To begin at the beginning, photographer Mia Hanson has a first memory of a camera: “While my parents were away, I sought out a 35mm film camera from a glass case and held it to my right eye; instantly, the world around me had space and definition unlike before. It was a new way of seeing, I realized.”
Today when Hanson teaches digital photography for Louisville Visual Art, she keeps this important “first time” in mind. “We’re not just taking fun pictures in class, we are learning how to see in a new way.”
Hanson’s images often discover an otherworldly quality, a view of human figures that escapes the mundane details of corporeal existence. One is tempted use the word ghost, and while it is true that a ghost might appear in a Mia Hanson photograph, we must be open to a more organic and ephemeral relationship between the artist and her subject. As Hanson explains in a 2006 interview:
“I'm always searching for the soul of my subject. As a photographer, I try to tap into some other frequency of mood and emotion that is there, yet hidden. Unlike the painter who creates from imagination, I'm fascinated with the thought of lifting the veil from our given reality.”
All art can investigate this thin place of transition between Illusion and Reality, Life and Death, posing questions about different planes of existence, if not always answering them. Photography occupies a special place in this territory, because it plays on our expectations that the camera is capturing an objective reality, when the truth is that it is another tool in the artist’s box. Even when Hanson is using natural environments, such as in “Disturbance in Central Park”, the location is suggestive of a fantasy world. The pensive pose could be anywhere in the world, and only the title ties it to a few yards from a busy Manhattan street. And the image is timeless. It looks to me like a frame enlargement from an early silent film. Look at stills from F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise for a comparison.
Hanson has lived in Stockholm but returned to the states with her partner, painter Hawk Alfredson to live for several years in the fabled Chelsea Hotel in NYC. While in residence there she, “Created portraits utilizing the light and charged energy of the hotel atmosphere while careful not to disturb or “document “ what is not entirely capable of being captured. The ghosts are best left alone.”
We can venture a guess how much the Hotel Chelsea influenced Hanson’s images, but it may a rhetorical question. If we entertain the notion of an artist connecting to other realities, then both she and Alfredson might have arrived at the Chelsea guided by unseen but always present forces. That may sound eccentric and picturesque, but, after all, we are talking about connecting to an ethereal plane.
Hanson’s work has appeared as cover art illustration for publishing houses such as Random House, Houghton & Mifflin, and Simon & Schuster, as well as magazine editorial work for Psychology Today and New York Black Book. She has exhibited internationally and is currently teaching for Louisville Visual Art.
Hometown: Santa Monica, Ca.
Education: Studied film theory and photography in San Francisco’s Bay Area before leaving to pursue a photographic mentorship with influential photographer/ videographer Matt Mahurin in NYC in the 90’s.
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Written by Keith Waits. Entire contents copyright © 2018 Louisville Visual Art. All rights reserved. In addition to his work at the LVA, Keith is also the Managing Editor of a website, Arts-Louisville.com, which covers local visual arts, theatre, and music in Louisville.