Wade Hudson’s Record of Life

Issue 2 | Making Art at the End of the World

In On Photography, Susan Sontag wrote, “to take a photograph is to participate in another person’s… mortality, vulnerability, mutability.” With the dissemination of hundreds of thousands of photos every second of every single day via any and all social media platforms, it becomes almost automatic to see these images as temporary and superficial, not emotional or vulnerable. It’s nothing more than indulgence in a person’s story. The art of deliberate chronicling—and feeling—is lost. 

Enter Wade Hudson. “I take photographs to, let’s say, freeze an idea or freeze people in kind of what or how they are. And then I make them heroes in a sense,” Hudson tells me. The Jamaican-born, Toronto-based photographer and filmmaker has an unbelievable ability to capture a moment, a person’s mood or feeling so precisely and vividly in a single photograph. Hudson’s portraiture is intimate and electrifying. While he’s shooting his subjects, Hudson says he wants to feel like he’s participating without interfering, allowing for a connection to happen with a subject organically. It offers his audience to feel as close to the moment between the two as possible. 

Hudson says he usually photographs people who look like him, people he’s a fan of, outliers, too. “I find that I gravitate to people who are kind of, you know, outcasts and they’re doing really cool things.”

Looking at Hudson’s work—the people he’s recorded, places, and varying stages of life—I think about the end of the world. Dramatic, I know, but bear with me: Catastrophic thinking is, of course, unproductive and unruly; to think first of what will happen to our loved ones should the planet implode or become a river system of hot lava or any other natural disasters. We think of the lives we have lived and with whom and how, in a moment, that could all be taken away. We’re on the precipice of destruction, or so spiralling thoughts tell us.

But, in a sense, that’s motivating, especially when it comes to memory and what we are unwilling to lose. While some treasure whatever time we have left, if it’s a minute or several more millennia, the essence is that time is precious, so expend energy there. Hudson shows us why a record of life, purposefully chosen, is a powerful tool in dismal-feeling times.  

“I do think there are worlds that have already been destroyed in certain parts,” Hudson says. “We can see how that happened with a lot of the Indigenous people in Canada, for example. I’ve met people who know their world had ended. They’re taken from their parents, families, and brought somewhere that they didn’t know. When they came back, their families are nowhere to be found.” 

With photography, especially born from a sense of documenting his own small family to contextualize in the bigger frame of the world, Hudson tells me we lose a little less of those worlds that exist. While we all live on this vast, enormously diverse planet, our frame of reference is in the communities and families with whom we grow-up. So if someone passes away, as Hudson says of his mother who did a few years ago, what’s left? 

“I photograph people to be able to freeze that moment in time. Although, physically, you may and you’ll still have some form of memory or moment to be able to share and pass on, you know, wherever you are not in that state.” 

This spirit permeates Hudson’s commercial work, too. Hudson’s photographs, both commercial and not, have a deep sense of authenticity to them. He’s amassed a roster of incredible brand clients, such as Def Jam, Sony, and Universal Music, among many others. They trust his vision, his depth, what he can bring out of a person—sometimes citing his prior work in mood boards. Whether it’s Roy Woods or a mother and her children as part of his person Mother’s Day project, Hudson’s lens is pristine and honest. 

His Mother’s Day initiative is a compelling series that has real life benefits. Mothers are able to, as he says, come round to have portraits taken with their families. Here, they can go away with a physical token of this memory to pass on. 

 

This is perhaps why he is averse to Instagram. To our modern sense of sharing too much, too often to stay relevant. To keep up a speed that’s not sustainable. He doesn’t want his portraits to feel like the one hundredth out of however many; there’s an intention behind each share. Hudson knows the why, we just need to participate. The irony of social media is that, while it’s a great recording device for history, too much is lost to the sheer volume created. How can a moment stay forever when it’s pushed down the feed? 

I ask Hudson how artists can survive and make art with a looming sense of the world ending. It’s a heavy question, a philosophical one, with no discerning solution. Because the world isn’t actually ending right now, even though it feels like it.

“We live in our own world, create in our own world, and share some of what we create in our own world,” Hudson says carefully. “In some small way that may affect how people feel about the real world they live in. But I think the people I really consider geniuses do not live in this world but in a completely separate world. And they’re able to create something from nothing and just be able to take people out of their reality. You find that comforting. Being able to access different worlds to escape.”

Photo courtesy of Wade Hudson
Written by Sarah MacDonald
Photo collage by Marta Ryczko

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