Dawn Hanna is a talented photographer who transforms ordinary landscapes into art, creating nostalgic and whimsical photos that are uniquely personal to those who see them. Her distinctive style blends elements of impressionist painting with bucolic landscapes, splashing her images with vibrance and dreamlike tones. Much of her rural Georgia and North Carolina settings seem to leap from the screen.
When asked what advice she has for other photographers, she said, “The best time to start calling yourself an artist is now. I had a lot of trouble with that at the beginning, as if there was some magic formula that gave me permission to finally start referring to myself as a photographer and artist. The magic formula is within. You have to own it.”
Considering how inspiring her work is, it’s no surprise that Dawn was one of the first photographers established within Flickr’s Marketplace. We recently sat down with her to learn about her creative process, artistic influences, and hopes for the future.
How did you first get into photography?
I feel fortunate to have a history with photography that is long standing. I grew up with art, including photography, as an everyday part of my life. My great grandmother was a painter, my parents always had cameras, and my teachers in school were very nurturing and gave me great opportunities to explore my love of art and photography as well. Although I have set it down for periods of time due to other demands of my life, I have always come back to photography because I feel that it best expresses my artistic voice and I resonate with every aspect of this fascinating medium.
Your work has a unique aesthetic that is very sweet and dreamlike. What draws you to this style?
The blurred and dreamlike images I create best describe the way I see the world around me. I like to have an area of focus to anchor me, but I like to leave the vague and blurred areas of the image for the viewer to interpret. The emotional style of work that I strive to create reflects my own internal, emotional dialogue.
How have you refined your style over time?
I have spent a lot of time studying other photographers and artists, and have also spent a lot of time reflecting about my own motivations as a photographer and an artist. Technically, I have learned software and spent countless hours experimenting with edits that have helped me to refine what I want to say and how I want to say it.
Do you start with a concept before you shoot?
I start with a concept, set it up and shoot, but I also find inspiration during a shoot and inspiration in post-editing as well. Generally, self-portraits and stills have a specific concept in mind and so they are almost always set up, but being out in nature and the mood of the day endlessly influences and inspires my photography.
What kinds of textures do you use and where do you find them?
When I first started using textures, I used Linda Vachon’s (Les Brumes), who graciously gave use of her textures to anyone who wanted to explore them (1, 2, 3). They were the starting point for me in finding my own style of working with textures. I still use them at times, but mostly make my own. I will shoot pieces of canvases hanging in a museum, old photographs, scratched metal tables or even bubbles in the sky to get the effect I am after.
Can you tell us more about the inspiration for this shoot and the processing of the photo?
I had so much fun with this image. Its inspiration was a scene from the movie Maleficent when Maleficent is full of emotion and marches up a hill with uprooted trees swirling behind her. I love the imagery of that scene and I wanted to create an image that had that breathless kind of emotion to it. It’s a composite image of a hill I shot in Virginia and a little girl I shot running through a yard in Washington state. It in no way compares to that wonderful scene in Maleficent, but it satiated my desire to create something that somehow echoed it.
What inspired this self-portrait? The way your body blends in with the texture of the background is fascinating.
I was a member of a self-portrait challenge group on Flickr for many years and this image was created for the challenge to embody self through song titles. The song title that I chose was a favorite song of mine called “The Escapist/Light Through the Veins” by Coldplay and Jon Hopkins. I wanted to portray the space between worlds…the fluidity of life and how easily we pass from a dreaming state to an awakening state.
Each of your photos is captioned with a quote. Where do you find these quotes, and what inspires you to pair your photos with them?
I am very inspired by written narratives. I have been hoarding meaningful quotes from books, magazines, and movies for years and they are written on little slips of paper and tucked in umpteen journals and baskets. I also have written a lot of the quotes that I pair with my images. Certainly people would argue that an image should stand alone without the influence of words to accompany it, just as words should stand alone without images to bias the reader, but I think that images and words are very mutable, and I really like the idea that they can be combined and still very individually interpreted by the viewer.
Where do you shoot and what draws you to these landscapes?
I live in rural North Carolina on a lake, and it is very easy to get lost in the beauty of this world and feel its solitude and history. A wide open field, a road that travels out to the distance…any expansive landscape will always ignite my mind with possibilities; it also takes me to a place of memory. It beckons me to take wing and explore it, but it also levels me, grounds me and helps me to feel connected to the earth. It is the metaphor for the space to discover and the ability to make choices in life.
This is an adorable photo. Is this corgi your dog?
Molly Dodd is a Pembroke Welsh Corgi and she is an 8 1/2-year old joy. She has been very tolerant and indulgent of my many photographic explorations at her expense. I just have to give her a peanut butter treat and all is right in her world. This photo is a composite of her romp through a field of snow. I laughed the entire time I shot it and I think she did too!
Who or what are the most important influences on your photography?
There are many photographers that have I have been inspired by – Eggleston, Lux, Michaels, Arbus, Adams, Meyerowitz. There have been many painters who have inspired me as well. You could probably guess that the impressionist movement certainly influenced me, but Rauschenberg, Motherwell, Hopper, and Kahn were also very inspirational to me in their interpretations of space, color, and light.
What do you like about Flickr and the community?
When I first joined the Flickr community, I was so completely unsure of myself as a photographer. I was truly petrified to upload a single image online, but this very welcoming community of talent encouraged me and supported me, helping me to grow my skills and photographic eye. I really owe so much to this incredible and profoundly inspirational group of people. They have all inspired me, challenged me, and I have much gratitude to them all for that.
What do you hope will come of being involved with the Flickr Marketplace?
I have been honored to be a founding member of this new project and feel very positive towards it. My editor Kimberly has been wonderful to work with and has been so thorough and timely with answers to all my many questions. Just as my relationship with Flickr has been many long years, my hope is that I will continue to be a vital member of the Flickr Marketplace for many years to come.
What has been the coolest project you’ve been a part of as a photographer?
Last summer, I was one of several photographers hired to shoot a search and rescue drill for our local county. There were several branches of the military involved, as well as the hospital system, EMS, and police force. The mission involved the rescuing of stranded survivors from a lake tragedy via helicopter. I will never underestimate the sheer force of a Black Hawk’s rotary downward thrust ever again!
What would be your ideal for your photography in 1 year, 5 years, or beyond?
My goals in the coming years are to continue to challenge myself to expand and explore my photographic vision and skills, to collaborate with writers to publish future books as well as publish my own, and to continue working hard to create art that will hopefully touch the lives of people.
Dawn, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.