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For Michelle Grace Hunder, a career in photography was something she’d never considered – until a gift from her husband inspired her passion of capturing moments. When she unwrapped the DSLR camera, what soon followed was a competitive photography competition between the couple and the realisation that Michelle was a natural. By chance Michelle found her niche photographing Australian hip hop singers, and has put together Rise, a 112-page photography book filled with 118 portraits of 182 artists to showcase the musicians and work she’s done in the industry.
“I’ve always loved music and I used to be a musician as a kid. I guess by a way it’s sort of still interconnected without me actually playing anything. I love surrounding myself around musicians who I find their talent just awe-inspiring. I started tagging along to gigs and I really enjoyed gig photography,” she said.
DylanJoel MistressofCeremony
While it’s hard to fault Michelle’s images, she wasn’t always so precise with her photography. When studying it in Year 9 she found that analogue cameras just weren’t for her, and a particular class project springs to mind when she looks back on her early introduction to photography.
“I picked this basketball player and I thought I’d do him shirtless. I had this image in my head of a black and white classic night shot with him holding the basketball under his arm,” she says. “I had this vision but I was so focused on nailing this shot that everything was completely out of focus. So the lighting was great and the mood was great but everything was completely blurry.”
Clearly Michelle’s photography skills were there at an early age, but after several career changes weren’t truly harnessed until she began gig photography several years ago. Today, after having worked with such huge names, you’d think the most famous would also be her favourite ones. But the photos that she loves the most are the ones with an unusual story behind them. The shoot she did with the Thundamentals was one such moment. With a tight schedule playing Falls festival and touring, Michelle didn’t think she’d get the chance to meet up with them, but a lucky overnight stay in Melbourne meant she could.
GreyGhost(Left) Mantra(Right) - Photo by Michelle Grace Hunder
“It was about 10.30 at night and I went out to this dodgy airport hotel they were staying in. I looked around, I work with natural light so that’s my thing, and it’s pitch black. There’s no light and there’s just this little hotel and nothing great about it at all,” she says.
“I didn’t know if I could make anything work but we went for a little wander around and ended up finding another section of the hotel where they were doing some maintenance and they had all this plastic up the back of this really long narrow corridor with this weird lighting and it just looked so great.”
Working as a photographer Michelle constantly finds herself surprised by the great shots that can come out of nothing and the unique ideas that are put forward by the artists themselves. While photographing Brad Strut, she found that nothing seemed to be working how she wanted it to be. That was when Brad suggested the photograph be taken of him eating gelato in front of a bright pink ice cream van. The resultant photo creates a surprising contrast for such a hardcore rapper, and is exactly why Michelle loves it.
RemiSensibleJDutch (Photo by Michelle Grace Hunder)
Portrait shots of artists may be one of Michelle’s main loves, but it all started around gig photography, which is an experience unlike any other and something she wouldn’t want to live without.
“I had a moment recently where I was shooting a Bliss n Eso gig. I was on stage with I think Seth Sentry and I just had this moment of overwhelming honour to be sharing the stage,” she says. “There’s 10,000 people there and to be able to share that space with an artist, for me, I find that a very sacred space. That’s the performer’s space and the fact that I’m allowed to share that is a very humbling experience, and you’re so blown away.”
To most of us Michelle would be sharing the stage with a famous rapper, but a lot of the time they’re actually her good mates. During the course of her career she has landed friendships with many of our well-respected rappers.
“I guess I don’t think of them like that because they’re just my mates,” she says.
To help celebrate her photography book Michelle and a handfull of her mates, including Remi, Briggs, Mantra, Grey Ghost and various others, will tour Australia for a few select shows.
RISE“I feel awesome to be able to do a tour and take my friends along and be able to pay them. I’m so passionate about what they do and those artists in particular. In the past couple years they’ve been really good supporters and friends of mine, so it means that I’m giving back to them as well,” Michelle says.
Michelle’s photo documentary book of the Australian hip hop scene can be pre-ordered on risemgh.com.
When&Where: The Espy, Melbourne – August 21 & The Karova, Ballarat – August 28
Written by Amanda Sherring, photos by Michelle Grace Hunder
(Pictured: Dylan Joel & Mistress of Ceremony / Grey Ghost & Mantra / Remi, Sensible J & Dutch)