Photographer based in Boston, MA
Hannah Altman, Portrait of the photographer.
Tell us about yourself, what's your background?
I'm a photographer from New Jersey and working in Boston. I hold an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University. My work considers language and narrative in relation to lineage and memory. I came of age during the awkward technological period when low quality point-and-shoot digital cameras were becoming the standard method of documentation, but instinctively I used them as a creative tool. I would steal family members’ cameras during gatherings and wander around, making terrible photographs and learning how to look. It became my way of more deeply seeing the largely suburban and monotonous world I was living in. Early images show that I was photographing the same people, environments, and objects ad nauseum to see how they read in different light - a practice I still very much uphold.
Embody, 2023, Archival Pigment Print, 16x20 inches
"I am interested in and inspired by the relationship between image making and Jewish storytelling . . . I have been making photographs that translate the themes, structures, and anxieties of Jewish stories into images by pulling from folkloric motifs to construct photographic narratives."
Yad (You), 2023, Archival Pigment Print, 16x20 inches
What are you currently working on and where did the inspiration for it come from?
How do Jews tell stories? How do we transfer our memories and peoplehood through cyclical storytelling? Our texts are intricately braided into our customs; what are we so fervently trying to communicate?
I am interested in and inspired by the relationship between image making and Jewish storytelling. For the past five years or so I have been making photographs that translate the themes, structures, and anxieties of Jewish stories into images by pulling from folkloric motifs to construct photographic narratives.
(left) Bite, 2022, Archival Pigment Print, 12x15 inches (right) Curing, 2022, Archival Pigment Print, 16x20 inches
My photographs consider tension, unease, and potency within Jewish mythos. The bright world within the images is fogged over by the hot breath of upheaval. The bodily performance of texts becomes a throughline that forms the photographic spine of Jewish storytelling. Through images that explore Jewish narrative structures, iconography, and repetition, the photographs build worlds sowed from a turbulent past and grow outwards towards the rumbling world to come.
(left) A Story That Changes Depending on Who Shares It, 2023, Archival Pigment Print, 16x20 inches (right) Beidth Al Tbeet (Eggs Overnight), 2023, Archival Pigment Print, 16x20 inches
Innovation does not only happen in the field of technology — it occurs everyday in a creative practice. What do you do for inspiration?
Photography is a malleable medium that molds to the environmental and conceptual surroundings of the image. I try to keep this in mind - in order to make photographs, I cannot rely on the camera alone. It requires looking up and out. An image must be shaped by a certain container, so in the moments when I am not holding a camera I remain engaged by exploring the themes that inform my work. I do this so that when I make a photograph, the framing is shaped by the world that I have cultivated in a very natural and intuitive way. I guess this is a long winded way of suggesting that we are what we spend time with. If I spend a lot of time reading Yiddish short stories, they’re going to appear in my work. If I lay in the sun for long enough, I’m going to notice how the light shapes my hands.
Molting, 2023, Archival Pigment Print, 16x20 inches
How will Innovate Grant contribute to your practice?
I am honored to receive the Innovate Grant at this crucial time in my practice. This resource will help frame my solo exhibition of this work, "We Will Return to You," on view October 6-29, 2023 at Abakus Projects in Boston, MA. Thank you for the immense opportunity.