From travelling the US baseball fields of the Minor League, to documenting parts of Alaska. The work of Michael Hanson (Atlanta, 1981) displays several topics all around North (Urban Farms, Amish) and South (Peru, Chuao) America, among other places on Earth.
Manlleu Camera Club, had the chance to chat with this Seattle based photographer, with clients such as; The New York Times, Outside, USA Today, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Continental Airlines, US Airways, Starbucks, or Sierra Club among others. A must read interview, if you’re interested in Life, with or without a camera in hand.
GFM. How did you start photography? How was your transformation from baseball player to professional photographer?
MH. I took photography classes in high school and always enjoyed the process which, at that time, was centered around chemicals and the darkroom with black and white images. It felt so tactile. I was distracted by so many other things but always knew photography was going to be at least a hobby. My last year in the minor leagues was frustrating as the curve ball became more difficult to hit and at the same time, I became more and more curious about what was next in life. The lifestyle of a minor league baseball player is pretty fascinating. Young kids, many with lots of money and very little supervision, live in hotels in small towns, and I wanted to tell this story but didn’t know how. Documentary photography is the truest art form. I didn’t want to create anything, I just wanted to record everything. I began to carry a camera on the road trips, around the locker room, in the dugout. I was a terrible photographer, but I knew there was a story, and the more I struggled on the field, the more excited I became to start documenting this behind-the-scenes part of the game. When I finally retired after Spring Training, I returned to Birmingham, AL where I lived with my brother. I remember waking up one morning and saying, ‘Today I’m a photographer’. That’s the beauty of photography, you don’t have to receive a degree or a certificate to do it.
GFM. Can you tell me about “Dominican Baseball” was it a way to share two passions? how did it start?
MH. The Dominican Baseball series combines not only photography and baseball but my love for Latin America. Some of my good friends in the minor leagues were from the Dominican Republic, and I wanted to know their country. Baseball in the Dominican is a religion. Nowhere on Earth is a culture as obsessed with a sport like the Dominicans are with baseball. I’ve always tried to find ways to understand a culture. Lately, this has been through food and stories of farming but in the Dominican, the best way to see the culture and the people is through baseball. I recently revisited a friend that signed with the Red Sox. I’m hoping to follow his career as he attempts to navigate minor league baseball over the next few years.
GFM. On your portfolio we see a lot of America (a really great documenting job) Perú, USA, AK, México, is it about nearness or there’s an special mood in the New Continent you want to convey?
MH. I think a large portion of that documentation stems from the fact that geographically, the Americas are close. It’s about access and time. I would love to spend time in Southeast Asia or Africa but as far as telling a compelling story, I don’t know those areas as well, and they are harder to get to. I feel comfortable in Latin America especially since I speak Spanish. I’ve made 23 trips to Latin America and still feel there is so much more to see. I’ve been to Africa and am hoping to return soon but there is something about the Latin American people and the landscape that I love. Another one of my favorite areas is Southern USA. Again, the more access a photographer can have the stronger the images are going to be. One of the areas I feel unique is my ability to interact with Southerners and know the culture. I’m not talking about Atlanta and Charlotte, I am referring to the deep South. The South that many people have never seen or heard of. I recently did a small trip to Northern Florida and still can’t believe some of the scenes. The similarities between these people and indigenous groups around the world would surprise most people.
GFM. We are in love with Alaska, what can you tell us about the Last Frontier?
MH. Alaska is hard to describe. The immense scale of everything, the glaciers, the mountains, the valleys, the rivers is really hard to comprehend and, especially hard to photograph. I recently did a aerial tour near Prince William Sound and was blown away by the mountains in winter. There seems to be a general curiosity/draw towards Alaska, and I’m not sure I can explain that attraction. I think we all like knowing a that wild, unbridled frontier is still there. Maybe Edward Abbey sums it up the best, “We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may not ever need to go there.” Perhaps just knowing this massively wild space is there makes us wonder.
Documentary photography is the truest art form”
GFM. Some tips on travel photography you can tell us?
MH. Everyone has their own style and the gear is really dependent on that style. Maybe I don’t carry lights because I am not as attracted to that style or maybe I just don’t want to carry lights. I want to do the best I can to fit in and keep up. If I am spending a day with farmers in Peru, the last thing I want to worry about is my Pelican case of lights or a tripod and stand. Gear is obviously important, but I really want to keep it from being a hindrance. Lately, I’ve been carrying a shoulder bag with two bodies, a few lenses, a flash and a few accessories. If the subject is strong enough, I don’t need much gear. Just don’t mess up the exposure and don’t over think it. I see too many photographers who constantly blog and scream about their gear and the latest and greatest. To me, that’s just not interesting. Anyone can buy a fancy light or a special crane for a video but none of that makes up for bland images. As far as cold or remote locations go, I feel comfortable in uncomfortable situations. I become so obsessed with making images that I don’t worry much about getting three meals a day and such. I am not at all unique in that regard as most photographers feel the same way, and there are plenty of other photographers who are much tougher than I am. We all become pretty obsessed when we are in a moment.
GFM. Can you tell us more about your Sacred Valley workshop with NG?
MH. I am teaching a workshop in the Sacred Valley in Peru in September 2012. I’ll treat it like an assignment with early mornings and late evenings. I’ll mix in plenty of slideshows and critiques of student’s work, and we’ll try to find something different than the standard tourist spots. If it’s successful, we’ll all come back exhausted with a collection of images that tell a story of the culture, people, and landscape. I think there are still open spaces for the workshop. Email me if you have any interest.
That’s the beauty of photography, you don’t have to receive a degree or a certificate to do it”
GFM. What equipment do you use?
MH. I use Canon 5D Mark IIs right now with a variety of lenses – 50mm 1.4, 24-105, 17-40, 70-200 and a 45 TS. I also carry either a Mamiya 7II or a Hasselblad on most assignments. There is still something about film that I like.
GFM. Future projects?
MH. Always. Right now, my brother (a writer) and I are working on a documentary film in the South USA this Fall. It’s a big story and would take about 6 weeks to film but there’s a good amount of adventure including 30 days in a canoe. We are still in the early planning stages.
All images and text © Michael Hanson.