Behind the lens of a Digital Identity

  • Jess Fawcett
(Originally published on the Journal, 14th June 2016)
Our latest UMd project focuses on the concept of digital identity. Shot by Canadian photographer Hudson Hayden, models clad in our new cotton t-shirts and sweaters inhabit a ubiquitous city where past, present and future co-exist, blurring the boundary between digital and analogue.
So Hudson, this was your first foray into fashion photography. How did it differ from your usual work?
Yeah, I’m not a fashion photographer per se - I usually shoot portraiture, still-life and architecture. As a Bachelor of Fine Arts [studying Photography at Ryerson] all of my work has a fine arts sensibility, or at least the same theories applied to it. A lot of typical fashion work has this stilted, serious quality and I knew I wanted to avoid that with the UMd shoot. I wanted to add a bit of playfulness and somehow make it my own. I think it's cool that Unmade brought me on without having a big fashion book to show. Their attitude was, ‘We like what you do, we like your sensibility - let’s see how you can apply it to fashion.’

And on the flip-side, how does it relate to the rest of your work?
There's a lot of advertising language being used in the UMd shoot and I definitely reference that in my personal work as well. There's a syntax to it, like when you look at a commercial and think about how it works on you. I’m taking those elements and playing with them, poking fun at them, using them for my own purposes. Also, I loved that UMd suggested that we mix genres for the campaign. They wanted architecture and still life as well as the studio stuff which is exactly what I do in my personal work, so it was a really good opportunity for me to play and be creative as if I were shooting for myself.
How did you approach the shoot?
Well, UMd came to me with the project’s theme, of digital identity, and the idea of technology and how people interact with it. I didn't want that to translate into sterile futurism but I also didn't want to go full retro. I think that's a little bit tired, too literal. I wanted to achieve a balance - to create this weird in-between world, taking elements of the past, present and future and mashing them together, a world in which people interact with vague technology in a vague ways. I was inspired by a lot by the early days of the Internet - dreamy 3D-scapes, spheres, cubes - the late 80s, early 90s, when all of those ideas were really starting to ramp up.

Kind of like Tron and The Lawnmower Man?
Yeah, and films like Johnny Mnemonic, when the idea of a digital future was very new and exciting and therefore totally outlandish. When I was walking around the city [of London] looking at architecture, I was trying to reference that, or create a similar kind of world. Prototypical cityscapes, corporate art, man-made waterfalls- really any architectural details that felt either slightly dated or vaguely futuristic. Although I've been to London once before, this was my first time photographing the city. Not being familiar with the city was an advantage - it was easier to create this in-between world, as everything felt new and I could piece together chunks as it suited me. I'm really hoping that when people look at the photos there's not too much instant recognition of place, because I didn't want that. I wanted the setting to be hypothetical and the models to be its protagonists, interacting with their strange digital technology and wearing Unmade sweaters. I very rarely use narrative - even one this vague - in my personal work, so it was fun to toy with that a bit.
Any favourite images from the shoot?
Maybe the shot of the model [Ellinor] braiding electrical cables. She's interacting with the technology in a very natural, human way but the action itself is a bit absurd so it has this neat, off-kilter aspect to it. It really sets the scene I think. But for me it’s difficult to talk about single images as it’s much more about how all the images group together and play off each other. This is a major theme in all my work.

The campaign is about technology, yet you shot the campaign on film rather than using a digital camera. Why was that?
It’s a comfort thing for the most part- I learned on film. I was totally new to photography when I started school so I didn’t have a background in digital like a lot of the students. They taught us analog in first year so that’s just what comes naturally to me. That aside, I also prefer it’s aesthetic. For me there's a certain sadness if you get a really great photo and it's not on film. I’ll always think, 'Ah, it's good, but imagine if it was on film.’ It’s got a certain richness to it that’s tough to fake. I’m by no means a purist though. Digital has its set of advantages and they’re certainly not limited to convenience.  It has its own particular aesthetic, I just don’t find occasion to use it as often.

Want more?
See a selection of Hudson's work on his website and create your own personal stripes at


Photography: Hudson Hayden // Styling: Madeleine Østlie // Set Design: Scarlet Winter // Hair: Ashley Lambe // Make-up: Roberta Kearsey // Models: Ellinor and Michael @ Nisch Management