Lately I’ve been meditating on the importance of attribution and the acknowledgement of creative work, and I’ve started to wonder if maybe I chose blogging because it allows me to basically be my own watermark – prioritizing my image. That being said, I know that not everyone is as much of a barely-closeted narcissist as I am, and so I’ve been considering my artistic mirror character: the photographer.
Beyond the rise of the camera phone or that Tumblr trend of taking mirror selfies with your Canon/Nikon, maybe the frequency with which we take photos is tied to the fact that photo sharing has become practically inseparable from social media, and it’s raising the pressure to take more (and arguably, better) photos. I’ll skip the arguments about vanity to ask this: I wonder if easy access to photo-taking has done more than inspire everyone to add to the all-seeing, all-knowing nebula that is “the Cloud”—has it also made us loose our appreciation for the art of the image? And, more precisely, has it made us loose appreciation for the artist that created the image in the first place?
This is the most accurate way I can think of to express my feelings on this: if I had fur it would bristle at the thought of having “my” creative outlet basically cheapened by people who think it’s as easy as pushing a button. I wanted to get to know someone behind the camera and bring their presence to the forefront of their work.
I couldn’t have had a lovelier artist to begin with than Hana Haley, an NYC-based photographer whose dreamy, intimate photos are the kind you wish you and your friends could take (and in fact, that’s how Haley’s photography started—taking photos of her friends). Read on to find out what shapes her, and how who she is shapes her work.
On living and working in New York City
“Every day is about work and it’s about progress, and it’s really hard to forget about that in New York unless you’re drinking or distracting yourself with brunch. Of course, I love living in a place where there’s so much cultural exchange and entertainment, but it is hard to just focus. You’re pulled in 50 different directions.”
“It’s been a long learning process. When I first moved here, I really wasn’t willing to kiss anyone’s ass…[and] I didn’t really get why taking photos and making art had to be this stressful, and it was making me a little miserable…I felt super pressured to impress the designers, and so I wasn’t actually taking photos that I wanted to take, they were just making other people happy. It came down to being really honest when I’m meeting with people, and being very frank that I take photos completely based off of feelings.”
“[To] stand out as a photographer [from] the hundreds of other photographers in New York, I just try to be myself. Thankfully, I keep finding designers who end up being my friends, and those are the people I want to work with. People I have that much in common with that we’ll keep hanging out after the shoot ends.”
On her dream shoot
“I really want to photograph Britney Spears…[because] I’d love to photograph someone who basically visually smothered me in my past in a way that would erase what her life was. Also, [her celebrity] is so interesting to me because we all know she’s not very talented but fame ended up becoming her life. In my mind, she really is one of the last ‘movie stars’ in that way, that she’s a woman who had her image [manipulated] constantly.”
“At a young age, that industry had a really negative impact on me and my body image…photographing old pop stars would be a really weird opportunity for me in that way.”
On the relationship between her work and her self-image
“It was such a long process coming to terms with my body…I grew up obsessed with reality TV, and I didn’t realize that the images that were being force-fed to me didn’t represent the only kind of women that were beautiful.”
“When I started to photograph a more diverse body of women, I had a breakthrough in a way where I understood that all the different kinds of people were beautiful, but that breakthrough didn’t come back to myself right away. I would cry at lingerie shoots, and I felt so stunted because I felt that I could never be the person [I was photographing]. Now I feel a lot more comfortable because I know that it’s an issue [born from] generations of negative information, and it’s an issue that a ton of women share with me.”
On the power of creating constraints
“[I was] sent me these big frilly dresses, [and] for a long time I had been telling myself that I was done shooting dresses and super girly stuff – I’m much more interested in the human body and specifically breasts now – but I was sent the clothes and I told myself that this would be the last dreamy thing I did for a long time. I ended up having the attitude and a conviction about this being the last of those kinds of photos that I would take, [and] it ended up being such a good shoot because I had a mission that I hadn’t had in a while.”
“I think it’s really important to have a personal mission on each shoot…I recently sold my digital camera and told myself that I’m not going to shoot digital any more for a while, and I think my film photos now are just so much more focused because of that. When I take little elements away, that seems to make things better for me.”
On her approach to photography
“I think there’s a huge difference between taking a picture and photographing something. When you’re just taking a picture of something, you’re undervaluing the moment for what it is in this highly-pixelated digital box – I think iPhone photo galleries will be one of the most interesting parts of human history ever, because we all walk around with thousands of these tiny digital images of these things that we see in passing, I think it’s interesting that cell phones allow you to take pictures of things so fleetingly and so regularly— I think the job of a photographer is to pay attention to the details of everything, not just for what it is, but for what it means to them.”
“I really love photographing strangers, because when I do that I’m really trying to show how I think they may be or how I see them in that moment. It’s very voyeuristic. But if I’m working with someone more personally, like a designer or a model, I’m going to sit down and talk to them for a while before shooting. I can’t possibly know how to photograph them if I have no sense of who they are.”
On her greatest teacher
“It’s kind of a wild answer, but the teacher I had that had the biggest impact on my photography was actually an acting theory teacher. I studied acting theory in San Francisco studying the Meisner Technique, [which is] the theory that humans connect through moment-to-moment contact, and that authentic acting is based on authentic communication…we meditated on mantras like ‘be patient’, ‘be truthful’, ‘it takes 20 years to be an actor’, these things that all basically taught the idea of mastery within an art form.”
“[Meisner] didn’t understand how anyone could think that someone could wake up and think that, within a year, they would be the greatest version of themselves. He pointed out that being an artist is a lifelong profession, and that guideline was easy to transfer to my photography. Also, if I hadn’t studied the Meisner technique, I don’t think my fashion shoots would have as much of a story line.”
Fun fact: On how she taught herself German
“When I was 16, I had a huge crush on this horrible German band called Tokio Hotel…I had a huge crush on the lead singer but I was so annoyed because I couldn’t understand what they were saying in the interviews. So because I’m insane, I thought, ‘oh I know, I’ll just learn German!’ Then I ended up loving the language.”