March 21, 2014

Spotlight: Hana Haley

Living in a pastel-colored world.

There’s something very ethereal and other-worldly about Hana Haley’s photography: the haze, the flowers, the pastel hues. When surrounding her subjects, these additions make the women in the frame almost fairy-like, creatures from another dimension materializing from a book we’ve read and want nothing more than to read again. But then the familiar fence, street lamp and San Francisco row houses sprout into the scene and it’s suddenly very clear again that these pictures are of here, of now.

But what if they weren’t? What if Hana really did have fairies for friends who happened to love taking photos? Unfortunately, we’re inclined to believe that isn’t the case, but even still, for that one second of doubt, we’re left wondering, falling helplessly into her powerful vision. We’re captured – transported into this scene and these girls are so lovely, the atmosphere so serene and the clothes so beautiful and why can’t that be my house? My world? For now, we’re content gazing at Hana Haley’s photographs and until then we’ll ask her a million questions about how we might get there.

THE LE SIGH: You've stated "truthfulness" and "everyday emotion" are important to your work. What about these themes intrigues you? Where do you most see them present in your images? 

Hana Haley: I think a majority of the fashion photography I see created by people my age is bullshit. Quick n' cheap studio shots of girls giggling with stringy blonde hair and gap teeth are not real moments, they are imitations. They project energies and themes instead of actually embodying the real thing. Maybe my standard for truthfulness is rooted in my respect for acting and the emotional work I know goes into every single person. Personally, I prefer my work to feel like movie scenes. When I'm taking a photo, I don't like to put my focus on the literal beauty of the model but on the beauty of the situation and the details surrounding her. The trees, the clouds, the clothing, the weather, the temperature in the air, the sounds of tiny cars or people laughing together somewhere off in the distance are all included in the photo with equal concentration. I want to capture the humanity of moments, not sell the visual thrills.

TLS: A lot of the women you depict are amidst flowers – is their a rhyme or reason to this? What does this say about or add to a scene?

HH: I should probably cut back on my flower usage, but they always entice me. They are ageless – it’s not like one is more outdated than another—and have individual color personalities I like to pair with my shoot’s mood. It’s one of my favorite photo details, right after junk food and fruit.

TLS: Where does the name "Honeyuck" come from? What would you say it means, or means to you?

HH: The name Honeyuck is something I put less than five minutes of thought into - I needed to create a Flickr username and I happened to be eating some honey (my favorite snack that week) but I thought the word “honey” was a little too whimsical, so I added “yuck” to the end. A more eloquent way of describing this word would be a beautiful notion that doesn't take itself very seriously. I enjoy the pseudonym so I don’t have to feel like my real name is a product. To me, “Honeyuck” represents my imagination and my vision.

TLS: You live in San Francisco, and from looking at a lot of your images, this setting seems to play a prominent role, with colorful row houses stretching in the back. What is it you enjoy so much about San Fransisco?

HH: It can be pretty damn cute but gritty at the same time – I like the balance of that. I love the size of it, the history of the houses, the neverending variety of the colors, the sunlight, the fog; it's endlessly unique and this fuels me.

TLS: You've also mentioned (it's also very evident) that you love "vintage tinted fashion" – what's your favorite fashion era to wear, and your favorite fashion era to depict on film? 

HH: I am all over the 80s – big scrunchies, leggings, cozy sweaters. For my photoshoots I like things to be a bit more classy so I opt for 50s and 60s inspired looks.

TLS: The clothes in your shoots are gorgeous! Are they yours or do they belong to the models? Neither? Where do you (or others) find them?

HH: I own maybe 20 pieces of clothing (had a closet purging session last year), making me a terrible resource for styling. I usually shop through model’s home closets for last minute photoshoots, or I borrow from my friends who run online vintage stores. I used to work with stylists on my shoots but they all seemed to move out of San Francisco last year. Since then I’ve been making things work on my own.

TLS: Going through your photographs, I couldn't help but think "innocence" was a recurring theme. Would you say this theme is intentionally present, or is it something that comes with the territory when you combine women and soft colors?

HH: That theme of innocence is largely supported by the age and demeanor of the girls I've been photographing for the past four years. I found myself to be a modest person and was working with more modest girls. This is changing, though. I can feel my work shifting and altering itself; I'm getting less excited about cute dresses and Peter Pan colors, more excited about photographing girls my age who have lived beyond a few high school romances and minor knee bruises.

TLS: If you could shoot anyone or any fashion line, who and what would it be? Why?

HH: I'd want to photograph someone who meant something to me - probably Miranda July. She influenced me a lot when I was 17 with her book, art and films and it would be heavenly to bring it all together for a photo.

TLS: Can you explain your process from conception to print/uploading, or as much as you're comfortable with indulging?

HH: It usually starts with one thing that inspires me. The source is usually randomized in daily life. It could be a song, a building, a girl’s hair color - once I find the source I add other ingredients later and build the idea with sketches and notes. If I’m not inspired and focused on the thing that's inspiring me, nothing pretty or believable is going to happen. I don’t mind unmapped shoots, but I better be working with a marvelous human being who can inspire me moment-to-moment. Afterword I develop my prints and scan them to my computer.

TLS: If you could see your photos anywhere – on a billboard, in a magazine, as a tattoo – what would it be?

HH: Music cover art for any band that helped raise my imagination when I was young: Cocorosie, Camera Obscura, Au Revoir Simone, Alaska in Winter - it would be a full circle moment for me.

Check out more of Hana's work here.

Written by Molly Morris