An interview with photographer John Mark Hanson

Hi, John! Thank you so much for doing this interview with me. Your work is beautiful and your Grandmothers of America series is particularly lovely. blanca-web_642

Thanks Kelsey, I appreciate the interest in my work.

So tell me about yourself! You’re based in LA, correct? What do you love about LA? What don’t you love but put up with because of all the opportunities there? What are your life dreams? How long have you been doing photography? Are you from Grand Rapids? (That’s where I live.) 

I’m originally from Traverse City, but I moved to Grand Rapids in 2011 and now reside in LA.  I just moved [to LA] about a year and a half ago.  I love all of the culture and incredible ability to learn about new and exciting things. There is so much going on here and so much creativity.  I really don’t love the traffic and pollution. There is also a lot of stress about money with rent as high as it is, but there are incredible opportunities and some amazing work happening here in the arts. My life dreams are to continue writing and recording music, photographing, and directing videos for artists and projects which inspire me creatively and to invest in community enrichment initiatives wherever I live. I have been doing photography for 14 years or so, since I was a junior in high school so 14 years. 

Some of your images are beautiful layers of several photos. How do you decide which photos to layer for a foggy / textured effect? 

BG-9810pg_640So one component of my style is multiple exposures. I do this by taking two pictures on the same frame of film. This is all done in-camera and not in the editing process on a computer. I usually start with a portrait so I know where certain facial features are in an image and then shoot some texture or organic material. I like to use plants and people together because it blends separate living things into one and creates a sort of mystery and obscurity. I like creating images with dimension and depth, and I love the experimental side of the process; each time you take a multiple exposure is sort of a mystery.  

For much of 2017, the photos you posted on Instagram were all in black and white. What tone does this set? vv4ed-website_640

I have been shooting black and white in my personal work since my Photography 1 class in high school. I just love the look and feel of BW film, and it’s a great process to shoot, develop, and scan my own film (an affordable way to shoot analog photography). Over the years, I’ve continued to learn about tone and value and to see the world in BW as opposed to color. So black and white has just become a way for me to share my photography practice and maybe offer a new way of seeing the world to others. 

What other photographers or creatives do you feel inspired by? 

Some of my favorite photographers are Gregory Crewdson, Eric Rose, Vivian Maier, and Edward Weston.

Creatives I’m inspired by right now are musicians Joan Shelley, Tim Carr, and Andy Schauff and filmmakers Mike Mills, Joseph Kolean, and the Canada Production Company.

IDCVR-1-of-1hairtmp800_800Where do you find your models? They’re quite striking and feel very naturally posed, not forced at all.

I don’t really ever hire models. I am always working with people I know and I suppose having a existing relationship with folks helps the situation to be more comfortable. Usually the portraits I do for artists are commissioned.   

What is one of your most memorable photo shoots? 

My shoots with May Erlewine have been pretty memorable, she’s an incredible person with so much love. Also working with singer Antwaun Stanely was pretty memorable, that guy is such a bright light.  

Processed with VSCOcam with f3 preset
Photo of John by Kelsey Tucker

Where is the coolest place you’ve traveled for photos? 

I kind of just bring cameras with me wherever I go… so I’d say hiking in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and Guatemala was probably the coolest region I’ve traveled to for photos. I hiked around shooting medium format black and white film at ancient Mayan ruins. It was a life-changing experience. 

What are your goals with photography? Any advice for other young photographers wanting to get into the business?

My goals with photography are to continue to grow and learn in the medium and to continue working with and sharing the analog process. I’d eventually like to run my own studio with resources for developing, scanning, and printing. For younger people wanting to explore photography, I’d say just go out and shoot! Any camera, even a phone, just shoot to find out what you love to shoot, then keep shooting that. And don’t waste time shooting things that don’t excite you. In creative work, it is important to notice things that energize you and follow those. Don’t get lost on a path doing work that drains you and does not fulfill you. 

lasso2-4-of-4spec800_800What’s the story behind founding the Lamp Light Music Fest? I have yet to attend but always want to when I see the rosters.

The Lamp Light Music Festival is a project that was developed as an experiment in social practice work, shifting the idea of what a music festival could be. [Hosting it in] houses opened up a new pathway for folks to share and listen to music in Grand Rapids. It has grown over the years into a fun staple weekend event in Eastown where people gather for the listening room experience. It is run by an incredible team of local artists and creatives, and the event really brings people together in an inspiring way. I definitely suggest checking it out. There are weekend passes and single event passes as well.   

Last but not least, a fun one. What camera do you shoot with? And how many lenses do you own? 🙂

So I shoot with several different cameras; here’s the list:

Mamiya RB67 with a 127mm and 50mm lens
Canon F-1 with 50mm lens and 135mm lens
Canon EOS-1 with 50mm lens
Canon 6D with 50mm lens and 35mm lens


You can discover more of John’s photography on his website or on Instagram at @johnmarkhanson.


This interview was edited for grammar and clarity. ❤

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