Life Through Glitched Lenses-A Conversation with Hawkward

If art is measured by how closely it expresses the inner world of the artist, Hawkward’s photography tips the scale. Using the glitch method, Hakward is able to give the viewer her unique perspective of the world (Broken, noisy, yet somehow beautifully unique), while using to her advantage the obstacles life has thrown her way. Here, we talk about Web3, juxtapositions, and the many languages of art.

JP: Let’s jump right into it and start with the name “Hawkward” which is a mashup of two different things; hawk and awkward. When people think of hawks they think of graceful predators, the opposite of awkward. What was the thought behind combining these to describe yourself?

Hawkward: That’s interesting because I’ve never thought of those two things as opposite, but my art often explores the juxtaposition between seemingly opposing things. I first encountered the “hawkward” pun from a simple meme of an awkward-looking hawk. But “hawkward” extends beyond the meme for me; it is a nod to my love for birds, and nature in general. I went to college at one of the best places in the world to study birds. As a biology major, I took full advantage of the opportunities I had to learn about and help birds. I volunteered for the raptor program where I delved into avian husbandry, which would eventually lead to my job as a bird keeper at one of the largest accredited facilities in the United States. The “awkward” part of my name is more apparent if you interact with me in person. As a neurodivergent, socially-awkward kid growing up, I was always trying to fit in. I found that wearing this on my sleeve instead of hiding who I was empowered me to grow more than I’ve ever thought possible. So I made it the first thing you know about me–I’m awkward, and I like birds.

JP: You’re a multidisciplinary artist. What was the first form of art you dabbled in?

Hawkward: I gravitated toward traditional art from a young age, doing shows with my peers, but I really became the most infatuated with photography. I was always borrowing my mom’s camera until I got cameras of my own. Film or digital — it didn’t matter. With digital photography, I pursued more creative pieces. I remember using the editing software that came with our printer to adjust the hues of my images to unnatural, vibrant colors, which deeply influenced my art and glitch photography later in life.

JP: Why is glitch photography your concentration?

Hawkward: The concept of “glitching” has appealed to me from a young age. As a gamer, discovering glitches brought me so much joy (when it didn’t interfere with playing). There is something jarring about glitch art that pulls one out of their immersion. The deeper I explored it, the more I related to it as a queer person with a chronic illness. I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome hypermobility type which in short makes my joints connected by looser and more fragile connective tissue than those of a typical person. The symptoms of nerve damage impact many of my senses. My glitch photography is a way of portraying how I experience the world. Broken, noisy, yet somehow beautifully unique. Additionally, glitch art has a rich queer and trans influence. Perhaps because we are deemed broken by much of society yet we demonstrate our beauty of breaking norms and defying how things are “supposed” to be. Glitch is very much like a counterculture to me, and at many points in my life, I’ve found myself taking the road less traveled.

JP: What’s the process of glitching your photographs, is there a certain type of photo that looks better glitched, or do you work with everything you shoot?

Hawkward: That’s the beauty of my work. I use a circuit bent camera that I allegorically reference as my body. Just as my body is broken, so is my camera. The glitch cam was created by one of the most highly regarded artists in the glitch community, Dawnia Darkstone (@letsglitchit) who happens to also be queer and have chronic pain. She devised the glitch cam when her conventional equipment was too much of a burden to her, just as mine had become. Dawnia takes small toy cameras and solders connections on the sensor which produces the glitch effects. When I discovered this camera, I immediately knew that this is how I wanted to explore glitch and rediscover my love for photography that chronic pain had taken from me when shooting wildlife had gotten too hard on my body to continue. The glitching process doesn’t work well for every subject. Achieving the right balance between form and abstraction is the main goal when I’m shooting. The effects are a lot more pleasing and interpretable when strong contrast is present, which has been a bit of an adjustment from the purpose of shooting to maximize detail in wildlife photography.

JP: You’ve had multiple projects in the Web3 space. How did you get started in Web3?

Hawkward: To preface, I’d say I don’t really consider myself to have projects, as I am very selective about who I collaborate with and recognize that a large undertaking such as an NFT project is probably beyond my stress tolerance.

I discovered crypto in 2017 through a friend I met at a local reddit meetup. I didn’t understand the technology back then and didn’t fully grasp its potential. In January 2021 another friend signed me up for a free airdrop that was worth $400 and crypto caught my attention again. At the time, I was unemployed and living back home with my parents through the pandemic. Zero sense of direction in my life because I functionally could not hold a full time job due to the nature of my chronic pain. Crypto jumped out as something I already had experience with and I had dabbled in forex (foreign exchange) trading years prior which prepared me to understand how to evaluate markets. A few weeks back into crypto I discovered the potential of NFTs. There was a whole world of crypto art that I had been missing while failing to establish my art in more traditional spaces! As soon as I grasped the technology I knew how empowering Web3 could be for not only artists, but for marginalized groups, and I set out to learn as much as I could about this field.

JP: How important do you think Web3 is for artists, both new and established, moving forward?

Hawkward: I found a community that finally valued digital art the way I did. When I discovered that art and crypto can be combined in such a neat way, I knew I was where I needed to be. I witnessed artists finding empowerment in cutting out middlemen and finally being paid their worth. I had struggled for years to make a living as a Web2 artist. It was practically impossible to make a decent wage, especially facing the unpredictability of chronic pain. I had to drop out of gallery shows because it was just too physically painful on me the last time I had an opening. I hope that Web3 sets the standard for artists to be respected and compensated fairly and that we continue to support artists who can’t necessarily have much of an IRL presence. I hope even the artists that can’t or don’t want to make NFTs can benefit from the art community here taking a stand and demanding better treatment.

I am also a bit of a museum nerd so I have to acknowledge that blockchain and decentralized metadata hosting are an art historian’s dream. The archival potential of the blockchain is quite overlooked.

JP: Is photography your favorite medium, the one you’re best at, or both?

Hawkward: Photography will always have a special place in my heart, but it’s impossible for me to choose a medium. I’m a dabbler and a lifelong learner. I love to learn about different art movements and techniques through a hands-on approach. Photography really stoked my creative fires, but I tend to credit traditional art forms — such as drawing and painting — for teaching me how to see the world mindfully. Drawing taught me how to get to know my subject, and my biology background helps with that when I draw animals. I often use my own photography as reference images for drawings and paintings which is another fun way I combine media. It’s more special to me to be drawing or painting an animal I have a memory of encountering.

JP: What inspires you to make art?

Hawkward: I think the reason I am multidisciplinary is because I have various sources of inspiration. Each medium is a different language I use to speak. When do I use which? What happens when I blend each language? My wildlife art is driven by my deep love for the natural world, a longing for ecological balance. I enjoy reflecting upon memories I captured when I took my photos. My abstract work and glitch photos are more for personal healing. I want to communicate the things I find hard to put into words. When I publish, it’s me telling what’s important to me. I don’t publish as often as the average artist because my work is so personal to me. I’ve spent decades making art for myself and now that I finally have a platform, I have to think about how I want to broadcast myself. The art I create to heal is sometimes too personal or precious to share but I’m working on getting better at that. I view art as a form of communication — a global conversation.

JP: What impact do you hope your art has on the world?

Hawkward: As our lives become more digital and isolated from nature, we forget about what’s outside. Species are non-fungible and irreplaceable. I want to inspire others to care about what we have before it’s gone because nothing will change if no one cares. With my more personal, conceptual pieces, if I can somehow communicate my suffering in a way that makes someone feel understood, or less alone, I’ve done my job. Disability forced me to be realistic and give up on a lot of my dreams, so I’m rebuilding my ambitions one step at a time. My goals right now are humble. To inspire others to do art, love nature, and learn lessons I had to learn the hard way so they don’t have to.

JP: 10. Going forward, how do you see yourself growing as an artist?

Hawkward: I adopted a pretty slow pace for my first year in NFTs. I wanted to really experiment and get to know the ecosystem and the community here. I basically transitioned from catering my art to an audience to make sales to ditching the Instagram formula and finally pursuing the art I want to do. Right now, that’s rigorous self-study into concept art which I knew I would never have a career in so I didn’t spend my precious time exploring. Now I have the liberty to express all the wild concepts that float through my head, and I’ll be pouring my love of nature into that as well. I like to keep an open mind in my outlook because nothing brings me more joy as an artist than to just freely explore all the ideas that come into my head. I have no idea what the art I make five years from now is going to look like, but I would much rather have that openness than commit to a single recognizable style. This may not be conducive to having a bestselling collection but I am curating collectors and colleagues that support wherever my art career may take me.

You can find Hawkward here: https://twitter.com/HawkwardArt

AND HERE!: https://www.instagram.com/hawkwardart/

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