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In the vibrant landscape of contemporary art, one artist stands out for her captivating vision and ability to challenge prevailing narratives. Johnny Mae Hauser, a Dutch-German photographer, brings a fresh perspective to the world of visual storytelling, transcending conventional boundaries and redefining the way we perceive and understand emotion.

Through her lens, she explores the obscure existence of human emotion, revealing a meditative stillness that emanates from her images. Characterised by a soft, yet deep and dark palette, her photographs have a poetic quality that invites the viewer into a dialogue with their own inner selves. Themes of introspection, isolation and emotional intimacy weave seamlessly through her compositions, creating a powerful sense of connection between the artist and her audience.

In the following interview, Hauser encourages an exploration of what lies beyond the visible and gives us an insight into her unique perspective on the interplay between art, photography and the human psyche.

Can you tell us about the journey that led you to realise your passion for photography and pursue it as a career?
I started taking pictures in high school. At first, I focused on capturing the absence of people, using objects like gloves as traces of human presence. However, at that time I didn't see photography as a potential career, nor did I see myself as an artist. Eventually, I dropped out of high school and embarked on a period of self-discovery, living independently and experiencing life through trial and error. It wasn't until my mother suggested that I study photography when I was 21 that I began to realise the potential of my passion. Despite not having the conventional qualifications, I took an IQ test and was accepted into a photography programme at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague (KABK). That's when my journey began.

What does your typical workflow look like? How often do you take pictures and what triggers those moments?
It's a constant engagement that involves reflection, internal exploration and regular contemplation. This daily practice includes research, thinking and writing. The act of photographing itself is only about 20% of my overall process. However, I do take a lot of snapshots with my phone, mostly documenting colour combinations and other intriguing visuals. I don't revisit them often, but they subconsciously influence me.

My work is a fluid and organic process. Sometimes I'll notice something in my peripheral vision that sparks my intuition. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is that catches my attention, but there's a definite feeling associated with it. When this happens, I grab my camera and go into a state of continuous flow.

What's the meaning of color in your work? And why are you drawn to certain colors?
It's still a bit difficult to fully understand because it's such an intuitive process. Some friends have pointed out that on certain days I seem to be fixated on a particular colour. For example, they'd say, "You kept mentioning how nice the purple was today," and I'd be surprised because I hadn't consciously noticed it. It's just a feeling that comes to me.

The colour that resonates with me most strongly and most often is blue. There's a sense of melancholy in it, and so it feels inherent to my identity.

Do you have a preference for a particular type of paper in your printing process?
Yes, initially I wanted to print analogue because I felt it would enhance the subtle and melting quality of the images. Analogue printing made them even more watery, which I found fascinating. But then I wanted to add a contrasting element to the prints. So I tried C-Print. In this process, the printer injects the ink onto the paper, rather than soaking it in. This makes the paper a delicate and sensitive material that resonates with my work and my emotional state of being.

Could you tell us more about your first project, "Bildnis"?
"Bildnis" is a German term used primarily in the context of painting. It refers to a portrait, including self-portraits. In the case of "Bildnis", it can be seen as both. The project began in January 2021 and initially grew out of a question of self-identity, particularly during a significant life transition. I was going through a divorce and found myself in an in-between space, with one foot in my previous life and the other moving forward. This particular experience created a sense of emptiness and invisibility in which I experienced a mixture of excitement, energy, melancholy and fear. I wanted to capture this process and convey a feeling that many people could relate to. So I started intuitively photographing my personal belongings, seeing them as extensions of myself. These objects became symbolic representations of how I felt during this time.

In your projects, you choose to make one edition of each work rather than multiple editions, could you explain why?
I work with analogue photography, so each image represents a unique moment and is one of a kind. This approach makes the process quite labour-intensive and requires a lot of thought. Sometimes I find myself standing with the camera for minutes, contemplating whether or not to take the shot. In these cases, I become very self-critical in the pursuit of something meaningful. Despite the effort and willingness to capture what's in front of me, if I don't feel the moment, I prefer to put the camera away and continue another time.

And how do you decide when a project is finished?
You know, in the beginning, I wondered if I wanted to continue with "Bildnis", but it evolved organically over time. In the early stages, the objects were more defined, but gradually they became more conceptual. The development of the project has been intuitive and in line with my changing perspective.

Sometimes there are unexpected insights that I incorporate into my work. For example, in a moment of melancholy and tears, I noticed how the world seemed blurred, and this actually inspired me to create more abstract pieces. I can see myself working on "Bildnis" for the rest of my life because it is constantly evolving and stimulating my curiosity. In 10 years I might look back and see it as a multi-part series, with different phases and chapters.

And can you tell us more about your latest project, "Fernweh"?
It actually came about during the making of "Bildnis" when I discovered a flaw in my film that led me to an interesting realisation. In today's world, people can be incredibly harsh with each other, instantly branding someone as a bad person for a misstep. Instead of being so quick to judge, we should approach issues with a softer and more empathetic stance. We need to raise awareness while recognising that there is no failure, but a journey of learning and growth.

In German, "Fernweh" means homesickness for a place you've never been or a longing for a location that doesn't exist. So in this project, I am exploring a concept similar to "Bildnis", but without the presence of a central object that is typically positioned in the photograph.

The project also stems from the idea that not everything in life needs to be explained. I want viewers to come back to the essence of the work and interpret it in their own way. If someone gets angry or frustrated with the work, it might actually be an indication that it resonates with them on a deeper level. It becomes a trigger for introspection, prompting them to reflect on what it is that makes them have that emotional reaction

Your work is always presented without a frame or glass, is that right?
Yes, that's intentional because I want to expose the emotion in my work. I don't see myself as just a photographer; this is my medium for creating art. Interestingly, there are collectors who have been buying art for years, maybe decades, but have never bought a photograph. But when they come across my work, they're often intrigued and ask, "Is it a painting?"

I find it amusing because there seems to be a perception that painting has a higher artistic value. But there is so much to explore in photography. It's as if we've entered a phase where painting was once thought to be dead and artists had to reinvent the medium. Similarly, in today's world, with the ability to capture countless images with smartphones, photography has become very accessible. But to elevate it to a certain level, we need to rediscover its potential amidst its overuse. It's an exciting time for photographers to have the freedom to create the way we want.

As an artist, do you ever deliberately evoke certain emotions in yourself?
Honestly, I think the absence of emotion is one of the most powerful emotions. It is what connects us on a fundamental level. And I have learned to embrace it rather than fight it. This becomes a part of me and ultimately leads me to a sense of purpose or fulfillment. Running away from emptiness only brings it back with greater intensity. It's like peeling away the layers of an onion, where each layer reveals another layer underneath - a never-ending cycle of learning, growth and trial and error that I find beautiful. As a melancholic person, I see emptiness as a form of self-healing, a way for me to navigate, make sense of life and create art.

txt by Alex Blanco

Johnny Mae Hauser

Bildnis XLII
C-Print  Johnny Mae Hauser (1997) is a Dutch-German artist known for her abstract compositions, a gentle gaze in dramatically rich palettes, pushing the boundaries of photography. Each piece, an expression of the evolution of emotional memory in her distinctly sensible and...
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Archival C-Type print, mounted on Bubond Johnny Mae Hauser (1997) is a Dutch-German artist known for her abstract compositions, a gentle gaze in dramatically rich palettes, pushing the boundaries of photography. Each piece, an expression of the evolution of emotional memory...
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Bildnis XLII
Archival C-Type print, mounted on Bubond Johnny Mae Hauser (1997) is a Dutch-German artist known for her abstract compositions, a gentle gaze in dramatically rich palettes, pushing the boundaries of photography. Each piece, an expression of the evolution of emotional memory...
Add to Wish List
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