Adelaide-based photographer Hilary Hann spent her formative years in a world very different from the sedate and orderly City of Churches. Born in Singapore, her family spent time in North Borneo before moving to East Africa and settling in Kenya where she was raised.
Calf Charge I
Hilary’s emotional connection to Kenya and East Africa, its people and its spectacular animal life, profoundly informs who she is as an artist and a person.
‘My work,’ she writes in her blog, ‘is the product of passion, love and deep respect for the land and the people of East Africa. In reality, it is an extension of the spiritual response I have towards African wildlife, its struggle to maintain relevance in a diminishing wilderness and its importance to the lives and history of people the world over.’
Confessing that while she loves her Adelaide home and life in Australia, photographically speaking Hilary finds it a challenge to connect with the Australian environment in the same intensely emotional way she does with East Africa.
‘I need the drama of the animals,’ she said. ‘A landscape without the intrigue of what may happen today or tomorrow or in the next hour, lacks a little bit of excitement. If I was a true landscape photographer, it would make no difference. But I’m an animal person and I just don’t get the same feeling here.
‘When we were growing up, there were coups, there were assassinations, there was gunfire and there were all sorts of things that you wouldn’t experience in Adelaide. You need some excitement in your life that’s not going to kill you. Life would be pretty dull if you’re totally safe and cared for by the state and nothing ever happens. I just don’t want to be that person.’
It’s a dilemma familiar to many an expat – being tugged in two directions, between what was and what is. Asked if her ‘dreaming’ was in some sense African, Hilary replied, ‘some people have said there’s a sort of dream-like quality to my photographs. Maybe that’s really what it is, it’s part of that connecting to how you felt about a place when you were younger and it was your home, where you lived, and how you interacted with people.’
The emotional intensity of Hilary’s award-winning African images puts them outside what might be called the wildlife documentary tradition. Her photographs are the products of a painstaking process of layering textures and paring back of the extraneous details.