Shawn Hanna is the NY/LA based photographer and director collaborating with Lightning Bolt.
Over the last years, photography has been a full-time calling. Shawn studied at Santa Clara University in California, where he obtained B.A.’s in photography, art history, and film theory & production. His experience in fashion, visual anthropology, creative direction and curation make him highly adaptable to new environments and new frontiers. Shawn is interested in navigating the dichotomy between the Old and the New, with a reverence for history and a willingness to bend the rules—adding color, humor, and play. With an eye to the future, Shawn is looking to expand his work in the arena of immersive projects, seeking to create experiences that will push greater conversations about the realities we find ourselves in.
Let’s take a glance behind the scenes and find out a bit more about him.
You’re quite discreet about your personal life. But what can you share with us…
Ha. Now that would negate my affinity for discretion. I CAN tell you that I love animals and that I’m actually shorter than I appear on camera.
Tell us how you got started in photography? Was there anything specific that you can remember that made you want to become a photographer?
My father bought himself a beautiful Ricoh kit in the 80’s, which sat unused in his closet for years until I dug it up at the age of 10. It was packed away in a tan leather bag with the initials “S.H.” in metal detail… (my father and I share the same initials). It felt like it was meant for me. And since I was an only-child who traveled around following my parents’ careers, I was primed for a new solo hobby. Taking pictures just felt like a natural thing to do.
As a photography professional, what does inspire and influence you today?
I, like many, would have to say nature and art history. The natural world is not only breathtaking, it’s also disappearing. It’s likely the most important subject to date. And in regards to art history, looking back at where we’ve been has a profound effect on the direction we choose to take.
Do you rewrite rules with your photography? In what way?
I don’t think I do. I see photography as an exercise in perspective. It’s a lie that tells a truth. It has a way of evoking an emotional response through story telling. The challenge is that crafting a good story is a combination of following some established rules while breaking others… and occasionally surprising the hell out of yourself.
Do you have any particular sense of order in your life? Do you have any (mild) obsession?
My apartment in New York is fairly organized and filled with plants. otherwise everything outside these walls is pretty much chaos. …I should mention that I’m mildly obsessed with the subject of entropy.
How do you find shooting landscapes compares to shooting people?
“Landscapes” tend not to move as much. Yet, with the passing of time, they change – often more dramatically than people. I tend to place people in landscapes. They serve as an invitation for the viewer to enter the scene, or sometimes they are an archetype or even the catalyst for an event.
As individuals, we’re not one-dimensional… how do you capture the depth? What is the common thread beneath your all your photography work?
Conversation. Often enough taking a person’s photo is really just a conversation between two people. We talk. I shoot. There’s a sense of ease. We are only as young as we are right now… I can’t recall who said it, but I try to keep that in mind when taking someone’s picture.
You enjoy navigating the Old and the New. Do you think photography bridge organically that gap between young and old?
I attempt to bridge that gap when it comes to style and direction. But Photography is, by its nature, the past – it is an image of something that no longer is as it was. Often the context in which a photo is presented gives it new life or new meaning, but that’s all it can hope for. There are old rules, and there are new subjects – I find it a fun challenge navigating the two when starting a project.
What camera are you shooting with?
That depends on the project or the situation. I lean towards Canon for digital, and Mamiya and Nikon for film.
And do you have also just a small everyday pocket camera?
My iPhone, a Contax T2 when I’m feeling rich, and a handful of disposable cameras at every wedding or family function.
Regarding the transition from film to digital – when did it happen for you? How do you feel about the transition from film to digital?
The first digital camera I used was at university when I took the position as photo editor for my school paper. They were expensive as hell and the images were terrible. Still, it made publishing a weekly paper much more approachable. The transition in the mainstream and commercial worlds seemed inevitable. Though I don’t think one replaces the other. I enjoy both.
Are you very hands on with the post processing of the digital files?
I do all of my own editing. Though I shy away from skin retouching. It’s tedious and I feel pretty dirty once it’s done.
What about your clients… who are they?
Some big. Some small. Some short. Some tall. They are often brands or publications who want a feeling of ease or effortlessness. Of course it can sometimes take a lot of work making something feel that way.
Is it hard to make a career out of photography?
Definitely. Depending on which part of the industry you want to be in, it’s a job that wants you to be specialized in a single area, yet requires you to make something new as often as possible. Some folks play the game well, while other defy it entirely. Either way it’s a tough road. But it’s worth it.
What is the toughest thing about your job? And the best?
It’s a business and your top priority tends to be marketing yourself. That isn’t something they tell you as a kid. However working with wonderful people in beautiful locations is a huge plus.
Is there anyone you’d like to photograph? Why?
Jane Goodall. I would have wanted to be a primatologist in another life. And maybe she’s into younger men…?
When not on assignment, you shoot for leisure. When and what do you like to shoot?
I tend to ask my friends to get into precarious physical positions. Once and a while I get a great snap of a face-plant, or a moment of joy, or both at the same time.
How do you see yourself in ten years?
Likely in a mirror…assuming we still have mirrors ten years from now.
Thank You, Shawn!
To find more, visit Shawn Hanna’s website.