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Photographer Hannah Price. © Paul Contino
“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 Price

For 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?

Walking from CVS, West Philly
Walking from CVS, West Philly, 2010
Hannah Price, American
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I was running errands and in a rush to see an apartment to potentially rent. I lived on 45th and Walnut at the time and had to go to CVS for some reason. I was running late, leaving CVS, heading to my car, but the man in the photograph catcalled me as I walked past him. I started to talk to him and he continued to hit on me. I almost walked away because I was in a rush to get to my appointment and then realized my opportunity for a photograph and asked to take his portrait. He allowed me to and we continued to talk and I found out that he was 44 years old. He asked me to the movies and I told him I was not interested in becoming involved with him and then rushed to my meeting.

Your series Cursed by Night was recently the focus of an exhibition at the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center. How would you describe it?

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?

Ntombi II
Ntombi II, 2014
Zanele Muholi, South African
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The photograph that resonates with me the most is Zanele Muholi’s self-portrait Ntombi II. The first time I saw this self-portrait I was immediately drawn to her expression. I could feel the energy of her past and how she envisions the future. I just want her to speak, and her performance, as well as capturing her moment, is absolutely beautiful. Also, the way her head is positioned looking up at me and the whiteness of her eyes act almost as if she is about to reveal herself from within her garment and confront the world.

You grew up in Colorado but currently reside in Philadelphia. What is it like to be a working artist in this city?

I grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado. There were approximately 110,000 people living there at the time. Now there are many more . . . but as a photographic artist who lives and works in Philadelphia, and primarily works with people, there is an endless opportunity to find subjects to potentially work with. I love people and always contemplate the cycle of political issues in society. However, recently I’ve been missing nature and considering moving outside the city, though living close enough to drive back in and continue to photograph people.

What are you working on now?

Right now I am working on a documentary film interviewing strangers of all types throughout America. I just started this project a few months ago and have only worked in upstate New York and Pennsylvania, but hope to reach at least 30 states and interview at least 200 people. I am asking my subjects very generalized questions and hope they invite me into their life to document it.

From May to June, I will be exhibiting work from my Cursed by Night series at East Liberty Presbyterian Church and the Ace Hotel in Pittsburgh. I will also have two pieces from City of Brotherly Love at Daniel Cooney Gallery in June. Plus other potential shows that are not set in stone just yet.

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

About the Artist

Raised in Fort Collins, Colorado, Hannah Price (born 1986) is a photographic artist and filmmaker primarily interested in documenting relationships, race politics, and social perception and misperception. She is internationally known for her project City of Brotherly Love (2009–12), a series of photographs of the men who catcalled her on the streets of Philadelphia. In 2014, Price graduated from the Yale University School of Art’s MFA photography program, receiving the Richard Benson Prize for excellence in photography. Over the past six years, Price’s photos have been exhibited in several cities across the United States. A few of her works are part of the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She currently lives and works in Philadelphia.