Pushing the boundries of her own relationship with religion and nudity, photographer Hannah Saunders has been a proffessional working photographer and artirst for the past five years. With fresh eyes and always questioning the status quo, Hannah opens up about her likes and dislikes of the meduim of photography and what inspires her on a daily basis.
Hey! Please introduce yourself and what you do!
Hello! My name is Hannah Saunders and I am a photographer currently based in Cambridgeshire, England. I graduated last summer from the BA HONS Documentary Photography course at The University of Wales, Newport (Which is now The University of South Wales, transitioning to a new Cardiff Campus.)
Tell me a little bit about your current project.
I’m currently carrying out the research for my next project, as it’s something that has accumulated from what once seemed disparate interests over time. It’s going to be one aspect of a larger, long-term project. This element of the work will involve creating staged/constructed portraits of notable personalities who have been involved with the site where Peterborough Cathedral stands in Cambridgeshire. It’s the run up to the 900th anniversary of the present building and it feels like the right time to celebrate the people who have contributed to its rich history and story. From Bishop’s, to Saintly Abbesses, Anchoresses, Gravedigger’s and Queens.
I’m very interested in the idea of translating history and literature into something contemporary and visual, so I’ve been spending a lot of time carrying out first-hand research to sites that have been relevant to the lives of those I want to portray in my work. Taking in the spaces they would have once inhabited or passed through, collecting recce images of how they have been represented to date, whether that be through painting, embroidery, painted glass, wood sculpture, worked silver, it’s all very useful to gather a picture of how historical accounts and even the human imagination have imagined them.
I want the people in the roles to have a connection to those they portray, an example of this is St Tibba of Ryhall, a local patron saint of falconers, a hermit, and niece of King Penda of Mercia. I managed to get chatting to a falconer the other day who was at the cathedral partaking in a heritage event, unrelated to Tibba. His wife who was working alongside him would be the ideal subject for the portrait and they have a connection with falconry and the local region, I like the idea of everything being interconnected, and I want that to be reflected in the work.
My inspiration for this work is coming from; The Nuremberg Chronicle, mixed with Talbot Masters illustrations for Boccaccio, with a little bit of Julia Margaret Cameron’s theatrical playfulness and the feel of Melies set design.
I’m stepping outside my comfort zone with this one, which really excites me, visually it’s got to be the equivalent of a photographic illuminated manuscript.
When is the best time to work to get those creative juices going?
I think it’s dependent on what kind of project you are working on. With the project I’m currently planning and carrying out first-hand research, it’s in the mornings, getting up early and spending as much time going around to little villages and locations around the surrounding areas soaking up all the knowledge I can about the legacies left by these amazing people.
When I was working on my project Karass, -a series of portraits inspired by Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Cat’s cradle’, and the idea of kindred groups of spirits- the times were dependent on peoples availability, and would have to be when the light was right, I think it depends what you’re trying to achieve, the timescale of the work or brief, and so on.
When I was making ‘And death shall have no dominion’, -a response to the Dylan Thomas poem and the impact the poet had on the physical and social landscape of Swansea and the surrounding areas, and vice versa- then I’d go and stay in Neath at my grandmothers house, get the train early in the morning to Swansea and wander round following little trail guidebooks, pointing out relevant places to his life and work, so it would just depend on who was passing through at what time. That approach demands a lot of walking and waiting so the whole day is needed to find the images.
What is it about your practice that you find so exciting and keeps you hooked?
Learning new things, learning to look at things in new ways, appreciating the world in ways you wouldn’t have even imagined before.
People have to be the most exciting thing about photography in my opinion, they are full of pleasant surprises, you never know the lives people have lived until you ask, until you take an interest in them.
I really don’t want to just churn out one project after another now, I don’t want to be a photographer for the sake of being a photographer, that really concerns me. I’m hooked because of the possibilities to communicate and visualise the world in a new way. It’s the information I have to find out to be able to create the images in the first place that keeps me enthralled by the medium. The snowball effect of everything suddenly coming together, the influence and the outcome and it just clicking.
You print with us here at theprintspace, what is your go to paper of choice?
C-Type Matte prints without a doubt!
What do you like the most about using this paper?
Sometimes I think that a glossier paper suits certain work better and helps it to stand out and pop out the paper a little better. But most of my work is suited to Matte, it just has a subtle, intimate feel.
If you could experiment with any other medium, what would you choose?
Oh this is a tricky one, there are so many that I want to explore. I’m in a band somehow too and that has been so interesting after only focusing on creating visual things, I love writing and articulating myself through words, so I’d say a play or a book, a story of some sort. I feel like you can really bring someone into a different world through the written word and let them be absorbed by it from their own perspective and understanding of the world. There is leeway there, you give them prompts and they conjure up representations in their own minds, I really like that.
Where do you get your daily inspiration?
Absorbing information, reading as much and as often as possible (especially about the history of the British Isles), wandering around churches (they are the best kind of art galleries and they are everywhere, along with other places of worship), just basically visiting spaces and seeing things that have had energy invested in them over time, looking at instagram, looking at what my friends are doing and making-they are so inspiring-, punk music, people that I meet out and about and their life stories and passion, dog walks, digitised manuscripts archived online, sculptures of faces adorning buildings, pompous marble tombs, family trees, copious amounts of chai latte’s, imagining the places I pass through as they would have been in different era’s of human occupation.
What makes you wake up each morning feeling pumped to create some new work?
The possibility of the unknown.
Are there any artists/photographers/writers/filmmakers or musicians where you have in mind when looking at creating new works?
There are always those influences that get embedded in your mind and you always will be inspired by, no matter what you’re working on, there’s obviously certain work and practitioners you look into for certain works but there are a group of people who always inform my work, because they inspire me as a person, and it’s always growing. Mine have to be;
Theda Bara, Elliott Erwitt, Hildegard Von Bingen, Gertrude Bell, Herman Hesse, Allen Ginsberg, Virginia Woolf, Diane Di Prima, Hannah Hoch, Ana Mendieta, George Melies, Siouxsie Sioux, Ian McCulloch, Ravi Shankar, The Venerable Bede, David Bowie, Enheduanna, Sappho, Kathleen Hanna, Edith Sitwell and definitley Clive Landen.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to make a career out of your given practice?
You don’t have a sell by date, it isn’t a competition, meet and talk to everyone, you never know who you might meet! Respect the people, places and objects you photograph, or what’s the point?
What’s next for you?
Lots of portraits, helping to catalog the cathedrals beautiful library, making work for Ada Lovelace day celebrations, getting all my unprocessed film developed and archiving like crazy, finding my bearings now that I’ve moved back to England over the last few weeks. I’ve also recently taken part in an archaeological dig and would love to learn more about imaging techniques relating to that area, you have to train as a field archaeologist first, but the thought of using photography for practical purposes like that gets me really excited! I’d like to employ photography in many different ways! I also got shown how to make 360 degree 3d models the other day which was so amazing, I’d like to learn more about that!
Website – www.hannahsaunders.co.uk
Twitter – @saundershannah
Instagram – @hannahlouisesaunders