We’re featuring this series as one of our favorite entries to the previous #FotoRoomOPEN call. (By the way, we’re now accepting submissions for a new #FotoRoomOPEN edition: the winner will get a three-month mentorship with London-based Wren Agency. Submit your work today).
Indoor Voices by 24 year-old American photographer Hannah Altman is a series of staged portraits of herself with her mother. “The work considers intergenerational womanhood, maternal responsibility, and the symbolism in quiet intimacy” Hannah says. “The images are made with consideration to Jewish folklore narrative structures and matrilineal gender performance. Within every image, and in the relationships between images, there are structures and collapses, strengths and ruins. I think the certitude of the relationship between my mother and me exists in this overlapping, intangible space, and with this constant assembling and revising, our memory builds in front of us as we photograph it.”
The first image of the series was taken in 2015: “I was actually trying to make a self-portrait, but something about the light and furniture in the room I was in called for symmetry, and I asked my mother to sit in with me. I was so interested in the resulting image—the weight and complexity her presence added—that I started photographing us together every time I visited home, and it’s become a staple in the time we spend together. It’s a project that manifests very slowly; we’ve finalized a few images per year over the last five years.”
About the pictures, Hannah says that “they function in a space that floats between real life and exaggerated motif. I mentioned above that the work is structured similarly as Jewish folklore: as with such stories, my photos exist uneasily between the realm of truth and the sentimental. They also consider presentations of archetypal womanhood; as with femininity, aspects of the work are carefully choreographed and orchestrated. This intricate dynamic between the portrayed and the portrayal are central interests for Indoor Voices.”
Photographing herself with her mother strengthened their relationship and helped them on a personal level—Hannah is certain of it: “Absolutely, and that becomes more apparent to me as the project goes on. It’s largely a way for us to spend time together with the same goal of creating something. At the end of 2017 my grandmother (my mother’s mother) died, and while she was in hospice care in her home—the same one my mother grew up in—we silently made an image of us taking this devastation in. For the Jews, the year after the death of a loved one is a period of mourning, at the end of which the family unveils a grave marker. After the unveiling, we went back to the house and photographed ourselves again in the same room. The furniture had all been cleared out since the previous image was taken, so we sat on the floor. Having these photographs to create, and later learn from, is incredibly healing.”
“I like to think this series is open enough that viewers manifest the unresolved aspects of the narrative with projections of their own feelings and ideas. There is something innately intimate with sharing images about family, and presenting them can prompt connections that extend beyond the immediate bloodline.”
Hannah’s main interest as a photographer is “light! Light, light, light! It’s so incredible. It is the fabric of any strong image, and good light in my own work and in other works prompts a childlike excitement in me and keeps me devoted to the medium. On a more personal level, I’m really interested in the ability of a photography project to provide an uninterrupted point of view. I think visual listening, so to speak, is a really powerful way to engage with the world around you, because every photographer interprets the light we share differently.” She is very influenced by literature: “I’ve always read a lot of fiction, and I think that’s become really meaningful to the growth of new ideas. Fiction allows a more gentle form of learning and patient communication—I think the more you read from the perspective of different narratives, the better portraits you make, even self-portraits.” Some of her favorite contemporary photographers are Sophie Green, Rania Matar, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Julia Fullerton-Batten and Cig Harvey. The last photobook she bought was Abendlied by Birthe Piontek, and the next she’s going to buy is Half Light by Shahrzad Darafsheh.
Hannah’s #threewordsforphotography are:
Touch. Balance. Storytelling.