Member Spotlight: Laura Hanifin


Member Spotlight - Laura Hanifin

[ August 6, 2009 ]  

Are there any long running themes in your work - obsessions that you're looking to capture? If so, what are they?
The moment that makes me laugh, and I love it when something takes my breath away. That can be a sad, beautiful or funny thing. I'm kind of obsessed with pictures that capture the "un-slickness" of things. It doesn't have to be extreme. It can be a look. A gesture. Something really small but central and noticeable. Maybe it's a color. But definitely it's a kind of emotional thread in the pictures I take or look for.

In your own terms - what is the essence of a great photo?
Photographers are like comedians; timing is everything. You can learn skills like lighting, but it comes down to vision and catching the moment. Knowing what you're looking at the instant you see it. Whatever it is, if you don't get some kind of connection with your subject, it looks like a format or a routine.

What inspired you to become a photographer?
When I was a kid we got LIFE magazine and I was hugely influenced. I took my first darkroom class as a freshman in high school. But before I decided that I was a photographer, I thought I was a painter. I'd grown up drawing and painting, and so went to art school to study more history and color theory. I stopped painting by the time I was in my second year. I was very influenced by punk music and the scene, the fashion, the times, and politics. I used to shoot super 8 film, and didn't have a 35mm camera of my own until I moved to NYC after college. I assisted in still life studios, did custom printing at photo labs and kept taking pictures. That's when I learned about film stocks, color temperatures and set lighting. In about 5 or 6 years I was working in Tokyo under contract shooting kids fashion.

Name a photographer who's inspired you particularly and what is it about their work that you love?
Heroes would be the war photographers, and journalists like Sebastian Selgado because their photographs are intensely brave and have so much emotion. Inspiration comes from so many sources. Mary Ellen Mark, William Eggelston, Bruce Weber, underwater photographers like Norbert Wu. There's Danny Lyon, Anton Corbijn. The early Cindy Sherman movie stills inspired me. Writing and art works inspire me as much - I just read 2666 by Bolano and it blew my mind. I look at the paintings that Jean Michel Basquiat left behind and I still get crazy how perfect they were.

Talk briefly about a recent assignment or project that you're excited about and why.
I love shooting for Summer Stage this is my 2nd year. The programming is always stellar, the access is the best, and I really like the people I work with there. Shooting performance you really have to be present and alert. Live events keep me quick. It's physical and it's good to flex that set of skills. It's good contrast with the book cover work, which is very contemplative and mental. I've also had some pretty fun marketing events that I've covered for Mirrorball.

When you're working backstage or encroaching on people's privacy, how do you approach them?
Quietly with a big stick, no seriously. Respectfully. Whether it's on a (show) floor, backstage at fashion shows, or after a performance, you have to pick your moment and your gear has to be set. I'm direct, I make eye contact, I smile, I introduce myself, let them know who I'm shooting for and ask them to let me take the picture. I try and work quickly and gage how receptive someone is. If they'll let me, I'll move them around to get a better angle or shoot off a few more frames. If people aren't ready, sometimes I'll circle back. I don't lurk about.

In a world saturated with visual art and imagery - what qualities specifically define what you're doing?
Overall I'd like to think that people hire me because they like working with me, and they know I'll put 110% into making the idea happen. Event shooting is very physical, every situation is different, there's a lot of interaction with people, getting people to give you the shots, seeing the whole picture, getting the story. I bring a consistent sensibility in the kinds of images I take, there's a style in the way that I interact with people.

With book cover assignment it's a different sensibility. Envisioning or creating ideas starts more contemplatively, more mentally. There's reading and finding a moment that represents the book. Talking with the art director and listening to marketing. Every book cover idea is different, sometimes the image is a still life concept where I make props, sometimes I re create a scene, or it's a portrait. My illustration style is very flexible in that I let the cover image ideas drive me to where the story is.

Are you still using film at all - or have you 100% embraced the digital world?
Digital. The big difference for me is that now I'm the processor not the lab. And my computer is my darkroom.

Is there anything you miss about film?
I worked in darkrooms for a decades, printing black and white and color Cibachrome. The computer is much cleaner, but I enjoyed being in the dark more. It was kind of magical.

Name a dream assignment of yours?
I'd like to make a book series. More portraits, more traveling. I'd travel for about 6 months and take pictures.

What are you working on right now?
Besides Summer Stage, I'm taking blog pics for an Australian wine campaign. (OSA/Jelly shows and LMag/Summer Screen in Brooklyn.) and just in general really enjoying the summer.

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