Exploring ideas of gender, religion, and those who defy institutional norms, Hana Mendel is one artist to watch. Looking to start conversation through her provoking work, the photographer and conceptual artist is not one to shy away from participating in important dialogue. Growing up as a jewish-american, she has referred her family's genocidal history. Her work is an exploration of themes regarding empathy and the caricaturization of individual beauty.
We had the opportunity to ask the talented artist, now working in Los Angeles about her work, the inspirations, and what makes a good composition.
Tell us about your work? What are some of the subject matters you like to touch on?
I began as an illustrator, so when I decided to pursue photography, I approached it similarly. Image taking is the first step of many, followed by a range of edits, printing processing, re-assembly, and rephotographing. It’s important that I have a master-copy, a tangible document of the image that I’m able to revisit. I photograph those closest to me and explore themes regarding empathy and the caricaturization of ‘beauty’. Much of my work documents my experiences with intergenerational Jewish trauma, womanhood, and isolation.
How important is being vulnerable in the creative process?
When you’re creating something that requires you to be honest with yourself, vulnerability is inevitable. Sometimes that means not understanding a piece until months after you’ve finished it, and that’s okay. Actually, I think that can be the best part. As you continue to change, the context surrounding your work expands. That’s the thing — vulnerability is interesting because it can display itself in the most subtle ways. So much so, that it can be completely undetectable to anyone, even the artist. If you are creating work to express a certain self-proclaimed truth, you can’t help yourself.
What attracted you to photography as a medium?
The speedy turnaround. I lacked the patience necessary for painting and illustration. The pace of photography kept up with my interests — I can photograph and elaborate on a given image as I desire without having to saturate myself in an image for weeks at a time.
Who are some of your favorite photographers and who has influenced your work?
My favorite photographer is Michael Northrup. His images are enchanting and exceptionally casual, approachable and wondrous. They are digestible to ‘art’ and ‘nonart’ audiences alike — little tokens of absurdity in everyday life. That is something everybody can relate to. The role of image as a stamp or testimony to a time has always been significant to me and my practice. I’m most influenced by history, and the role of the image throughout it.
What are some elements necessary for a good shot?
Rhythm, tempo, harmony, light, movement, and emotion.
What was the last thing you saw that inspired you to create?
I took a trip alone to the desert recently, and there was a piano in cabin I stayed in. I played, as loud as I pleased, to a symphony of coyote howls, up into the early hours of the morning. Would recommend.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be and why?
I’d collaborate with John Lennon. I think we would have a lot to talk about.
What do you enjoy about shooting people. Why are these portraits exciting to you?
I think of a portrait as an ‘album cover’ to the relationship between subject and photographer. When you photograph a loved one, there is so much back story crammed into one image and one single expression. It is a strange and incredible thing to be aware that you are actively documenting a moment that you will be able to visit for the rest of your life, and are only able to document because of the time both you and the subject have put into one another. It is a testament to consciousness, love, and life, and it is incredible.
Your favorite place to see art in the world?
My grandparent’s homes. I love to see the children’s books my mom made wrote and drew as a kid, or my great-grandfathers paintings of clowns and rabbis playing violins.
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