"Create with a purpose, and you can never be too disappointed.”
When looking at photographer Hannah Shurtleff’s instagram (@h.annah.bethany) her use of color to create striking, eye-catching images is evident. Each photograph uses bright colors in a unique way, drawing attention to the model and making it hard to look away.
“I first got into photography when my family got a camera and I started taking pictures of our life in Thailand,” says Hannah, recounting the two years her family spent in Thailand before moving to where they now live in Northville, Michigan. Hannah says that living in Thailand “definitely shaped [her] personality, which in turn shapes [her] work today.”
“I loved taking pictures of people,” Hannah remembers, looking back on her first introduction to photography. This love of portrait photography led her to open her first photography business three years ago. “I also took a photography class in high school and learned how to develop film and work in the dark room,” a skill that helped Hannah to expand her work from portraits to concept and fashion photography as well. “I shot with film a lot before my film camera broke… I really liked how it made me think super hard about each individual photograph. Digital is my preference though.”
Hannah says that there are two things that inspire her to continue her photography. One of these is looking at accounts and photographs that aren’t original and “cater to mass media production and likes,” because they “remind me that I am here for myself and my love of art.” In reference to her other source of inspiration, Hannah is “constantly exposed to unique pictures that evoke emotion.” She says that she is especially drawn to “‘ugly pretty’ concepts.”
“When a still image can make you feel something, that is so very powerful,” and that is what Hannah strives for in her portraits. “I love serious, puzzled, and direct eye contact with the camera… I am a pretty serious person so that intimate connection with the camera really makes a viewer think.” Hannah reflects on her portraits, saying that she doesn’t like to present “run of the mill, ‘say cheese’” photographs, and aims to create work that “makes you look twice, even though you might not know why.” With her unique usage of color and lighting, she has definitely accomplished this goal in her photography.
Outside of photography, Hannah is interested in songwriting, dance, volleyball and soccer. “I call it my ‘3D expression’ because photography is my visual expression, dance is my physical expression, and songwriting is my oral expression. It’s super important to always be exploring yourself in different ways, even if you aren’t sharing your work with the whole world.” Hannah knows that having multiple hobbies uses different parts of the brain and helps develop a flexible mind, which she finds to ring true in creative outlets as well. “If I appreciate multiple forms of art and express myself through them, things I learn from each can help me in opposing outlets.” She uses songwriting as an example, saying that its creative process has helped her to express more emotions in her photography. “It’s helped me realize that photography needs a story— ‘lyrics’ behind the photos.”
However, Hannah admits that photography hasn’t always been easy. She says that she often struggles with balancing her photography business and client work with her own creative work. “If you ever find yourself not wanting to pick up your camera, and trust me, I’ve been there,” she says, “just put it away. Once you feel ready to pick it up again, start small. Take pictures of little things that make you happy. Spend time writing down ideas.” She stresses to never prioritize creating over personal and mental health. “Creativity stems from personality, and personality develops as you learn and grow as an individual. The more you learn and care for yourself in ways that don’t relate to photography, the more your photography will mature.”
In parting, Hannah has just a few words of advice to others interested in photography. “Look to others for inspiration,” she says, “but look to yourself for originality. Look at the mundane and see the beauty in it… take the beauty you have discovered and share it with the world, in your own unique style. It takes a lot of work, and also a lot of heart. You have to trust the process and believe in your ideas. Create with a purpose, and you can never be too disappointed.”
You can find more of Hannah’s work here: https://www.instagram.com/h.annah.bethany/
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.