Photography has always been a part of Juror’s Choice winner Dawn Hanna’s life. Her parents, avid photographers themselves, nurtured her love of the medium. “I picked up an old Brownie camera of my grandmother's when I was about 11 years old and my father gave me a Polaroid for Christmas a few years later which I still have and use. I learned how to process and print film in high school and loved it. Photography is an integral part of my every day.”
Bowties Never Stay Put
Hanna’s images exude a sense of fantasy, wavering between whimsical and ethereal. To achieve this look she incorporates tilt-shift lenses in conjunction with post-production layering techniques. “I completely give myself over to creating the image, and I am almost always surprised at what emerges. I work with tilt-shift lenses because I have found that they are able to blur the boundaries between what I am shooting and the emotion that I feel in a way that resonates with my aesthetic.” From there, Hanna works with Photoshop layers to bring the piece to its final state.
I like to explore the boundaries of starting with something that is already there and then methodically pushing it out to see how far it can go. Sometimes that involves putting elements in or taking them out of an image, altering tones and layering many foundations underneath or over an image. Just as in painting, I start with a foundation of color and texture and work up and out from there. Although I'm not a painter, I'm very interested in that particular boundary between photography and painting.
Hanna also enjoys exploring the connection between photography and language. “Certainly text and image stand on their own as individual entities but for me, it's nearly impossible to separate the two, and I value them both.” She explains that she can’t read anything without appreciating the images it conjures, and likewise she can’t view an image without imagining the story behind it. Because of this, Hanna often includes words either within or without the format of her photographs. “They flow effortlessly into one another. They are both used for communication and they are both mutable in their interpretation and that interests me.”
From her impressive body of work, one wouldn’t guess that Hanna had returned to photography recently. Personal bumps in the road forced her to step away from her art for a time. “I have come to understand the risks needed to make myself vulnerable for creating art, to understand its absolute value in my life, to allow my life to flow into my art, and to embrace the sheer joy of creating. I'm not sure I could have been fully present to that in an earlier time.” She appreciates that her time away from her creative life gave her the opportunity to grow as a person and has given her insight into her relationship with her art. Hanna is still trying to balance her personal and commercial work, prioritizing the necessities of her profession while still carving out time for personal work.
Her return to photography has also encouraged her to take her art in new directions. After stumbling upon a self-portrait challenge online, Hanna decided to experiment with herself as subject. “Using myself as a vehicle for self-expression has been one of the most liberating things I have ever done. Having the courage to put myself in front of the camera has untapped a vein of emotional depth and insight that I might never have understood had I not pursued it.” Judging by her body of work, Hanna has found success in this exploration. Despite this, she does not like to definitively define success for herself. “Success is way too elusive a measurement to stand against. There will never be a consensus on what successful art is. But if I can continue to acknowledge and push through fear or apathy or whatever life might throw my way, to create art that resonates with me, then that is the closest measurement I can draw to define success.”
Take Flight is on view at The Kiernan Gallery through March 29, 2014.