SEEING AS AN EXERCISE

THE PHOTOGRAPHY
OF FRANCIS HAMMOND

An apartment in Paris, 2017.

Words by Pierre Roffe

If you are a voracious reader of art books, the chance of coming across the name of Francis Hammond is extraordinarily likely. No respectable library dedicated to themes such as architecture, interiors, art and food will ever be complete without the titles for which he has contributed to. Primus inter pares, the work of Francis Hammond has been inspiring us for a long time and the next step was of course approaching the photographer himself. In the spirit of this issue of Scala Regia, the following pages rend tribute to the pleasures of leisure and to the love for finding beauty in the ordinary things.

Do you ever find yourself in need of seeing beautiful things? Do you ever get aware of how that daily urge, that need to look out for arousing distractions every chance you get, consumes you? A need to observe something extraordinary, even if just for a few seconds, and how it must present itself gradually in newer and more fascinating ways? And is this devotional eye dance the product of some kind of external and mysterious force enticing you or, quite the opposite, would you blame yourself alone for the whole irresistible pursuit?

Knowing how to see and constantly becoming a better learner are two of the many fundamental things one needs to live happily. Let’s imagine a garden of unattended rose bushes slowly languishing and let’s imagine that from amongst their emaciated roses, blossoms one ideal rose in its outright desire to become beautiful and to inspire on the beholder a feeling of unconditional admiration.

An apartment in Paris, 2015.
Background: Dandolo by Fortuny.

Deyrolle. Paris, 2017.

This one absolutely ideal rose—dressed in her most appealing blood-red and sinuously cut velvet dress—goes however, despite her charm, unnoticed by many and the bitterest part isn’t the unfairly acknowledging of the flower but rather the fact that some have failed to search for her, missing the happiness she would have provided them.

“Knowing how to see and
becoming a better learner
are fundamental things
one needs to live happily”

During our quest for an ‘ideal rose’, many will appear in one million forms, either in quantity or variety. These ‘ideal roses’—be it the sight of Aurora coming to deliver a new day, the sadness in the eyes of a sitter portrayed 200 years ago or even those few notes that, in a particular song, speak to our core—are the signs of how life can be tolerable and the reasons compensating us for all the vulgar daily stress. Learning how to see and knowing how to do it is therefore a basic necessity.

An apartment in Paris, 2017.
Background: Impero by Fortuny.

A château in Normandy, 2016.
Background: Carnavalet by Fortuny.

Francis Hammond is someone who has undoubtedly mastered ‘seeing’. Not only he captures his ‘roses’ using his eyes but also using his camera, offering a chance for many to see what himself has seen. And at this he excels. He sees the extraordinary in ordinary things, in food, in books, in rooms, in gardens, in homes, in animals and in people. In the mundane he captures the unexpected and he does it in a way that those things captured keep their mystery and their power just to inflame unconditional fondness in the beholder.

Francis captures all the commonplaces, all the common sources of inspiration, all of those who have inspired mankind since the first steps in rational analysis—the sight of animals, trees, people and food; the concepts of home, comfort and security; the pleasure of warmth and coolness—all those things well-known to us all. Francis is nothing else than right in capturing so as there is nothing else which fulfils human happiness so much as these, for these aren’t vacuous things but highlights of the human existence. To capture such things and themes, again and again regurgitated by every artist in every age, is definitely an extraordinary, and arduous, task—for the artist has to be able to capture in the physical plane the most elaborate abstractions.

The house of Claude Monet. Giverny, 2015.

The paints and paint boxes in
Le Grand Chalet of Madame
Klossowski de Rola, 2015.
Background: Dauphin by Rubelli.

The work of Francis Hammond therefore becomes an outstanding essay on how to watch, see and observe. The technical perfection apparent in his work is something built from perpetual trial and error, a process that is accessible to all. On the other hand, looking at something and being able to, so to say, grab it and transport it into eternity in the most flattering manner is a feat that only a few can accomplish. It is the way how a click is clicked, how a snippet of time is snipped, that contains in itself the rare ability of making the dullest image come alive and talk.

Francis’ pictures carry us to incalculable situations, places, objects, hobbies and activities. As in the series of pictures that go with these words, one can sense certain stories being told: the playing of music, the desire of travelling, the sensation of flying, the fulfilment of reading, the pleasure of collecting, the sensuality of eating and drinking, the relaxation of gardening, the excitement of painting, the patience of harvesting and cooking, the amusement of entertainment and the indulgence of sleeping... A bow to leisure and pleasure.

Asked about his pleasures, Francis tells us how lucky he is to be in a beautiful place, making books of beautiful houses and châteaux across France and Europe. He has found the place where he wishes to be and the work he wishes to do. It is fair to say that a pre-existent path in photography guided Francis to the place where he now stands. Born in South London in the early sixties to parents that were both painters and ceramic potters, he was taught to walk and speak at the same time he was taught to paint and make pottery. Armed with his father’s Leica Rangefinder, it was at school that Francis inaugurated his life-long exercise of observing and capturing what he saw.

The house of Claude Monet. Giverny, 2015.
Background: Belisario by Rubelli.

Parc de Vincennes, 2015.

The house of Claude Monet. Giverny, 2015.

An hôtel particulier in Paris, 2017.
Background: Roi Soleil by Rubelli.

Later on, the bug of photography became definitely cemented by the time when Francis started working as a motorcycle messenger delivering film to photographers in central London. This helped him get to know the best professionals and very soon he became an assistant to one of them. After six months, and for fourteen years, he moved to New York where he became a photographer working on his own.

Of course to Francis, as a photographer, beauty is something that can be easily found. He has trained his eye to the extent that life and art became indissociable. He conceives art as something that is capable of evoking emotions and that being able to find beauty is something that depends only of the beholder. So if one were to remove beauty from life, existence would soon become hollow and deeply unfulfilling.

The German Embassy. Paris, 2016.
Background: Dauphin by Rubelli.

A château in Normandy, 2016.

The house of Claude Monet. Giverny, 2015.

The house of Bernard Boutet
de Monvel. Paris, 2015.
Background: Roi Soleil by Rubelli.

“Are you happy?” and “Is happiness something as easy as it sounds?” are the questions that Francis feels should be considered on top of everything. From beauty comes true love, and from true love comes true happiness. In that sense, Francis thinks that the problem of happiness is that it is, at least for him, something too easy to find. Even despite all the frustrations he has felt—the ‘withered rose bushes’—Francis feels genuinely happy—happy with the roses he holds most dearly: his children.

Like their father, his first two daughters are photographers and Francis likes to think he was the one inoculating the passion for photography on them. That, he confesses, makes him very happy. Francis’ eldest daughter has now two daughters, having introduced him to a brand new pleasure, that of becoming a grandfather with all the promises of new adventures.

In the end, in the spirit of the words of G. K. Chesterton, a favourite of Francis—“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”—photography, art and beauty are things very much worth doing and worth of enduring and seeking. Because even if badly done, these are the things that make life liveable.

An hôtel particulier in Paris, 2015.
Background: Castiglione by Rubelli.

An hôtel particulier in Paris, 2015.

A château in Normandy, 2016.

Snoopy, 2015.
Background: Figaro by Rubelli.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN
SCALA REGIA #4
scala regia magazine

Opening spread of the paper version.
Background of right page:
Donnafugata by Rubelli.

SCALA REGIA, 2020