Mia Hanson, Photographer/Interview
Ida & Disa, photo by Mia Hanson
* * *
Hotel Chelsea Girl
Artful existence lets the light shine in
with Mike Foldes
Mia Hanson is one of those photographers who seems to sense the aura that surrounds her subjects, and then seeks to capture it with her camera. While many of her images are portraits, what separates her from so many portrait photographers is her ability to go beyond the mechanics of finding a location, setting up lights and filters, and pushing the shutter release. It’s evident she’s looking for more and finding it. No “same old, same old” there. A California native who grew up taking the daily dose of sunshine for granted and then living in the narrow canyons and uncertain weather of New York, Hanson’s experienced eye readily goes to light and shadow – principally light, as seen in the connectedness of Ida and Disa, the pale fluidity of “Victorian Kiss,” and even the sky seen through a matrix of bare limbs.
Hanson’s credits include a number of album, magazine, and book covers, as well as extensive work in fashion photography and commissioned portraiture. Some of her experiences living in the illustrious Hotel Chelsea are documented in an interview that took place in 2006, three years before the hotel closed. Hanson lives with her artist husband Hawk Alfredson, whom she met in 1997. They live in Washington Heights, New York City. An interview with Alfredson, and a gallery of his paintings, appears here:
* * *
Ragazine: To begin with, how did you happen to move into the Hotel Chelsea?
Mia Hanson: Hawk and I met in Park Slope, Brooklyn, in 1997- four years before we moved into the Hotel. We lived in Sweden two years after we met and decided to come back to NYC in 2001 since we soon missed the charged energy of the city. For our homecoming week, we decided to try out being Hotel Chelsea guests since we hadn’t nailed down an apartment of our own yet. It took about a day for me to realize that I didn’t want to live anywhere else in NYC but the Hotel.
Everyone we knew just assumed this wasn’t possible since we had little money and knew not a soul in the building. But I grew attached to the place quickly and knew the Hotel wanted us there. It’s a sentient building. Everyone who lives there will agree with this. If the building doesn’t like you, you will be driven mad. After the firm decision that the Hotel would be our new home, it was obvious that the next step would be to talk to owner and operations manager Stanley Bard. “Talk to Stanley about it”- that was the catch-all phrase for everything Hotel Chelsea. One day we made an appointment to show Stanley our respective art portfolios and he then immediately showed us a couple rooms from which we chose #421- located on the north-facing side, with the balconies out front. Then, we may have spoken briefly about monthly rent…and before we knew it we had the keys and were hanging up Hawk’s paintings sporadically on all 10 floors wherever there was open wall space to be found!
© 2003 Barbra Walker
Hawk & Mia, Room 421, Hotel Chelsea
Q: What was it like when you first moved in?
A: Day One kind of felt like all the Hotel days to me which was generally friendly, with an overall upbeat busy energy to the place, bordering on the chaotic at times. Even if there was a Hotel resident on the 9th floor and you lived on the 4th…they were still your neighbor in every regard. We got to closely know so many of the people who lived there and we still keep in touch with many. Everyone had a unique and diverse story. Film composers, fashion photographers, musicians, even a trans-gender cabaret performer, a U.N. associate diplomat and a kabuki knife-wielding expressionist painter!
Mia Hanson Photography, V10 N5
Victorian Kiss, photo by Mia Hanson[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n5miahanson/thumbs/thumbs_balance-by-mia-hanson_72dpi.jpg]120
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n5miahanson/thumbs/thumbs_hawk-kungens-slott-stockholm.jpg]120Hawk Alfredson, Kungens Slott, Stockholm
Hawk Alfredson, Kungens Slott, Stockholm, photo by Mia Hanson[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n5miahanson/thumbs/thumbs_eva-ii_72dpi.jpg]150
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n5miahanson/thumbs/thumbs_lea-rodger.jpg]120Lea Rodger
Lea Rodger, photo by Mia Hanson[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n5miahanson/thumbs/thumbs_ida-disa.jpg]120Ida & Disa
Ida & Disa, photo by Mia Hanson[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n5miahanson/thumbs/thumbs_ida-and-disa_72dpi.jpg]120
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n5miahanson/thumbs/thumbs_ida-disa-iii.jpg]100Ida & Disa III
Ida & Disa III, photo by Mia Hanson[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n5miahanson/thumbs/thumbs_terezka-up-close-a.jpg]120Terezka Up Close
Terezka Up Close, photo by Mia Hanson[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n5miahanson/thumbs/thumbs_terezka-the-bethrothed-shrew_0.jpg]180Terezka the Betrothed Shrew
Terezka the Betrothed Shrew, photo by Mia Hanson[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n5miahanson/thumbs/thumbs_mia22-hawk.jpg]160Hawk Alfredson
Hawk Alfredson, in character[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n5miahanson/thumbs/thumbs_eva-rhino.jpg]230Eva Rhino
Eva Rhino, photo by Mia Hanson[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n5miahanson/thumbs/thumbs_disturbance-central-park-image-by-mia-hanson.jpg]160Disturbance Central Park
Disturbance Central Park, image by Mia Hanson[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n5miahanson/thumbs/thumbs_bettina-09.jpg]140Bettina 09
Bettina 09, photo by Mia Hanson[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n5miahanson/thumbs/thumbs_jennica6.jpg]80Jennica 6
Jennica 6, photo by Mia Hanson[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n5miahanson/thumbs/thumbs_tranquility-central-park-image-by-mia-hanson.jpg]90Tranquility
Tranquility, Central Park image by Mia Hanson
All images copyright Mia Hanson. Used with permission.
Q: How did the Hotel affect your photographic work?
A: There were two scenic aspects of the Hotel that I really liked to work with. The Hotel’s top floor skylight and the rooftop private garden that belonged to an eccentric cabaret raconteur for many years. The sun energizes me creatively and I like to work with it. While growing up in California, I took varying degrees of sunlight for granted most times and created photo shoots that utilized theatrical lighting both indoors and out as a way of separating myself from the sun-loving culture. It didn’t take long to realize that my most poetic images were photographed outside, in nature, utilizing sun and shadow. While at the Hotel I realized that the sun is my best creative partner. My photographs really started to feel more sensual and personal because of this, I believe.
Terezka, Hotel Chelsea rooftop, 2004, photo by Mia Hanson
Q: What do you look for through the lens when setting up a portrait?
A: I try to find the soul of the person in front of me. I try to find the essence of what makes them unique.
Q: Do you approach different people in different ways during a shoot?
A: Yes, every person requires a different approach. Not only are they entering my visual world but I am being allowed to enter theirs as well. Usually, this requires delicacy. Some I approach carefully if I know they are usually reticent with exposing themselves intimately either physically or emotionally. Others I can play with freely and guide them into uncomfortable positions. It all depends on what a person might be looking for while being photographed. The person in front of the camera has needs and goals for the shoot, too.
Q: What has been Hawk’s influence on you as a person and photographer? Can you imagine how your life and career would have evolved if you had not met?
A: We have been together now for 17 years and he has definitely helped to develop and sharpen my creative eye in many ways. We like to play a game of observation sometimes. He will ask me to study a newly finished canvas. Then a day later he will put a singular dot of paint somewhere unexpected and I must find where he placed it. (Hawk comments: She almost always find it, or if I change the colour in an area, or change the shape of something, even if it’s very subtle… she’ll usually finds it.)
Q: If you were able to work with any photographer living or dead, who would it be, and why?
A: First I would take the living. French fine-art photographer Sarah Moon, for example, or Italian Paolo Roversi. I feel these two photographers greatly exemplify the achievement of the elegant, mysterious and the sublime when photographing a person. They always maintain a fierce standard of authenticity while continuing to mystify their audience in beautiful ways.
To go back in time and visit the era of Weimar Germany through the lense of Baron Adolph De Meyer would be unforgettable. Sarah Moon has looked closely at De Meyers work, I believe.
The iconographic ideal of the feminine woman is represented by De Meyer and Moon with great ethereal glamour. Sarah Moon was a fashion model in the ’60s and became an influential fashion photographer by the mid-’70s. She’s known for bringing the “gamine-look” (of the turn-of-the-century) back into style with the pale-faced make-up, shadowy eyes and red doll-like lips. De Meyer was a homosexual man living and working in Germany at a time when being gay was a death-sentence for many; invalids and homosexuals were targeted for death camps in the ’30s along with people of of Jewish descent. I think both Moon and De Meyer are/were searching for their idealized feminine self with every photograph taken.
Q: The feminine form is well represented in your work…?
A: Most likely this can be attributed to the former situation. A search for the idealized feminine self. Now that I am in my mid-40’s, that search has narrowed to simply include a poetic representation of the idealized feminine self. I’m not searching for the mysteries of femininity any longer. There’s a wider angle to the “Unknown” as we mature. Can any camera capture this? That is a realm worth exploring.
Q: What camera equipment do you shoot with?
A: For my personal work, I shoot film. The cameras I have that accept film are a Mamiya (twin lense) that was purchased in Sweden by Hawk’s father in the 1950s. Also, I like working with the lenseless Holga camera – for it’s uncomplicated poetic nature.
The camera is just the groundwork of a photograph. The photographer from there must establish a sense of his or her own presence in the choice of diffusion lenses or diffusion materials as well as printing techniques.
Q: What is the best professional advice you have ever received as a photographer?
A: The best piece of advice took me nearly 20 years to assimilate and it came from a prominent gallery owner in Los Angeles, who only now I recognize as a wise man. The advice was to understand myself as a photographer who methodically works for the long-term to develop meaningful work. At the time I was 25 years old and had moved to NYC from San Francisco to continue my photographic studies while simultaneously landing commercial work. I took his words to be cryptic and unhelpful. But in retrospect, I am living the life he told me I would have. And it’s not a bad life at all. I set my own pace. I follow my own path.
Hawk Alfredson’s page can be seen here:
* * *
About the interviewer:
Michael Foldes is founder and managing editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.
This interview was conducted via email between February and July 2014.
* * *