Hannah Altman recently moved to Virginia to attend graduate school and we were really lucky to get some time to sit down with her before she left. We've enjoyed seeing her work, particularly the images printed on silk and lace for quite some time, so it was a joy to meet her in person. Her home studio space was filled with natural light, artistic inspiration, and her own work. We're sorry that Pittsburgh has lost her but are excited to see the exploration and different directions her work takes on in grad school.
What’s your name?
Where are you from?
I’m from New Jersey actually. So, I moved here five years ago to go to Point Park. And then, I studied in the photo program there, then graduated last year. This is my first year of being a real person, and not being a student.
What neighborhood do you live in now?
What type of artist are you?
Mostly lens based. So, mostly photography with textile and installation incorporated in that.
When did you first get interested in art?
Well, I've always photographed. And, I have a weird start, because I grew up at a time when smartphones weren't really a thing. Point and shoots kind of existed but, film was being phased out. So, it was not a very accessible time to get into photo, so I was taking photographs on a couple of different things. I had a really shitty point and shoot, and I had a really weird flip phone camera. So, without having actual resources, I knew I was interested. Because I would take pictures on those shitty things. And then, eventually I got an actual camera, then I got into film when I started college at Point Park. So, it all came together once I moved here.
Who are your biggest influences?
There's a whole (motions to the bookshelf) There's like, two shelves. There's a bunch of stuff over there. It's all in there. Lauren Greenfield in there. There's a Kelly O'Connor in there. There's a lot of theory, I'm super into theory, and applying that to work. But, also I just saw that Sally Mann exhibition in D.C., A Thousand Crossings, it was so good. She does immediate family. She just photographed her family for decades. And then, her body of work, it's all film. She has a dark room in the basement of her house, and she lives in the south. But, her most recent work is all more experimental film. So, trying more processes that ruin the film on purpose, or more eighteenth and nineteenth-century processes. So, they're really interesting.
I usually like when a photograph or something has an extra layer of something as opposed to more straightforward photography.
What’s your favorite part of being an artist in Pittsburgh?
Pittsburgh is super accessible. You can just decide you want to get into something and do it pretty easily. It's not so big that, you get lost in trying to make connections and trying to work your way up the ladder. You can just start going to events, and talking to people, and trying to figure out resources you can use in the city. So, I like that it's a good size for that kind of thing.
What would you like to see more of in the Pittsburgh art scene?
More crossover, I guess, of communities. Because I try to go to random ass things all the time. But, there's definitely like, CMU crowd, Point Park crowd, or older crowd, that kind of stuff. Or, people who only go to openings at certain galleries. So, I think everyone would be a lot more interested in everything if they just made the effort to cross neighborhoods and go to more stuff.
Is there something you’ve created that you are most proud of?
It changes a lot. I really like the construct of viewpoint stuff, which is all that silk stuff. Because, before that, I used to print photographs on photographic paper, and sew into them. And then, eventually, it started becoming more about the needle, and the process, and the thread and fabric in general. So, when I started printing on fabric, there was a click where I was like, "Oh, this makes sense."
And, I think there's a nice softness and forgiveness with silk and lace and stuff where it can be folded away. So, I think it's interesting when you put an image on it. I like this work a lot. I'm excited to see where it goes to grad school. Because, this was all the work I made in the year off, between undergrad and grad school. And, you go to grad school, and your work just changes a bunch. So, I'm excited to see where it goes and pretty open to that sort of thing. It might just veer off in another direction.
What other things do you when you’re not making art?
Not much. Haha. I used to run Pulp House. That was pop-up exhibitions and curating stuff. And, I'm also a freelance art handler mostly at August Wilson Center, and PCA. So, that's pretty fun just to learn all of the other side of being an artist. I had been doing it for a year and a half, two years, and it really teaches you how to not be a dick as an artist. Like, sending in stuff, and being super organized and on time. And, that's just from me working at the other end of that, so that's been nice.
What would you tell artists who are just starting out?
Just work on things for longer. If you're in art school, you have critiques every other week, and you're on a weird schedule, where you're just expected to start a project and then move on to something else as you're learning new skills. Which is totally fine. But all this fabric stuff - this is the first project that I really devoted a year and a half to two years to - and, I'm still doing it. I don't think it's done. And, I've seen such an interesting growth from sticking with one idea for a while. So, that's probably my biggest thing which is not how I used to be at all. So, it's interesting advice to give, because I used to be like, "Go, go, go." I found that, once I graduated I started working a lot slower, which is nice.
It just seems like ideas are more intentional now. And, when you're making work, it just feels more like an actual thing, instead of just trying to meet deadlines.
Looking back at old work I know I just had to make because someone was like, "Portrait. Go." And, it's just like, "Oh, man." They're not all winners.
So, also I guess advice would just be like, stop posting everything, too. Because I TA'd for an intro to black and white class this past semester at Point Park. It was just an interesting vibe, because their first exposure to photography in general, was Instagram. And, that's their first entryway into that. It was, not strange because they're just a product of their times, it's not their fault. But, they would immediately go to take pictures of their work and stuff. And, I think there's almost no room to anonymously grow in your work when you're constantly posting it. It's attached to your name, and stuff. I wish I had not posted everything from freshman year, and everything.
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