The London based photographer shares her photographic series Ink.
Hannah, a London native, grew up surrounded by cultural institutions. Taking inspiration from these galleries and fashion publications, she started taking photographs at the age of 15 as a way to explore her fascination with the beauty of the human form. She went on to take History at university where she examined this theme further by studying the human journey and how beauty and fashion construct identities. Here, she first dipped her toes into editorial photography as the co-creative director for the prestigious Durham University Charity Fashion Show. Realising her interests laid in the people underneath the clothes rather than fashion itself, Hannah undertook a masters degree in Art History at Oxford University. At Oxford she developed her craft further by learning how to develop her own photos in a dark room. Last year she began constructing her portfolio in earnest and had her first group show at the Boomer Gallery in London.
What was the process behind these works? What did you set out to create?
Sitting at home during lockdown provided time to focus on physical materials in the world around me. Beginning with my boyfriends fountain pen, I developed a fascination with ink, and the way that ink bleeds into itself and creates 'veins' of different colours. There is a very organic quality to it that reminded me of the virus under a microscope, so I began playing with the ink in my sketchbook and sketching potential images, exploring the experience of how lockdown has affected all of us. I set out to create a portrait to document this strange period of time, but without knowing the exact emotions that would come through on the day. After lockdown, I invited my friend over as I knew I wanted to have a face to look beyond the ink. I used a sheet of clear plastic from a photo-frame over her face to drop the ink on, from there you can't plan, you just have to go with the randomness of the ink and hope!
Considering the capabilities of computer software why do you still insist on using physical sets and minimal editing? What do you think this brought out in these photos?
I think that people often forget that at its heart, photography is capturing something in the physical world. I love the craft of creating a 3D image in real life, physically pouring the ink or splashing the water or even just posing the model can be a really absorbing process, and is an intimate experience between the photographer, subject and materials. Having said this, although I do work in the darkroom, I do primarily use a digital camera and I think there are incredible ways that technology can partner with the physical world. I do use the camera settings to capture things that might not be possible, such as a blurred image or particular lighting effects. But I don't think that this technology can replace the physical experience of using materials and interacting with people, it gives an image an authentic quality, and is a fundamental part of the image making process for me. Ultimately I think that photography is uniquely positioned to be a union of technology and craft, which I try to explore in my work.
What comes first with your photographs? The image or the meaning?
It can be either - sometimes the idea for the image comes first, and the meaning is uncovered during the process or even when the final image is produced. Other times there is a specific message I want to talk about the articulation of that comes later.
What is important to you when taking a photograph?
It sounds obvious, but its important to explore all the visual elements of art - composition, colours and lighting are all crucial to any image. The meaning of the image and the emotions that come through is ultimately the most important. I always want the viewer to be able to read whatever they want into the images, so I like to make them fairly open, and not too prescriptive.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Everywhere! I know this is an unhelpful answer in many ways, but honestly inspiration can literally come from anything, colours, light, the composition of something in your flat, the people you know, the world around you. I also think that sometimes inspiration has to be actively sought after and it can be helpful to go on a walk in a new place for example, to look for inspiration. It can be a passive process, but it can and should also be active.
What advise (photography or otherwise) would you give your younger-self?
To think a little bit more about why I am drawn to the images I am creating - its great to go with your instinct and create art organically, but its also good to reflect after you have created something, and think about why that exact piece is what you are happy with, what emotions are you speaking to etc. I personally find meaning in working really hard to articulate because its so personal, and its something I am trying to do a lot more of now, so the more practice the better!
What are your plans for 2021?
I have a few projects I am working on, including some more still life imagery using inks, and experimenting in my home made dark room. I would love to begin more in-person shoots as soon as this pandemic is over! I also had my first group exhibition with Boomer Gallery over Christmas (COVID-friendly), and have started selling limited edition fine art prints on my website hannahdebson.com - watch this space!