On the hunt for shutterbug’s gold, Photographer Hannah Ross slowly explored the cramped crawl space beneath her subject’s house. With only her cell phone as a light source, she searched for the perfect prop that might complete her photo shoot. Instead, she stumbled across a surprising find: bloody mannequins. At least, they were mannequins painted to look bloody. “[It] was quite creepy and unexpected,” she recounts of the unusual discovery. But for some photographers, unusual tends to be the norm in this business. “I have loads of stories about equipment failures and being stranded in over 100-degree heat, or a model having an allergic reaction and needing a medevac,” Hannah adds. But that’s just another day at the office for someone so dedicated to her craft: No adventure is too outside the box when it comes to getting the perfect shot.
Raised mainly in Virginia, with five years of her childhood spent in Japan and Panama, Hannah decided to head west to work in television and commercials after getting her film degree from New York University. Between the vastly different coasts, she noted disparate aesthetics between each major city.
“When I first moved to L.A., I met with several prominent photographers to learn the ‘rules’ for west coast photography, which are: The market is primarily lifestyle and catalog, and things are very casual. For instance, a bathing suit shot in New York would require heels on the model (high fashion), and in L.A. it would be barefoot. Working with L.A. designers, the styles are also more street/casual with a lot of influence coming from graffiti artists. There isn’t much high fashion found, so I did have to bend a bit to suit the clients,” Hannah explains, revealing how living in Los Angeles influenced her work at the time.
Once she nailed the aesthetic, Hannah focused on crafting a team to work with in L.A.: “It took years, but finding the perfect stylist and makeup artist is essential to any production. The philosophy comes down to — if you have a crew that you truly trust, then you’ll have a natural groove going, and the photos will follow.”
That’s no joke; with the perfect team in place and valuable advice on her side — not to mention raw talent — Hannah has built a successful career, evidenced by a well-stocked and well-deserved trophy case. She was named the 2011 New Master Artist in the New Masters Competition (Netherlands); was commended at the 2011 Sony World Photography Awards; had her work displayed for the Moscow Biennale at the Moscow Modern Art Museum; was appointed the Arte Creative Residency at ARTE G.E.I.E. (France); served as the artist in residence at the Cyprus College of Art (Larnaca, Cyprus) and Taide & Design (Finland); and has been touted as the Leading Contemporary Photographer at the Fashion and Textile Museum (London). And then there are the celebrities who have relied on her skills to bring them to life in front of the lens, the likes of which include LMFAO, Amanda Lepore, Perez Hilton and the cast of NCIS.
Hannah has gained worldwide recognition for her photography, fashion being one of the key focuses of her work. She names House of Infinite Radness as her favorite Los Angeles-based designer, among other fashion influences. “In general, I love Martin Margiela, his work, but I also adore the mystique surrounding the identity of the designer. He has never been photographed, interviewed, and only replies to press via fax.”
After years spent immersed in Los Angeles and its fashion talents, calling medevacs for models and stumbling across creepy horror-film-like mannequins, Hannah now has her own advice to dispense to any future L.A. photographers:
“Don’t wait to be discovered; be proactive in finding work for yourself. Work for free to get ins, and then paid work will follow. Assist for photographers to learn their methods. The bottom line is that having a career in fashion photography requires primarily independent pursuit. If you’re driven, work hard and are persistent, it’s just a matter of building your book and paying your dues.”
Discover more of Hannah’s work in the slideshow below, while we also blow your mind with some additional Hannah Ross Q&A.
Q: What inspired you to be a photographer to begin with? Was it a specific photograph, or a specific photographer? How has that work or photographer influenced your work?
A: My uncle was a concert/band photographer, so growing up I was introduced to loads of gadgets and taught all sorts of film cameras. In middle school I started going to my community center to use the darkrooms, and by high school I had set up a darkroom in my bathroom. I always had seen it to be a very competitive and small industry (especially with the rise of new media) so I was initially discouraged from pursuing it as a viable career path. The only other work I sought out would have to be National Geographic. I didn’t have a subscription so I would buy the year prior at library sales, and as a kid I thought it would be the dream job to travel the world shooting photos.
Q: As a multimedia artist, what other media do you work with? And what excites you about other media?
A: I really work with anything that I can get my hands on. I research a great deal into new media sources and devices because technology has become so much more accessible and inexpensive. Experimentation is key to inspiring new methods of visuals. The new Lytro camera, for example, is a brand new technology where you can capture photographs in 3D, so in RAW conversion you can select which field is in focus. [It is] very exciting to be on the cusp of breaking new ground in the field.
Q: What is the most difficult aspect of being a photographer? On that note, what is your favorite aspect of this career?
A: The benefit of having inexpensive technology is obvious, but the downside is that the competition has now increased as well. It’s a tiny and tough field to stay active in and maintain ongoing clients. The upside is that the work I’m producing is creating imagery, which is immensely gratifying. I can’t imagine having another type of profession.
Q: Who is your favorite photographer?
A: Some of my favorites are Gregory Crewdson, Loretta Lux, Erwin Olaf and Gilbert Garcin.