Alana Dee Haynes doesn’t take her own photographs any longer. That’s not for want of ability: a browse through the photographs on her website reveals that she’s quite capable of turning her lens to any number of styles and approaches. That collection includes work from as young an age as 14, though, and ends around the time she finished college. Then she discovered a style and practice much more her own and much more distinct.
‘In my last semester of school,’ she tells me, ‘I realised that I liked taking photos so that I could draw on them.’
That’s resulted in an unmistakeable body of work characterised by a blurring of the lines between realist and figurative. Already-striking photographs find themselves adorned with filagrees and swirls, patterns that find the photo’s own hidden structures and bring them out. I’m a little hesitant to use the word, but venture the question anyway: is it a bit like doodling …?
‘Yes, my illustrations are basically doodles,’ she agrees, surprising me a little. ‘The “doodle” feeling is the most fluid drawing zone for me, but it’s a bit more focused than that suggests since the “doodles” lie over the photograph that inspires them. When I see an image, I have an immediate reaction to it; I see my own image over it; and then I just start drawing, creating what I’ve seen in my mind’s eye while also making constant spontaneous decisions as the piece evolves.’
Unsurprisingly, with this off-the-cuff and unorthodox approach, Haynes’ experience of art school (she attended New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology) wasn’t an entirely congenial one.
‘I always attended art schools to be able to pack in as much art as possible, but it was constantly frustrating when I would try to do my own thing in class and the teacher wouldn’t accept it. I think teachers should be more nurturing of students’ own styles instead of focusing on only the technical aspects — when you get an F on something you put your heart and soul into, well, its pretty discouraging and embarrassing.’
Did she find that the slightly combative relationship helped her at all? Sometimes an opponent is just what a young artist needs.
‘I’m not sure if there have been any benefits from me having problems with FIT — I would have rather had a great relationship with the school! But yeah, maybe it made me work harder after graduating; to show that my style was worth defending.’
Anyway, all’s well that ended well, and now she’s found a practice that satisfies not only her but a growing body of fans and appreciators. So — back to the work itself. Sometimes the patterns render the original photograph almost invisible at first glance, giving what was once purely visual a strongly textile, tactile appearance.
Haynes also works in fashion and textiles, so it’s hardly surprising, but how does she see the relationship between her adornments and the things they adorn?
‘Whenever I’m drawing on someone’s photograph, I try and make it my own by changing the dimensions or context, of course. But when I’m done I usually hope it looks natural like camouflage, like maybe thats how it was supposed to be. Textures are within layers of everything, especially skin, so I’m really just trying to bring out something that’s already there.’
Spontaneous or not, however, there’s a lot going on in the works, including a wealth of strong mythological imagery and subtext. The hands in Clasp hint at scales or feathers; Untitled seems to be bring an entirely new creature out of its multiplying subject; a picture of a man with necktie and bicycle on a checkered floor seems to take on a peculiar fairytale aspect. Is that a conscious thing?
‘A lot of my inspiration comes from nature, and I think mythology uses a lot of nature in its way of telling stories. So there are definite links, yes. But then, a lot of my inspiration comes from music, too.
I’m trying to impose my own vision of the photograph onto the photograph itself, and my own vision of the photograph can be influenced by not only the photograph but whatever else is around me – like stories or music.’
It’s a clear that collaboration and freedom are essential to Haynes: one of the things she loves about the practice she’s developed is that she feels as if she’s working with endless collaborators, and there’s work of hers waiting to be released that will demonstrate once again her unwillingness to be pigeon-holed, including sculpture, fashion and furniture.
She’s realistic enough to feel some trepidation about how her new directions will be received — ‘it’s nerve-wracking to see what people think when you branch out from what they are used to from you’ — but undaunted despite that. And when the work is as strong, striking and downright playful as hers, it’s hard to think her audience won’t join her wherever she chooses to take them.