Wonderland.

Lens On: Hannah Altman

Hannah Altman is advocating body positivity through her emotional portraiture.

Pittsburgh-based photographer Hannah Altman can’t remember a time when her camera wasn’t welded to her palm. Part fine artist, part conceptual feminist photographer, Altman’s work is an artistic exploration of her passion for promoting body positivity through her photography, showing the good, the bad and the ugly sides of femininity and the human body. Her intimate and exposing self-portraits are a spontaneous capturing of the concept of raw beauty and the imperfect female form, something desperately needed in a world saturated with perfectly-Photoshopped images.

Visualising her feelings through her imagery, she examines the way the world treats the female body through a conceptual, feminist-orientated lens, creating shots that are both tender and beautiful. It’s projects like “Indoor Voices”, a life-long self-portrait series documenting her growing and evolving relationship with her mother, that sets Altman apart. Her spontaneous shots that come from fleeting ideas result in unique projects – just like “And Everything Nice”, where Altman examined imposed body standards and used glitter in place of bodily fluids, which sent the internet into a frenzy.

Not satisfied with the lack of opportunities young photographers and artists have for showing their work, Altman’s in the process of setting up her own Pittsburgh-based gallery, Pulp House, where she aims to bridge the gap between the city’s DIY underground art work and the fine art scene. As if she wasn’t already working hard enough, Altman is also an avid music photographer, making her mark on the blossoming music scene in Pittsburgh, photographing the likes of Mac Miller, FIDLAR and Nevada Colour. Hannah Altman is taking feminist fine art photography to the next level.

When did you first pick up a camera?

I can actually never remember a time when I wasn’t obsessed with photography, but I starting getting really passionate about body positivity and its role in photography around age sixteen. 

How would you describe your photography style?

At its root, the work is portraiture. I’m representing a person’s emotions through visual media, and I’m doing so through a conceptual, feminist oriented lens. I love the idea of visualizing feelings. It turns something intangible into something more concrete.

Your “And Everything Nice” project went viral last year – where did the idea for the project come from and why do you think it is important to talk about female beauty standards?

The idea of replacing body fluids with glitter comes from that societal pressure to look attractive at all times. It’s super important to talk about beauty standards in order to better connect to and empathise with others. Sharing experiences and ideas creates a deeper understanding of our surroundings.

Where did the idea to physically manipulate your printed images with pinholes and thread come from?  

I’m really interested in the physical, laborious aspect of art making. I think sometimes this gets lost on photography as a modern medium because people will create a digital image and post it on the internet without any sort of manual interaction with the work (this of course differs for film photography). Physically manipulating my images with needles is a really satisfying combination of two very different processes.

Tell us about your Pulp House project.

I’m starting an art gallery! It’s super exciting and I’m learning a lot throughout the process. Specifically, in Pittsburgh, there seems to be a large divide between the thriving DIY underground art scene and the fine arts scene. I’m looking to create a space that builds a bridge in the middle; I’m creating a space for artists who are making awesome and cohesive bodies of work but aren’t always having art shows because they aren’t sure how. I want to give artists a spot to explore and flourish.

Are you quite spontaneous with your shots or do you carefully plan them?

Mostly spontaneous. I’m a really manic and enthusiastic person, so if I feel the need to shoot I need to right then and there. There are usually some ideas floating around in my head but I don’t do anything about them until I feel the overwhelming need to create. Which is often.

What is it about the female body that you find fascinating?

Everyone’s perceptions of the female body differ, and that shows through photographic work because everyone has a different eye. The body can be represented in so many different ways visually, especially in regards to sexuality and emotion. Photography is cool in that way; I see the body as a tool of strength and feeling, so that’s how I choose to document it.

Tell us about your Indoor Voices project – what made you decide to document your relationship with your mum?

This is maybe my favourite project that I do. Indoor Voices is the lifelong documentation of me and my mother’s relationship. As I get older, our bond expands and shifts. We relate more to each other as I mature, and she’s an incredible woman. We think and react to things so differently, and it’s a really interesting process to photograph. The actual creation of the images is always emotional, because it’s just us and my camera. We can take a second aside to focus on the other person, and it always end up being a really reflective experience. I can’t wait to see how this project evolves as we both do.

A lot of your photographs are self-portraits, why is this?

I think self portraits are the true mainstay of my work. I’ve been taking self portraits since I was sixteen, and they’ve proven to be the only true self documentation throughout my life. Self portraits are an amazing exercise of expression; you have complete control over every part of the process. You have the ability to portray yourself in any way you want, and that to me is true empowerment.

What’s the Pittsburgh art scene like?

Amazing. Couldn’t recommend coming here enough. The city is small enough that there’s still a sense of community but big enough that you’re always meeting someone making insane art.

Do you think that social media is essential to a young photographer’s career? And do you think that having an online following is important for building a career as an artist?

For sure. Information has never been so easily accessible in all of history. There have always been countless photographers, but this is the first time that you can find endless work on Instagram, Tumblr, and other visual media based platforms. That’s wild! Use that power for good and find some artists that you love and keep up with their work. Social media is so important for artists to use as an outlet for their work.

What are you currently working on and what can we expect from you in the future?

So many projects, at all times. I have a show at the Trust Arts Education Center in Pittsburgh on August 19th, showing some work regarding body image. I’m making a string installation as well which will be on exhibit there.  I’ve also been working on the grand opening of Pulp House, which will be a solo show of mine. My first one! That’ll involve some cool photo / installation work too. I’m also working on a metal sculpture and photo project, in addition to continuing the projects I’m already working on. I love to make art. Here’s to expression and empowerment.

Words
Annabel Lunnon
Lens On: Hannah Altman

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