute, saxophone, drums and studied VCE singing. Bit of a muso from way back. I’ve forgotten ALL of it though now, (except singing in my car, very loud).
How did you first get into photography?
I’ve always liked taking snapshots at parties and stuff, and my husband bought me a DSLR for Christmas just over 4 years ago. That’s the first time I kind took it seriously and I just started shooting. It kinda spiraled out of control from there…..
What camera did you first start off with and what are you using now?
My first camera was a Nikon D5000, which I used for around a year. I then upgraded to a D7000, which I had for around 4 months before getting my current camera-the Nikon D700. I now have two of them, both inherited from my long time friend and mentor Wayne Quilliam. They’re an absolute workhorse of a camera, and especially suit really low light situations, perfect for shooting live gigs.
When did you realise you could make this a full-time job?
Funnily enough within around 6 months of starting. People actually responded to my work really quickly (which was very surprising). I had come to a bit of a career crisis, and wasn’t sure what to do next when my husband suggested giving it a go full time. I literally threw myself into it, and within a year had made a profitable business. I’m really fortunate.
Who are some of your favourite photographers and how have they influenced you?
Because I’ve never been overly into photography in the past, I never had huge photography influences. However, I guess the major one for me is Jonathan Mannion, who has basically taken almost every Hip-Hop photo / album cover that I adore. Other than that, I get influences by particular imagery from the early Hip-Hop days, rather than particular photographers…
What makes a memorable photograph?
For me it’s a connection with the artist that is really visible in the photograph. When a person drops their guard and you capture that moment, THAT makes a really special photograph. That is what I strive for in every shoot, it’s really important to me to try to get to know and connect on a level with the person I am shooting. It’s more important than anything else to me.
What makes you stand out from other photographers?
Because I am self-taught, I’m FAR from the best photographer as my technical knowledge in certain areas definitely lacks (I think). However you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone that will commit to a project and work harder than I do. My hustle game is strong! hahaha
I’m also pretty savvy when it comes to having social media presence, which I think really helps. Much of a successful photography business lies outside taking actual photos.
When you are taking photos how much instinct versus planned?
For me I would say it’s mostly instinct. I work best in completely unplanned environments. I actually get quite uncomfortable when things are too planned. Sometimes you have to, but I prefer I just be hanging out with the person I am shooting, chatting, shoot a bunch of shots. I always get my best work that way I think.
How did you come up with the idea of the RISE book?
Originally I had started a portrait series with Melbourne Hip-Hop artists as a way to help create a name for myself and start to know a few people. The actual idea to do a book came up after a shoot with Grey Ghost and Mantra (while we were eating Pizza)! I don’t think any of us had any idea how quickly the idea would spiral out of control and become this huge two-year project.
What was your favourite shoot?
Its hard to name a favourite, so many shoots were right up there. Probably the shoot with Brad Strut, we tried a few things and nothing was really working. Then we saw this Gelati van, and he suggested we take a photo of him eating Gelati. Its the most hilariously awesome photo. Brad Strut in the front of a bright pink Gelati van eating a Gelati. I love it so much! Also the shot wit the Thundamentals stands out. I thought i was going to miss shooting with out with them altogether. I had seen they had performed at Falls so I text Tuka in the hope maybe they were passing through Melbourne. It happened they were staying out at an airport hotel, so at 10.30pm I drove out to meet them to do this shoot. The hotel wasn’t the best for a photoshoot, and it was the middle of the night. Not ideal conditions. Nothing was working and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to get anything that would work. Finally we walked out the back of the hotel and found this creepy looking corridor that had amazing light, and we got this super cool shot that I love!!!
Which artists did you miss that you wished made it into the book?
Overall I’m happy with the project being a great representation of my experience with the scene over the last two years. Every single person that has influenced me personally, and the reason that I started shooting in the scene is in the book, so I’m thrilled about that. That’s what this book is about, it’s not an A-Z or a bible of Australian Hip-Hop, and if there are artists not in there, it doesn’t mean they’re not part of the scene.
There was couple of people I wasn’t able to shoot for a variety of reasons, Trem being a big one and also Mr Grevis, Delta and Pegz. Those guys mean a lot to the scene in general, so it was a bit unfortunate I couldn’t catch up with them, but that’s the way things go sometimes.
What were the biggest obstacles you faced in the making of RISE?
I think the biggest obstacle was the sheer about of shooting for one person. There are 118 separate portraits in the book. I’m not sure people actually realise how much work that is. It means spending at least an hour or so with each artist, shooting a bunch of stuff, editing the ones I think are great, getting them approved, all of that. Just getting approvals from artists is a lot of work (Rappers sometimes aren’t the best at emails.. hahahah)! Plus getting myself across most of Australia. It was literally a full time job and I think I’m most proud of the fact that I was able to do it at all! I looked at the list of names the other day and was like ‘OMG, did I actually DO all of that work? What was i THINKING?????? Hahaha’.
What do you want people to take away from it?
I’d love people to appreciate some really lovely photography – just to get a really great snap shot of a lot of current artists, as well as a few that paved the way from the start, and be able to be proud of the little scene we have created here and how much it is flourishing. It would be great if there were artists that people were not familiar with, that they then look them up and discover all the amazing talent we have in this country. I think it’s massively under appreciated!!!!
After travelling the country for the book and being heavily involved in the scene for some time what one thing does Australian Hip Hop need right now?
It just needs a more overall supportive and positive inner voice. I’m mostly sick of the debate about what ‘real’ Hip-Hop is and isn’t. It’s ALL hip hop and it’s all cool in it’s own way. That doesn’t mean we all have to like it, but everyone has their own spin on things, and people around the country are working so hard on producing quality music. I’m so passionate about RISE being a positive project that was inspired by Hip-Hop made in Australia.
Where and when will the book be on sale?
Pre-orders are available online at risemgh.com right now!!! We are going to sell online for now, and see how it goes. It will be available in a few key stores too.
What can people expect from the RISE launch shows happening in August?
Mostly I want the shows to bring communities together, to celebrate the launch of a book that highlights the diversity of our scene. The shows will have a variety of artists with different styles, so, like our fundraising show back in December, different fans of different artists can experience a range of styles by the other acts, and appreciate our home grown talent. That’s my main goal! I really want the events to be positive and a whole lot of fun!
What’s the best piece of advice ever given to you?
Just go out and shoot! Don’t worry about the technical stuff, it will come in time (and it did!)
What does the future hold for Michelle Grace Hunder?
Right now I’m focused on the tour and the roll out of the book, I haven’t planned too far ahead. Hopefully a few other international trips would be cool!
What’s your definition of Grindin’?
Working HARD and giving your all to whatever you are doing!!
Interview by Duggs