Lauren Hahn's Beautiful Unease

I don’t want to make anything that’s ham-fistedly trying to shove an idea in anyone’s face, because often that results in some pretty bad art.
— Lauren Hahn, Photographer

Lauren Hahn has accepted that her work will always be influenced by fashion. Image supplied.

Lauren Hahn has been taking photos for as long as she can remember. Armed with her dad’s old SLR camera she chose photography as an elective at secondary school and soon began skipping other classes to hide in the darkroom.

Today, the 28-year-old says the images she produces is her 'brain trying to project how she wants to see the world.'

That particular world is provocative and observational. It's disarmingly candid, poetic, and invites the viewer to look and be curious. The female nude is central to Hahn's work and she uses it as a powerful sculptural form to tell a story.

“The women in my work are free from constraints we have in the real world [and] they can be themselves without others watching and dictating how they are seen,” says Hahn.

That sense of freedom is ever present in her work, but it also creates tension. In today's society we continue to question rules around nudity and the way in which gender and identity are so heavily tied up in how women are treated. But Hahn's work allows us to take a visual breather and captures a version of femininity that is strong, yet undone. It is intentionally unintentional and her seemingly simple compositions are balanced with sensitivity, intellect and emotion.

“I’m very into social justice and feminism, so [I think] about those things all the time [and place] that meaning onto my work. But someone else  might see something totally different” she says.

Hahn uses the nude as a sculptural form to tell a story. Photography: Lauren Hahn.

Hahn uses the nude as a sculptural form to tell a story. Photography: Lauren Hahn.

Hahn is inspired by the works of photographers who push the visual envelope, including Juergen Teller, Nan Goldin, Wolfgang Tillmans, Petra Collins, Synchrodogs, Roe Etheridge, Juno Calypso, among others.

Not surprisingly, photographer Ren Hang is also on her list. Famous for his explicit, yet irreverent nudes in an exploration of sexuality, silenced voices and taboo, they provide an eye into Ren Hang’s desire to escape his depression while also letting the viewer take a peek inside a world that is filled with complex emotion, reflective of his challenge to push past repression and China's censorship. The Chinese photographer also worked with fashion labels including Opening Ceremony, Loewe and Gucci, and his work has appeared in international art and fashion publications. His final shoot was 'Welcome to the Jungle' - an editorial shot for Vogue Me China.

Tragically, Ren Hang took his own life in 2017 at the age of 29.

New Zealand photographer Yvonne Todd also made a lasting impression on Hahn who was fortunate enough to be tutored by Todd in her final two years of art school. But Hahn also finds inspiration in unexpected places: she collects images from eBay and Aliexpress sellers, following pages dedicated to ’weird amateur snapshots’.

Art, she says, has become a worldwide conversation that reflects peoples ideas about what is happening around them. She points to the internet as a place where barriers have been broken down, making the world smaller and allowing for broader engagement.

Lauren Hahn's work is provocative and unexpected. Image supplied

Lauren Hahn's work is provocative and unexpected. Image supplied

“[The internet] has given so many people a platform that [they] would never have had in the past, [where they can] express themselves without letting others dictate the terms," she says. Hahn also feels the digital sphere creates a sense of impermanence, informality and a freedom to try new things because it is so removed from reality.

The Auckland-based photographer also shoots object and environment in an observational style. But her portraits and candid snaps of people are the most striking.

“I’m kind of just obsessed with humans [and I] love it when people accidentally make art,” she says.

There is something beautifully uneasy about the women that feature in Hahn's work and she explores her subject matter through a naive lens, arriving at a place that unconsciously straddles the boundary between art and fashion - an idea that hasn't always sat well with her.

Hahn's first foray into fashion photography began with a polished, picture-perfect aesthetic. But as she began finding her voice, her style evolved into something that felt more authentic. What coincided with that was a change of attitude towards fashion, which was something that she always loved in the past.

“The women in my work are free from constraints we have in the real world." Photography: Lauren Hahn.

“The women in my work are free from constraints we have in the real world." Photography: Lauren Hahn.

“I went through a phase of completely rejecting fashion,” she says.

Prompted to show someone her work she recalls pulling out images of her nudes only to receive the unexpected response, “Oh, so you shoot fashion?”

Initially upset that her images could be viewed in a fashion context, today she accepts that it will always be an influence in her work, especially as many of her collaborators work in the fashion industry.

Hahn is currently studying to become a psychologist, which will ultimately assist her in creating a division between her income stream and her arts practice. Up until recently, this has been a point of tension for the artist who no longer enjoys producing commercial imagery.

Photography is Hahn's way of making sense of the world. It gives her equal amounts of freedom and control, allowing her to articulate what can’t be expressed in words. But although Hahn's art form is important to her that doesn't mean she insists on leaving a legacy behind.

“I see [my work] more like brain vomit than any kind of divine thing that is worthy of preservation,” she says.

To see more of Lauren Hahn's work head to her website

Story by Sonia Sly