Hannah Morse: The Fifth Stage

David J. Carol


I was recently invited to The Savannah College of Art and Design to review portfolios, speak on a panel about art and photography and spend a few days working with the students. It was a great experience. I will be writing a series of articles about the students and faculty I met during my week there. 

And now Hannah Morse. Hannah was one of the students I met at the aforementioned portfolio reviews. She will be graduating from SCAD in four weeks with an MFA in Photography. I think her work is fascinating, revealing, insightful and important. To see more, visit her website.

"The 5th Stage"
All images © Hannah Morse 2014

DC- You started taking pictures in High School. Was there a moment or even a particular photo when you thought, "This is for me, this is my life. I am a photographer."
HM- There wasn't a particular photograph, per se, but I can remember the first time I watched a photograph come up in the developer in high school.  It was magic, it literally took my breath away.  It all snowballed from there.  I took the analog classes multiple times and created a number of independent studies so I could spend more time in both the darkroom and the digital lab.  I also started working with the local wedding photographer, Sam DeNoto, when I was 15, and I think meeting someone that put that much trust in me at such a young age was something that was really encouraging for me. I would say working with Sam was probably one of the main reasons I chose photography as my career path.  From that point, I never considered anything else.  I worked with him for six years until he passed away very suddenly right before my senior year of college.  When I started my own studio, I was actually able to start it in what used to be his studio space.  That was another one of those moments that just solidified that I was doing the right thing and it was almost like having his blessing on my career. 
DC- How do you find people for your "5th Stage" project? Was there research involved before the first encounters? Have you followed up since the shoots?
HM- This is another one of those things that just sort of snowballed.  The project idea came to me because of a conversation I had with my grandmother about a slightly different body of work I was making.  I was taking portraits of strangers and recording their stories.  When I told my grandmother about it, she said I would probably have a lot of elderly women as subjects because they would be lonely and would want to share their stories with someone.  That made me think about relationships and the loss of them, and I realized that I actually already knew quite a few people who had gone through this.  Irene was a friend of my grandmother and Carol was my second grade teacher.  When I came back down South for my second year of graduate school, I started photographing my grandmother and my uncle and they in turn introduced me to more people.  A lot of it ended up being word of mouth through people I already knew, and I was incredibly lucky that these people were willing to let a stranger into their living room and share some of the most intimate details of their lives with me.  I made sure to photograph and interview everyone multiple times.  I'm really big on my subjects being comfortable with me and a lot of my process is just getting to know someone.  I went to Ray's house three times before I even made a photograph of him.  So, in short, there has definitely been follow up, and I started researching after I started shooting - I wanted to delve into the body of work and see what it turned into before I started directing it with specific research, but once I did, it was so clear to me that each of the people I was photographing were in the acceptance stage of grief and each person told me that it was essentially a form of self preservation.  They're all incredible people, and so full of strength. 
DC- You’re given a $100,00 grant to spend in anyway you see fit. You get the money July 1st, 2014. What do you do? 
HM- Can I have two scenarios? 
The first would be to photograph my way through every inch of the United States. My dream vacation is a cross-country road trip.   

The second, and more likely option, would be to start an organization in Upstate New York to bring photography to at-risk youth.  I worked as a teacher’s aide for a while after I finished undergraduate school with kids on the autism spectrum and kids who were emotionally disturbed.  I saw first hand how important art was to their well-being, how they could be having a horrible day emotion-wise or behavior-wise but could go into the art room for an hour and just completely lose themselves.  To me, art is essential to life and I think every kid should have an opportunity to practice it, regardless of the circumstances they come from. I would love to be able to provide that opportunity and that safe haven.  

DC- Hannah, please list your three favorite photographers, writers and friends/relatives. Now after each name in only one sentence explain how each has influenced you.


Eugene Richards - There's so much emotion in his work and it's obviously just so much an extension of him.
Richard Renaldi - He makes 8X10 look easy!
Phillip Tolendano - I ordered "Days With my Father" and when it came in the mail I was enthralled; I didn't expect it to be such a small book and by the half way point I was in tears.

Roland Barthes - He's been twisting my brain since undergraduate school and was a huge source of my research for The Fifth Stage.
Susan Sontag - She's such an exceptional role model for women writers and artists; strong and strong-willed.
Fiction writing in general - I don't have an absolute favorite, I just love to read and everything we consume inspires what we produce.
My fiance, Nick.  He's just one of those genuinely kind people and has made me so much nicer and a lot more mellow. 
My mom, Debbie.  She doesn't take anyone's crap and I definitely got my tenacity from her.
My dad, Ken.  He's very logical, slow to proceed and honest - he inspires me to be an open book and to think things through. 

DC- Pick one word from each of the following pairings.  High-Low, Night-Day, Dog-Cat, Angry-Happy, Fast-Slow, Sound-Taste, Beach-Forest, Give-Take and finally Wide-Narrow.

HM- High, Day, Dog, Happy, Slow, Taste, Forest, Give, Wide

Thanks Hannah and good luck! 



PDN August 2016: The Fine-Art Photography Issue



Tout VTS


Tout VTS


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