Jul 05, 2023

Hunter makes poetic photos of the female experience

Marina Hunter has grown a loyal following for her photographic art, much of which centers around themes of feminine angst. Though she’s constantly pulling inspiration from iconic artists like Sofia Coppola, Sylvia Plath and Lana Del Rey, the resulting artwork always boasts Hunter’s recognizably colorful and surrealist style.

“I’ve always been into creating,” the Johns Island resident said in a recent interview.

Hunter has been careful to maintain her artistic aesthetic even when working commercially. That kind of distinctive vision has opened doors to shoot recently for publications like Playboy and Inked Mag. She said she also loves to work with musicians, a recent career highlight being a photoshoot with Corey Taylor, the lead singer of the nu metal band Slipknot.

Hunter often creates elaborate sets and styling for her photoshoots, depicting her subjects as fairies, mermaids, cowboys and more.

“I won’t do a shoot unless it’s like 90% my creative control,” she said.

She said she also loves to recreate “badass female characters” through her Halloween-themed series. Examples include a photoshoot of her sister as Carrie, or her best friend as Jennifer Check from the cult classic, Jennifer’s Body — a film which has become known for its opening line, “Hell is a teenage girl.”

“I’m starting to plan Halloween already,” she said with a laugh. “My husband thinks I’m crazy.”Hunter said she finds and leans into artistic narratives in the editing stage especially. Some is done digitally, but her favorite way to edit is to physically print and collage her photos into more complex compositions. More recently, she’s incorporating words into the works, too.It’s not surprising then that Hunter, who grew up on Hilton Head Island, first started making art by writing poetry.

“In high school, I would do a lot of mixed media pieces, and I was really into poetry. When I took an intro to film class in college, I fell in love with expressing myself through that medium.”“And sometimes the photos will start with a poem,” she said. “My art is definitely ruled by my emotions. … It’s my therapeutic outlet.”

On June 17, Hunter celebrated the opening of her photo studio on Wappoo Drive in James Island. She held a well-attended opening reception complete with a tarot reader and a snake for photo-ops.

She’s been working towards opening her studio for the last two years. She said after graduating from College of Charleston in 2018, “I knew I wanted to keep pursuing art, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do, because a lot of photography was wedding photography and making money off of that kind of thing. And I knew I didn’t want to do that, so I wasn’t really sure where to go from there.

“I was only shooting once every few months, and I just felt so disconnected from my art. When Covid happened, I picked up my camera again.”

It was 2020 when she also started posting regularly on TikTok, a strategic effort to get eyes on her work.

“[Posting on TikTok] is like a full-time job itself. It has its pros and cons,” she said. “But also it’s definitely how I found all my clients and got these cool opportunities.”

A turning point for Hunter, she said, was when she shot rising musician and TikTok star Nessa Barrett.

“Nessa Barrett DM’d me and was like, ‘Can you come to LA and shoot me?’ That was definitely the beginning of it.” And since, working with musicians has become one of Hunter’s favorite things — it’s a chance to use her skills as a translator between poetry and imagery.“I like to find that overlap between their music and my idea of imagery for it.”

These days, Hunter splits her time working between Charleston and Los Angeles. She’s passionate about connecting with other creatives, but especially in Charleston — that’s another reason why she opened her James Island studio space.

“At the opening, it was really cool to actually meet people that I talk to on Instagram. When I go to bigger cities, there’s hair and makeup artists, stylists and models. And here, I just don’t feel like the community is as big. But then when you get everyone together, you can get so inspired by that sense of community.”

She plans to host female artist nights and other events at the studio in the future.

Hunter started looking at potential studio spaces two years ago, but it wasn’t until a serendipitous moment in November after the birth of her son that she found the right spot.“I was literally driving home from the hospital after giving birth. My husband and I looked over and there was a big ‘Rent Me’ sign. I was like, ugh, I don’t want to do this right now, but I love that location. … Literally two days later, I was meeting with the landlord.

“She was like, ‘How old is your baby?’ I’m like, ‘Two days.’ She’s like, ‘Are you sure you can do this?’ I’m like, ‘Yep, it’ll be fine.’”

Hunter said this year has been a massive transition — becoming a mother and a business owner in the same year is not for the faint of heart.

“It’s been a struggle,” she admitted. “I had really bad postpartum depression. And it was three months of feeling like a piece of me was missing. I felt like I was never going to create again.”

Over the past few months, though, she’s finding the balance of her new life as a working mom.“It’s been great to leave the house, come here and carve out time to be as creative as possible before I go home and be a mom. But the beginning was really hard. I felt very disconnected from that side of myself. And that’s something I’ve been channeling into the work recently.”

Self-portraiture has always been a staple in Hunter’s practice, but her current project will be her most personal yet: a series of self portraits documenting her transition from girlhood to womanhood to motherhood. She even uses words from her diaries — from high school to present day — to imbue the works with personal narratives.

“There was a point where I could feel myself starting to do shoots specifically for TikTok trends and things like that, and I started to feel disconnected again. I pulled away from it, and I was like, ‘I’m just going to create art that I want to create. And then if people don’t like it, that’s fine.’ I always want the vision to come first.”

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