TIME&PLACE is Newcastle’s brand new Gallery with a penchant for contemporary photography and graphic design. ALOUD caught up with HANNAH ROBINSON, a Newcastle based freelance and documentary photographer, and one half of the duo behind TIME&PLACE. We spoke about the gallery and the aim for it to become both a place to show and make work, Hannah’s documentary forays onto the steppes of Mongolia and closer to home, behind the walls of the Empire Hotel and what ultimately drives us to look for answers in foreign places.
ALOUD: Hi Hannah, would you like to talk about the idea behind TIME&PLACE?
HANNAH ROBINSON: Brett Piva (graphic designer – Pocket Design) and I had been working from our respective homes for a while. Me, as a photographer and him, as a graphic designer. We decided that we should apply for a Renew Newcastle space that would have a gallery component.
We aim to have monthly shows and give national and local creatives an opportunity to show their work at a fairly minimal cost. We also wanted a place to work from and share ideas. We still want to get a few more people to share the space with us.
ALOUD: What’s in store at TIME&PLACE?
HANNAH: The next exhibition to be held by TIME&PLACE will be an event called NuPhoto, which was founded by an incredibly talented photographer and friend of mine Conor Ashleigh, and will feature work from 8 local photographers including myself.
” NuPhoto is a photographic event that showcases the work of Newcastle’s exciting and emerging photographers. Presenters at NuPhoto offer the audience a personal insight into their bodies of work some of which may not have been published or shown elsewhere. NuPhoto seeks to strengthen Newcastle’s visual community of photographers in all capacities, creative people and others just interested in coming along for a good night.” – Conor Ashleigh
ALOUD: As you mentioned earlier, you are also a photographer. How did you learn your craft?
HANNAH: I have been making a living in photography for about 5 or 6 years but I have always been a photographer. My dad gave me his old camera when I was a kid and I haven’t stopped since. A few years after high school, I studied Communications and Media Production in Newcastle. Just as I started, they cut photography from the degree so I mainly learned video and media production. However, my first job after graduating was as a photographer’s assistant working with someone who became my mentor for a long time. He taught me everything I know and when he left Newcastle to move to Sydney, I took over his role doing a lot of advertising, fashion, lifestyle and editorial work. I also do some documentary photography for my own personal work.
ALOUD: Could you talk about your trip to Mongolia?
HANNAH: Last year, I rode a horse across Mongolia and documented nomadic horse culture on black and white film. A country where there are 13 horses to 1 person sounds like heaven to me (laughs). I also love the fact that there is no land ownership there, no fences. You can get on a horse and ride as far in any direction as you want.
There is a beautiful culture there; You don’t need to carry anything when traveling because you can just turn up at someone’s door and they will take you in and feed you, no questions asked. And you go on your journey knowing that you would do the same for the next person that comes through your door.
One night, our car broke down at 3 am. We knocked on a door and a lady came out holding her baby. She looked at us – there were about 9 of us – opened the door, moved the kids over to the side and let us find a spot to roll out our sleeping bags and sleep. She got up and made food for the men, sang to her baby and went to sleep. The next morning, I asked one of the men if he knew her. He casually replied that he didn’t. It’s impossible trying to imagine the same thing happening here.
ALOUD: After spending time in Mongolia myself, I came to the conclusion that being poor in the country is still better than being poor in a city. Your photo essay of the inhabitants of the Empire Hotel in Newcastle documents a different type of transience and in many ways, a much tougher one. Could you explain how you were able to step into that world?
HANNAH: I am quite a shy person so I find it surprising to have taken up this sort of role. I was always interested in those guys but it can be intimidating to take that first step towards someone who might be from a different background or lifestyle. I had a mentor, Jack (Picone – Australian photo-journalist) who helped me overcome this problem. I asked him how I should approach these people and he said, “you just go there and you wait.” So that’s what I did.
The first time, I was waiting, somewhere in the back of the Empire Hotel, in this black room, just looking around. I heard footsteps and suddenly, this guy burst into the room. He said a few words and I just started chatting to him. I told him I was interested in the people living in this space, that I was a photographer and would like to document their stories and who they were. I was very honest about what I was doing. I started going there everyday, waking them up in the morning and just hanging out, hearing their stories and talking to them.
Just like that, that barrier was broken down and once I was there, I couldn’t believe how scared I had been of these people who are funny and intelligent, warm, inviting, caring. One of the guys once said to me, “people like you don’t talk to people like me.” The whole experience was pretty powerful and moving, as a person and a photographer.
I have never really shown this body of work in a gallery. I am protective of how the images are seen and the context in which they are shown. It’s also an important record for the city. The Empire Hotel isn’t there anymore, I don’t even know where those guys are anymore…
© All photos are copyright of HANNAH ROSE ROBINSON.
ALOUD: What do you think is the most challenging part of your job?
HANNAH: For me, the hardest thing about documentary photography is that I become so involved with the stories, the people or the culture or whatever I am shooting, that I feel an incredible sense of loss when I have to move on. I find it incredibly difficult when I leave a situation or people whom have allowed me the intimate privilege into their lives. After shooting the Empire I returned to full time work (I had taken time off for the project) and I almost had a meltdown. I couldn’t find my place between these two incredibly opposite worlds, it took me a long time to feel normal in my own headspace, and reality because I almost felt like I had been to another world. With Mongolia, I had been to another world! And I left a piece of my heart out there on the steppe with my pony when I returned home – thats for sure.
ALOUD: And what makes it worth it?
HANNAH: Anything that makes you feel something is always worthwhile. In the end it is what drives me, to feel, to do work with meaning and tell a story that perhaps would have never been told.
HANNAH’s Website: www.hannahrose.com.au
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