Alana de Haan is a young photographer with words and wisdom that are beyond her years. We are ever so lucky to have her in our Magazine as she explains how photography and art should come from one's center. It all has to start somewhere and we can't agree more.
Hello, Alana! Welcome back to the Lomography Magazine. Please tell us a bit about yourself.
Hi, Lomography and readers! My name is Alana de Haan and I am an avid film and digital photographer. I call Toronto, Canada my home. Since my early teens, photography has always represented more than just a personal hobby. Admittedly, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I decided to commit to refining my understanding of the craft and to building a professional knowledge of the art of photography. This has made me feel more comfortable in taking advantage of real opportunities to photograph for others. Now that I have a better perspective on my experiences today, I’m happy to define it as my journey toward building up my confidence behind the camera, allowing myself to openly engage with others and express my work.
When I’m not exploring the world through a lens, I work full-time within the retail design and construction industry, where I manage store openings and development projects throughout malls in Southern Ontario. It’s an exciting job because each day is different: one day, I am on a construction site or reviewing store plans, and the following day, I am meeting with different designers and company executives. My job can be demanding, so photography has been a fulfilling creative outlet for me.
How would you define photography?
I’ve always seen my camera as a device for maintaining a visual diary. It’s a way for me to remember people, places, events, and for capturing those once-in-a-lifetime moments that have had a profound impact on my life. The best part about this type of diary is that you get to share it with the world and visually translate a message to others.
What's your favorite thing about taking photographs?
I love everything about taking photographs, whether it be digital or film. Taking photographs gives me an excuse to get out and create an adventure. I always try to make the most of my weekends by planning photo excursions to interesting places within and outside of Toronto. I will research locations and/or events that would provide great content, and recruit friends to make a fun day trip out of it. It’s a great opportunity to explore somewhere new and shoot something different.
Let's talk a bit about your work — how would you describe your photographic style/approach?
After a decade behind the camera, I’m still in the process of defining my style. Colour is a prominent theme throughout my work. It constantly captivates me, especially when found serendipitously in the urban or natural environment. Having studied landscape architecture in university, I like to photograph both built form and natural environments from that particular perspective: one of observation and understanding of the landscape. As for my post-processing style, I leave my film photos unedited and have stepped away from over-editing my digital work. Now, I am capturing the world around me as organically and in-camera as possible.
Who or what would you say was the biggest influence in your work?
Travel, books, and social media have all had a profound impact on my work. I have travelled the world with my family, visiting exotic locations like South Africa, the UAE, and China, which I am very grateful for. In university, I went on student exchange to Copenhagen, Denmark, an experience that helped shape my personal style. These experiences abroad allowed me to make sense of the world through photography.
Social media has also had a major impact on my growth. From sharing photos on Flickr and Tumblr, to now using 500px and Instagram, interacting on these platforms has become essential. Social media has revealed an opportunity to discover influential artists, explore new themes, share my work, and to connect and collaborate with other photographers.
We love the variety of your film photos. But one thing we really enjoy is the clean and crisp look. Is this a style you were going for?
Crisp and clean imagery is an aesthetic I love, especially on film. However, the quality of my film scans is not as important to me as the process of taking film photographs. My perspective towards my film photography is vastly different from that of digital photography. As a perfectionist, using film has helped me let go and embrace the process of photography, no matter the result. With film, I’m less concerned with the “perfect image” than I am with my DSLR. The process is very therapeutic and is a good metaphor for living life in general.
What inspired you to pick up a film camera and take photos?
While in high school, Tumblr played an important role in growing my interest in film photography and I was primarily drawn to the film photos within my feed. Back then, when I was exploring my newfound passion, I would try to emulate the grain and colour grading of those film photos with my digital images, but they never came close to the real thing. Film is timeless. I purchased my first film camera, the Canon AE-1, on eBay for no more than $25. Since then, I’ve acquired many different film cameras, such as the Nikon L35AF, Canon Snappy 20, Holga 35, and the Fuji FZ Discovery 3000 Zoom Date. Today, I solely use my uncle’s Canon A-1.
What is your favorite subject to photograph?
Built and natural landscapes
Any plans to concentrate on one specific area of photography? Please share them with our readers.
My focus is shifting toward portrait photography, with regards to studio lighting and posing my subjects. I’m unfamiliar with orchestrating subjects in front of the camera, as I’m typically accustomed to naturally occurring moments. Additionally, I want to focus on creating photo series’ of particular topics that interest me.
What makes you click the shutter?
It’s difficult to determine what happens in that moment to make me want to click the shutter. It’s an instinctive feeling, which I’m sure all photographers have, that allows us to anticipate the perfect frame.
What's your favorite photo? Could you tell us the story behind it?
One of my favourite photos I’ve taken is of my partner backlit in the summer sun. I see it as the perfect portrait of him, where his features are faded from the afternoon light to the point where you can only just make them out. This portrait reflects his quiet, camera-shy, and introverted personality. The photo was taken with Kodak Tri-X 400, which gave it an ethereal quality with the unique light of the scene.
If you could shoot anywhere or any subject in the world, where or who/what would it be? Why?
With my love of capturing environments, Japan’s metropolitan hubs seem to be dynamic and in flux, epitomising unique opportunities for photography. As someone who values adventure and discovery as part of the photographic approach, my idea of a city like Tokyo is that there will always be a new perspective around each corner.
Japan’s urban fabrics seem so intricate and vast, that one could embark on a photographic walk, and constantly be taking a new route or discovering a new vantage through the lens. I compare this with Toronto, where there are an increasing number of photographers and an urban canvas that isn’t necessarily ‘evolving’. Here, unique moments are becoming less common over time, resulting in more of a “who-shot-it-better” scenario.
Define your style in 5 words.
I’m going to cheat and use a 6th word. Capturing the experience of [colourful] moments.
Who are the artists that you follow on a regular basis?
Some of my favourite film photographers on Instagram are Jesse Pafundi (@grainandgrit), Robert Christopher King (@gregoireterrier), Eric Sorensen (@esorensenphotography), Eric J. Leffler (@ej.leff), and Lauren Schaubach (@lau_bach).
What advice would you give to aspiring photographers and creatives out there?
My advice would be to remember what motivated you to pick up a camera in the first place: for yourself. Enjoy your craft without comparing your work to others and remember that success is an outcome, not an output of photography. Begin concentrating on your growth as a photographer, not, “what can I do to be popular?” and the success will follow.
Does gear matter when it comes to putting out creative content?
Not necessarily. I believe you can create beautiful images with even the simplest gear, but that’s not to say that nicer equipment doesn’t help. Some of my favourite images are from my Nikon L35AF that I picked up at a vintage store for only $5. The greatest aspect of film is that everyone is on a level playing field more or less because the content is raw; dependent on skill and creativity. With digital photography, there will always be better gear and it typically does impact the image quality of the final product but only if you know how to use it to its full potential. Now that technology has advanced to 4K and retina displays (and beyond) people have become more sensitive to resolution. It wasn’t until I upgraded to a full frame DSLR that the difference in digital photography’s image quality really stood out for me.
What was the most memorable advice you've been given in your career as an artist?
I recently attended a photography panel hosted by female photographers from Toronto, and the advice that stuck with me was, “Do not work for free.” I’ve been guilty of this many times, where I didn’t put a value to my time, a freelancer’s most precious asset, thus ending up upset and overworked with nothing to show for it. Understanding your worth takes time and confidence, but is an extremely important skill for growing a career within the arts.
What do you think matters more — talent or skill?
Talent is important for getting noticed and gaining traction, but skill is crucial in order to consistently deliver results and improve your work. Skill can also be an asset when you consider the complexities of all the technology that goes into the image making process for photographers.
How does a perfect day look like for Alana de Haan?
There are many details that would compose my perfect day, but the three most important criteria would be: the opportunity to go on an adventure somewhere new, perfect lighting all day, and my camera at the ready for capturing visuals.
What's next for you?
This year, I hope to begin new projects and gain opportunities that can contribute to my growth in photography. Collaborating with different individuals and companies is important to me, as there is always opportunity to learn from others. I also want to find a Pentax 6x7 and start shooting medium format!
Any last words for our readers?
Reiterating what I said earlier, to always remember why you love photography: it’s for you. It’s your personal platform of expression and outside influences should not change that. Lastly, focus on capturing life’s moments, not creating them.