Print of the Month

MAY: Hannah Lees

May 1, 2016

hannah lees

This month we are lucky to have the lovely Hannah Lees as our Print of the Month artist, and we’re very excited to have a photograph for the first time. Hannah is a teacher and a writer as well as being a photographer – and she is also engaged to our February artist Ryan Bird! Hannah’s print “The Ghost Ship That Didn’t Carry Us” will be in our online shop for the month of May only, and is available in A4, A3 and A2 sizes.

Hopefully you all enjoyed Hadley Donaldson’s print during April – you can check out the post about him here if you missed it but sadly his print is no longer available for purchase – these babies are truly a limited time only deal!!

hannah lees

Who are you and what do you do?

Hello, I’m Hannah. I grew up on a farm on the east coast of Scotland and then moved with my family to Waiheke Island as a teenager. I’m now based in Auckland where I teach English, string words together, and take photographs.

hannah lees

Where and how do you work?

I work at my desk and look out this window in our tiny flat in Grey Lynn. Since I moved to more film shooting, I don’t have to spend so much time editing at the computer – which is always a good thing! So where I work is pretty mobile and roaming. The library on Waiheke is a favourite place to work when it comes to processing images after-the-fact. I don’t use studio space or big lighting set-ups for my photographs, instead using natural light and the natural world as sources to draw from. Most of the time I create for myself and put it out there, but other times I do jobs for clients. If I have photographed something big like a wedding then I’ll have thousands of images to sort through and pages and pages of layouts to do for photo books. I am extremely perfectionistic and finicky (which is so often a hindrance in a job like teaching, but absolutely ideal for photography and book design), and I take great meditative pleasure in putting sequences of photos together for people. Since I spend so much of my teaching time writing and speaking, doing a non-verbal task like this is soothing. While editing photos I listen to music or podcasts (On Being, Dear Sugar, The New Yorker: Fiction, and Design Matters are my favourites). The how of work is not so simple. I sometimes go through bouts of impostor syndrome, convinced that any past achievements were mere flukes and agonising about what’s next. I remember reading an interview with David Bowie where he said that ageing is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person that you always should have been. So I’m putting my stocks in those words looking forward to growing more comfortable with my place in the world as the years roll on.

hannah lees

What inspired this piece of art for Reinvention of Normal?

The simple answer is that I am obsessed with the sea. This became more evident on a big cross-country odyssey across the States last year. I kept experiencing this choking sensation, being so land-locked and far away from my pelagic life source for weeks on end. The moment in this photograph was luck: I looked up from the shore and there was the ghost ship. The best thing about photography is the deployment of my gut instinct. When there is a camera in my hand I can pare back distractions, see a moment, and execute, No agonising; no reproach. But away from the lens I constantly question my decisions and wonder endlessly at a the litany of ‘what ifs’ that spring from a human life. What if I had said yes to that job offer. What if I had done that audition. What if I had canceled my return ticket and stayed in London. What if I pursue an academic career. What if I don’t have kids. What if I do have kids.

I think all of us in our twenties (and beyond, let’s face it) wonder about the life we’re building (and by necessary implication that parallel universe of the life we could be leading instead). The title for this photograph comes from an edifying essay in Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things:

“I’ll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”

hannah lees

Are you working on any interesting projects at the moment?

I’m contributing to a group show in Melbourne’s Enough Space gallery, curated by a wonderful photographer Vic Hannan. The contributing artists’ photographs are all focussed on the sea and proceeds from sales will go to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

What would be your dream project?

I would love to make a book of photographs and words about how New Zealanders live. Stories that tell of a greatness of suffering, a greatness of love, a greatness of loss, and maybe even a greatness of joy. We’ve got it all here, in this complicated land of colonisation and settlement.

hannah lees

(above left: an image from Alice Proujansky‘s Birth Culture series; above right: an image from Elize Strydom‘s Small Town Girl series; below: a series of drawings from Emil Ulfhammer‘s tumblr)

Name three artists that you would like more people to know about.

Alice Proujansky – for important and striking documentary images of life for women around the world.

Elize Strydom – beautiful moments and words. Check out her project, ‘Small Town Girl’.

Emil Ulfhammer – a Bird family friend in Göteborg, Sweden. His line drawings make me feel deliciously untethered and off-kilter.

hannah lees

What are you most excited about this month?

This month is May, which means the Auckland Writers Festival is happening! My teaching friend Laura and I are taking a group of writerly teens to the festival. Nadia Reid is playing at the start of the month before her Euro tour. There’s a running joke that I pretty much only listen to melancholic music. Poetry with chords and blustery mental weather laid down in song form. Yes, I’m looking forward to that show. Finally, of course, I’m looking forward to the nuptials of a certain R.O.N. blogger!

You can find more of Hannah’s work on her website Hanny + Bird, or you can follow her excellent Instagram feed @hannyplease. If you want to buy her print, make sure you head over to the shop before the end of the month, as it will only be available during May! And lastly, if you want to make sure you don’t miss out on any of the future artist prints that we put out (and maybe want the occasional sneaky discount too), sign up to our newsletter here.

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