“I want to question the limitations of representation and consider its effects on our future,” says Philadelphia-based photographer Hannah Price. Image: © Paul Contino
Q&A with Photographer Hannah PriceFor her City of Brotherly Love series, Hannah Price turned the tables on catcallers in Philadelphia by subjecting them to the unflinching gaze of her camera. A portrait from that project, Walking from CVS, West Philly, takes center stage in the exhibition Another Way of Telling: Women Photographers from the Collection. Here she shares her thoughts on City of Brotherly Love and how the experience inspired her recent work. Many people became familiar with your photographs through City of Brotherly Love. Can you describe that project? City of Brotherly Love documents my life as an African Mexican American transitioning from suburban Colorado to consistently being sexually harassed on the streets of Philadelphia. The portraits were made from 2009 to 2012, and at that time I was unfamiliar with the manner of “catcalling.” Making portraits of my catcallers was a way for me to understand such an expression. I would not provoke anyone; I would just go about my daily life and take my camera with me on the days when my mood felt neutral to talk to sexually interested strangers. Not only did the camera switch the gaze and power dynamic, but it also allowed us to communicate and learn about each other’s lives. Dealing with the act of catcalling was extremely frustrating and repetitious, however, I knew I came from a different place and was not angry with the men nor tried to change their ways. Instead, I humanized our relationship and left our encounter being known as a photographer and with a portrait of my experience. Why do you think it resonated with so many people, particularly women? This series definitely resonated with women because it is typical for them to receive sexual harassment every day, whether it is in public, at the workplace, or with acquaintances.
On her series City of Brotherly Love: “I was sharing my experience as a female and reclaiming the power of the male gaze without reprimanding the men.” Image: Untitled (Job Interview), The Piazza, 2009–12, by Hannah Price. © Hannah Price Did any of the reactions to the photographs surprise you? The fact that you don’t really see me in the work (with the exception of a few reflections of myself in shiny surfaces), a lot of black males felt pinpointed by the project. This sort of surprised me because I wasn’t thinking of race at all. I was sharing my experience as a female and reclaiming the power of the male gaze without reprimanding the men. How did the portrait Walking from CVS, West Philly come about? Cursed by Night is a series where I have built a concept where black men are cursed by the world of darkness because of the color of their skin. The images are in black and white and all have been taken at night with available light, causing my exposures to be at least 8 to 12 seconds long. The blackness of the night acts as a backdrop and shroud; visually my subjects blend in with the darkness but conceptually are obscured by it, hinting at society’s perception that black men are a menace and dangerous. From this, my viewers are denied access to the actual person in each photograph, allowing them to only see in black and white or to have sympathy with such a projection of a person. Who or what inspired it? My viewers who took offense to City of Brotherly Love. With such a reaction, I decided to talk about race directly and came up with the concept of Cursed by Night. Other inspiration came from my friends who were afraid to drive through black neighborhoods or avoid walking past a group of black men on the corner of a street, plus my brother’s and father’s everyday life experience.
On her series Cursed by Night: “Visually my subjects blend in with the darkness but conceptually are obscured by it, hinting at society’s perception that black men are a menace and dangerous.” Image: Elaine & Derrel, 2012–13, by Hannah Price. © Hannah Price Were you familiar with your subjects before you photographed them? I worked with both muses and strangers; they both occupy approximately half the subjects in the series. Occasionally I would walk the streets in different cities looking for scenes that insinuated that something bad could happen and then would find a black subject and put them in the scene. I try to keep in touch with the three muses; they helped me with a lot of projects, including film and video. Which artists’ work has had the biggest influence on you? My influence from other artists change all the time. However, I mostly get my influence from everyday life, whether it is my own, my families’, friends’, or what I see politically in the news. Lately, I have been inspired by Dana Schutz’s Open Casket painting of Emmett Till. The painting is well done and striking, but my main influence comes from people’s responses to it. In terms of representation it is very controversial, especially in the world of painting. The reaction to the piece has shaped my work in a way that I want to question the limitations of representation and consider its effects on our future. I want to discuss why certain issues continue to resurface within society and ultimately speak to a larger group of people without the limitations of perception and representation. Are there any works in the exhibition Another Way of Telling that resonate with you?
This interview was conducted by Sid Rodríguez, Interactive Content Writer, Philadelphia Museum of Art. It has been edited for clarity. You can view more of Hannah Price’s work on her website.
“I mostly get my influence from everyday life, whether it is my own, my families’, friends’, or what I see politically in the news.” Image: Self-Portrait, by Hannah Price. © Hannah Price