Step Into Callum Walker Hutchinson’s World Of Hyperrealism

Whether shooting Gen-Z’s favorite fashion labels, iconic celebrities, or magnetic musicians such as Lexi Jayde and Natasha Hunt Lee, photographer Callum Walker Hutchinson gravitates towards people who aren’t afraid to let their personalities shine in front of the lens. He was introduced to photography after growing tired of being an ardent gymnast—Callum recalls his older sister inspiring him to take pictures of his friends while still a freshman in high school. From there, his talents have taken him across our increasingly digital worlds, transforming his perspective of the world into something that resembles modern-day cinematics.

The New York-born, Los Angeles-based photographer, who has been taking photos for a bit under a decade now, is responsible for vividly presenting real-life moments through the fantasy worlds of his imagination. Lensing the likes of Cassie Marin, Sweet Mutuals, Gia Woods, and Olivia Rodrigo, Callum also shot Lori Harvey for PAPER and Chloe Cherry for HYPEBEAST. “My photos are fun, vibrant, maybe a bit moody, sexy. There’s definitely that sex appeal element to them, maybe in a non-traditional way.”

Among the many artists, creatives, and muses that appear in his work, Hutchinson immerses the readers in colorful scenes of harmony and surrealism that often play into their movie-like qualities through color and lighting. Currently, the photographer is working on a new photo series, slated to release later this year. He christens the series as some of his favorite work thus far, stating, “I’m just really proud of them and they capture what I want to say as an artist.”

Below, we speak with Callum Walker Hutchinson about the “perfect” subject, working on projects versus close-knit groups, and looking back on his past work among other topics. Read on for our conversation.

In the past, you mentioned using photography as a way to reckon with the real world through your fantasy and imagination. Where do you typically draw inspiration from these days?

I find a lot of inspiration in my movies. Sometimes watching one scene in the movie can spark a whole idea. Listening to music allows me to envision a music video and from that in my head, I’ll pick out stills from this made-up thing. Even the world around, both good and bad. There are always things happening that you’re just like what the fuck and I can’t stop thinking about this and I don’t know why. It turns into how can I sort of explain this in my language? That’s the really fun part about any sort of genre of art.

Translating sort of everything around you into this like language that is yours. As general as it is, I am pretty much inspired by everything and people on the streets. I’m not really closed off to anything, sometimes it’s the most random thing. I’m thinking about this thing differently and now I can think about it in the context of photographs. You just never know! 

Elsewhere you’ve also worked with a number of fashion labels such as Naked Wolfe and EB Denim to name a few. How much of your creative process is altered then versus with individuals or close-knit projects?

I mean it depends, sometimes it’s quite similar. I would say more consistently than not, if I’m working with a brand, they will usually have someone on their team who handles creative direction. Then it does sort of become a collaboration between the creative director, but the majority being like, “this is what we want, how would you do it?” Then, with an artist, some of the artists I’ve worked with have creative directors and again it’s like that sort of collaborative process bt guided by the creative director. Other times, it’ll just be like here’s a song, what are your main ideas and then it becomes a more full-body experience.

Both are usually collaborative, I’m collaborating with the creative director versus I’m collaborating like directly with the artists themselves. More times than not, brands have an idea of “this is definitely what we’re going for “and I feel like artists are usually just a bit more, “here’s the song, would love to know if you have ideas” and then I’ll make a deck for them. I think both have their pros, I guess if I had to choose I definitely like building things up from like scratch. I think there’s just something really rewarding about feeling connected to all parts of it but I also really love figuring out how I can like make someone else’s ideas come to life because it’s never too rigid.

Maybe I’m just a little bit of a control freak when it comes to that stuff. I do like the conceptualizing of an idea, but honestly, it’s also nice when someone has a concept. It takes the pressure off a little bit and you can just focus on executing it as opposed to all the other stuff. I like both but if I have to choose I’d say probably doing it from the ground up.

Earlier this year, you photographed Chloe Cherry, who has recently become fashion’s it-girl following her appearance in Euphoria, can you tell me the story behind these photos?

Ace is fantastic, I met him early on when I moved to LA. He’s just a super creative person and we worked really well together. He hit me up at the beginning of February and was sort of just like, “Hey do you want to do this? I was like of course, Chloe Cherry is sick and I’d love to that.” He came to me with the concept and luckily I feel like creatively we’re so on the same page about what we love to make so I never feel like I have to adjust to fit my vision into his world or vice versa. It was just a really great shoot, it was super collaborative but I’d definitely say he was the creative vision between all of that also, he gives me a lot of freedom to create.

It was a really great experience, and Chloe Cherry is awesome and she’s just so funny. She’s a really great model to shoot and I shot her again recently for this personal project that I’m working on. I reached out to her and again she was just such a pleasure to work with. Honestly, she’s really great model, and going through both shoots, it was just an endless amount of great pictures. That was just one of those really nice things to work on. 

Given all the different archetypes you’ve worked with in the past—models, musicians, actors, and influences—how would you describe the “perfect” subject or model?

It’s hard to describe. I would say just having a willingness to not be too pretty. My favorite people to work with are the ones who will do something that’s like, “okay, yeah that didn’t work” and then immediately after do something else. It’s like there’s no rigidness, the weirder something feels, the better it comes across. People who have really good body awareness are super expressive and can try a bunch of stuff. Those are my favorite people to shoot because you get those moments that are so special you know what I mean? It feels really emotive and like this moment captured can really evoke a character.

I also feel like it’s fun because you have no idea what you’re going to get. You look at the selects and the range just allows for so many different moments which is good and bad because at the end you’re like know the fuck do I choose because it’s like this selection of photos is giving one thing and then this is giving another. Those are my favorite people and I just feel like you can’t be embarrassed to look a little ridiculous at times. The crazier you feel right now, the better I promise its going to look. Who cares if we take six hundred photos and in eighty of them you’re looking crazy because we’re here to eventually get five good photos.

With that in mind, media frequently obsesses and glorifies celebrities in a way that can sometimes predicate this assumption that they’re people without flaws or don’t mistake. How often have you worked with someone and they’ve been completely different than what the Internet depicts?

Definitely, I don’t know if I’ve really worked with someone yet that has that intensive of a fan base where the public perception of them is so huge. There have definitely been people who’ve surprised me, but there’s never this thing where I’m like, “holy shit.” I feel like I’m not quite there yet in terms of my client list of shooting someone who you’re like, “I know so much or I think I know so much about your life and now I’m meeting you and it’s like obviously so different.” I would be interested for when that time comes because that’s sort of what really draws me to like shooting celebrities.

You know if someone has a super prominent expectation of who they are as a celebrity just because of social media, I think the fun part is how can we photograph them in a way that like completely goes against that. How do we photograph them in a way that sort makes everyone look at them and be like, “wait what?” Celebrity photography is just like you meet these people where people don’t actually know them but there’s such an opinion of who they are and what their brand is that you really do have the ability to—if you do it right—flip that into something so crazy. I don’t have I have any clients like yet, not now at least.

How often do you look back on some of your older shoots?

Occasionally I’ll go back and browse through. It’s funny to me to sometimes go back to stuff I was making in high school. You sort of see the seeds of the vision where it is now. I think it is nice to be like, “okay, these things that I’m doing now were sort of like always wanting to come out.” I just have the creative vocabulary to execute it better. So yeah, occasionally I do and usually, it’s a positive experience and other times it’s like, “what the fuck was I doing?” I think looking back is always in one way or another just a good way to see your growth.

Can you talk about what processes you use to give your photographs their cinematic quality, whether it be the deep rich colors or emphasis on lighting and shadow?

Honestly, figuring out my post process has been the biggest journey for me creatively. I always knew what I wanted my photos to look like, I just really didn’t know how. It’s essentially been years of trying this and figuring out what looks good and what doesn’t. I played around with different styles and would like it for like two months then decide that I don’t like this anymore. I think having really deep rich colors and darkish, rich black colors looks nice and there’s not too much contrast.

Five years ago, everything I was editing everything in black and white, and now it’s like I could never imagine making a photo that way now. I have tried it, but it feels like a waste. A part of my work is this hyperreal quality that doesn’t feel completely like a fantasy world. A big part of that is having these colors in the photograph that obviously do look like they exist, but those colors and shadows are not naturally like that. It’s very hyper saturated and I think just trying to maintain that. 

Reflecting on your past work, what is your favorite series of photos, whether it be present or from years ago?

I don’t even know if it’s my favorite in terms of it being my best work, but I did this video series during COVID called “Summer On The Moon” and it was basically these short music videos based around this playlist that I was listening to a bunch. I was doing a lot of shrooms and listening to this five-and-a-half-hour playlist. I had nothing better to do and this video series was the first time I had ever done video. That’s a big piece of work that I look back on and I made it with all of my friends here in the city and on Long Island. It’s weirdly the thing that got me to LA, it’s the spark of where I am now so it’s special to me.

When I watch it, I feel so nostalgic. That’s definitely up there in that sense, it makes me feel really good. I love something so deeply for three weeks and then I get over the minute I fall in love with the next photo. I feel like I’ve mentioned it a million times, but I’m working on this personal project and I’ve got a long way to go before it’s finished. I’ve got five images so far but I feel like I will probably look back on this and it could maybe replace the “Summer On the Moon” stuff. Even the five photos I have, I’m just really proud of them and they capture what I want to say as an artist. When that comes out, it’ll be my favorite for however long that lasts. 

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as a photographer?

I would say patience and really learning to listen to your gut. Find that thing in your work that makes you happy and makes you excited to like keep making more work and chase that. Have whatever that is be the standard for all of your work. If you make something and it makes you feel completely different than anything you’ve made, have that be your new standard and just aim towards that. A lot of this industry is timing and photographing the right person at the right time for the right thing. You just have to really hold on and keep going.

It’s frustrating. I’ve talked about it before, it’s such an over-saturated market that it does feel really intimidating of how do I ever make a splash where are a million photographers on Instagram and in the world. You’re not going to be the most special, you just have to really make work that feels authentic to you. That’s when people start paying attention because everyone has a different experience and something different to say in one way or another.

Elsewhere in photography, art director and photographer Ella Mettler intertwines her natural surroundings with surrealism.

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