Stephen O’Malley

Parking Lot Hydra - Estelle Hanania

Posted: May 3, 2010


We are delighted to welcome Estelle Hanania to the virtual gallery. Her work we think is outstanding visually and perfectly matches the 'theatrical' tone of our other current events!

Photographer Estelle Hanania is a lyrical storyteller, weaving tender and sometimes perplexing plots into her fashion photo series.

Her fashion stories develop beyond the confines of a studio or location shoot by integrating still life and landscape images, creating visual rhythm and narrative complexity. The Paris-based photographer has a background in graphic design, art direction and fine art. She graduated in 2006 from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris and, in the same year, won the ‘best photographer’ prize at the highly prestigious Hyeres Festival in Southern France. Her photography has been exhibited in several galleries in France and her work, both commissioned and personal, has appeared in magazines including Another, Modern Painters, 032c and Capricious.

Hanania regularly collaborates with artists to create unique sets, backdrops and accessories for shoots, which lend an air of delicate curiosity to her work. Her personal projects, which feed directly into fashion commissions, result from explorations into costume, folklore and pagan tradition.

Pagan emblems invested with symbolism and still life elements loaded with meaning and memory bring a unique narrative to Hanania’ stories: here the garments are one of a number of powerful storytelling devices in an unfolding drama. She often explores ideas about alchemy and magic that have become associated with modern photography – subverting our common
conception that a photographic image can, with the use of digital manipulation, portray the impossible. But the wonders in Hanania’s poetic and technically nimble images are achieved without any digital trickery or retouching at all. She approaches her photography from a cultural standpoint, is interested in costume and the body’ relationship to garments and contextualises fashion among other art forms: qualities that immediately mark Estelle Hanania out as a sensitive and commanding photographer.

text by Angharad Lewis


Interview by Decathlon Books

How did you find out about this ceremony and how did it feel to be there?

A few years ago, I started to work around traditional masquerades. I’m looking for worlds I haven’t seen before. For The Parking Lot Hydra story, I wanted a mood with something very organic to it. It would have something to do with animals, and men using their fur to cover their own bodies. I was interested in this wild side of things. I came across archive images of a tradition gathering from Eastern Europe. For the occasion, men wore masks of feathers that particularly attracted me. Those reminded me of Native American garments and headdresses. I’m drawn to the blur line and to the uncertainty about the masks, the costumes and their origin.
To be there was extraordinary. It was the exact kind of atmosphere I like to blend in. It is like being in an oil painting where the colors faded, where the light is grey and flat, in a way I like a lot, typical of Eastern Europe.

Can you describe what happens from beginning to end?

The place is full of masked people, the masks go from cheap to very sophisticated. The music is loud, there’s lots of marching bands. Huge dusty trucks arrive in town where hundreds of crazy figures pour out of them. The rhythm of the procession is quite intense. Once it starts, it doesn’t stop, not until very late at night. My favorite moment is on the second day: very early in the morning. Streets are still trashed and messy from the day before, people are hungover but they keep dancing and singing, going deeper into the performance. They become wilder and even more dedicated to their costume and to the character they play. Incessant music comes from small bands performing everywhere in town. Most of the masked men seem to be in trance.

Where is it?

It’s a small town in Bulgaria. I spent most of my time there in a parking lot where the trucks carryings groups and costumes parked. This parking lot was the place where groups would get dressed and put their costumes and masks on. It was a crucial moment where the figures came to life.

Were there other people photographing the ceremony?

Yes, mainly some locals and tourists from Bulgaria or the countries around. Some journalists were covering the event for local newspapers. It was a good thing, I could blend in with the crowd, and not be particularly noticed, even though i was shooting with a middle format camera .

Were you the only woman there?

No, there were women, definitely. For the most of them, they were costumed and took part in the ceremony. I can’t deny that it is mainly a man’s world. It is always a positive thing that I am a girl at these events, the costume men are nice to me. I’ve seen a male photographer trying to take someone’s portrait, and the model shot white wine at his face from a seringe, things of that sort. Some of the people’s faces and hands are totally painted in black, and sometimes they walk right up to you and put their hands all over your face. You end up completely dirty and black yourself, Carnival atmosphere… Actually, it didn’t happen to me but my boyfriend -who was filming- had to run away from them a few times.

What is your take on the casual coming together with the really old school ceremony ?

The confrontation is really good and makes the event much more interesting for me. It is rooted in the present as much as in the past. These masks and costumes come from ancient times. The way the young generation appropriates the tradition is really interesting. I like this contrast . It is this confrontation that gives the image an even more interesting story to tell. For example there are lot of photos where cars and trucks are an important part of the subject.
I’m not looking for an exotic or a nostalgic feel in my work.

What is the ceremony about? What is going on?

This ceremony is a big gathering, not only for Bulgarian masquerades, but also for Romanian, Greek, Serbian or Turkish ones. Very different groups of people gather. Some of them have already performed earlier in the year, in their own villages, to welcome the new year, originally to frighten the evil spirits away, so the year to come will be good. It’s where many of these winter masquerades come from…



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