Fairy tale inspired photographer open’s exhibition at the V&A

Sonya Hurtado's Red Riding Hood

Sonya Hurtado's Red Riding Hood - Credit: Archant

Photographer Sonya Hurtado talks to Zoe Paskett about what lies behind the fairy tale happy endings

Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables in the nude. George Gershwin composed Rhapsody in Blue in his pyjamas.

For Sonya Hurtado it’s a dark room and loud music that get her creative juices flowing.

“It helps me to focus,” she says. “Music can inspire the picture I create.

“Any time I work on a project it’s inspired by a different type of music and I have to play it on repeat while I’m working.”

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Her exhibition, Tales, opens at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green on July 23, a collection of 12 photographic works that delve into the world of a child’s imagination.

The photographs, with titles such as Snow White, Alice in Wonderland and Jack and the Beanstalk, are depictions of fairy tales and children’s stories - with an edge.

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Hurtado’s work tends more towards the Grimm end of the spectrum than Disney, falling somewhere between playful and sinister.

“I have always been attached to fairy tales, not so much in books, but visually. I read a lot to my children and I can see the dark in all the stories.

“A lot of people associate childhood with being pure and lovely but I know that childhood is full of fears and anxieties and unknowns and ‘you can’t do this’ and having to accept it because the demand comes from on high.”

Hurtado has two children who feature in her collection in various guises, including Pinocchio and Cinderella.

“When I read to my kids, I always try to tell them what’s behind the story. It’s not always about the princess, it’s about what happened to the person in the book.

“I try to teach them that life is not just about success, it’s about the things they have to go through.”

Hurtado was born in Spain but moved to London in the late nineties and embarked on a photography course in Hackney, where she still lives.

Graduating with a degree in photography from Middlesex University, Hurtado has since developed her painting-like style using digital layering, lending an ethereal feel to her work.

“I love sitting in front of my computer and experimenting. I love taking pictures but I don’t think a picture from a camera is the finished product.

“It’s been a self taught process – I never know how the final image is going to look.”

Her influences include photographers Tim Walker and Eugenio Recuenco, the spirits of whom are very present in her work.

She draws inspiration from all media from painting, illustration and graffiti to whatever music she’s listening to at the time. Her work is vivid, defined and at times it’s hard to believe you’re looking at photographs.

Hurtado caught the eye of the V&A Museum of Childhood director, Rhian Harris, when she put up a photograph for an auction at her children’s school.

“It was one of those coincidences that only happen once in your life, if you’re very lucky!”

She asked Hurtado to submit a proposal of her work to the museum but, being shy, she kept putting it off until Harris insisted.

“When I first saw Sonya’s work I was struck by her emotive and atmospheric photographs,” she says.

“Her poignant and extraordinary images invite us to view the world of the fairy tales from a modern perspective. This brings to life these fables for a new generation.”

Hurtado understands this side of the stories she interprets:

“I base my work in fairy tales because they already offer this narrative of the darkness of the world.

“It’s hidden, but it’s there.”

Tales opens on July 23 at the V&A Museum of Childhood, Cambridge Heath Road

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