Portraitist and photojournalist, Hannah Harley Young, has emerged as the freshest new talent on the London scene. As one of the only women in a male dominated industry, over the last five years she has become the go-to “chronicler” of all the iconic parties in London and across the world. Having captured the likes of Kate Moss, Rihanna, and Prince Charles, who she claims is “such a pleasure to work with, and also incredibly photogenic”, as well as covering the BRITs after-parties, Glastonbury and many more, she has made a serious mark on the photography world in the few years she’s been in the game.
Speaking about her work, Hannah told us “I’m not interested in clinical, “straight up and down,” posed party shots. I love the candid, unposed ones, where you can see people are genuinely having a great time, letting their hair down.” It’s these “candid, unposed” party shots, alongside beautiful portraits and black & white studio sessions that you can expect to see in her debut exhibition, ‘Out of the Shadow’ which opens at Covent Garden’s Hospital Club today.
We tracked down Hannah between parties to find out how she’s feeling about her first exhibition, her favourite shoots and why, sometimes, it pays to be the only girl.
NOTION: In an industry dominated by men, was it hard for you to find your way?
Hannah: It was hard, not just as a female, but I also had to prove myself even more, being the daughter of such a successful photographer (acclaimed celeb-snapper Richard Young). A lot of people saw me as just a kid from college who wanted to get into the industry through the back door, but this really wasn’t the case. Although it opened a lot of doors, I had to show everyone that I was serious and that I was good and could be trusted.
My workplace is predominantly full of men, so it sometimes is tough being the younger woman on the block, trying to make a mark – but I think I’m doing a pretty good job of it! Also, people seem to warm to a female photographer; we have good attention to detail!
What made you pick up your camera again after a short hiatus?
In the 18 months after graduating, I was actually trying to make it as a TV presenter. I wrote a documentary that was picked up by a production company, but they ended up messing me around. After a year or so I had a bit of a meltdown; I was still living at home, not making much money, and I was so ambitious, but I didn’t know which route to take. I decided to cover some jobs for my dad. After a couple of parties, I was seeing my photos online and in the papers and it gave me this boost. I thought – yeah! I can do this. This is kind of cool and I’m the only girl doing it!
How would you describe your style of photography?
Simply put, I am interested in people. So the more time I can spend with someone, getting to know them; reflects in the intimacy of my photos. I’m not interested in clinical, “straight up and down”, posed party shots. I love the candid, unposed ones where you can see people are genuinely having a great time, letting their hair down. You feel a sense of the joy and excitement and believe you’re there with them in the photo. Similarly, with my portraiture, getting a glimpse of someone’s personality is so important. Capturing someone mid laughter, a bit of a smile, a stolen moment looking away from the camera. That for me is a successful photo.
Has there ever been anyone who you’ve been nervous shooting?
I was flown to Scotland in 2015 to photograph Prince Charles. It took about 24 hours to get there and 14 hours to get back due to weather, and I was only with him for an hour! I was so scared. There I was on the rainiest day of the year on the Isle of Islay shooting our future king. My heart was beating out my chest waiting for him to arrive. I kept thinking, this is it, this is when my camera is going to mess up, the memory card is going to corrupt. He ended up being such a pleasure to work with, and also incredibly photogenic!
Which have been the best events you have attended?
I flew to Miami to cover Art Basel, which was a crazy week. I covered all the parties over there. One of them was for Visionaire Magazine. They had this party on the beach, and everyone had to come barefoot. The whole beach was lit up by flood lights, and people could search through massive wooden boxes and take free art. It was magical – until the heavens opened and the whole place flooded!
You must have some amazing celebrity stories. Are there any you can reveal?
In a word, no! But the best job I’ve ever done was with Snoop Dogg. I was shooting him at a club in London. Let’s just say it was a late one and I missed all my deadlines due to oversleeping the next day!
Have you ever dreamed of another career?
It may come as a surprise, but, had I been better at the sciences at school, my dream job would be to be a plastic surgeon! I also would love to still try my hand at TV presenting…
Where did the title ‘Out of the Shadow’ come from?
My mum actually came up with it. She runs my dad’s business as well as his gallery in Kensington, so is used to coming up with exhibition titles. One night we were going through the final edits for the show and she just wrote it down. It was perfect. I come from such a dynamic family, and this is finally my moment to come out of the shadows and show everyone what I am about, what I have been doing and where I want it to go.
Is there a piece in your exhibition you are most proud of?
I couldn’t choose one. They each show a facet of my style and eye as a photographer. I do love the Rita Ora shot simply as it’s very me. It’s fun, sexy and free. I love how she has her hands on the Playboy bunnies’ bums, her cheeky expression. It’s something I would do!