We have been hinting at it for a while and sometimes showed some sneak previews, but today is the happy day where we finally launch Hannelore Commers’ first solo publication ‘Hiraeth’ (try pronouncing that really quickly six times in a row). Because of this joyous fact, we sat down with our favourite Belgian girl and talked about photography, about growing up and about the meaning of that Welsh word she picked as the title of her latest body of work. This girl keeps amazing us, not only with her pictures but with her words as well.
Can you tell us a little about yourself? Who is Hannelore Commers?
I am nineteen years old, living in a small town close to Brussels. I am a die-hard vegan and I love dinosaurs. I have two sisters, two cats and a camper van in the garden which I think is pretty cool. Even though nostalgia can be a liar, my childhood was really a good one. My parents always taught me and my sisters to have a lot of imagination. So my memories consist of picnicking under the kitchen table when it was raining, pretending to be a shark or a mermaid in the swimming pool, coming home with ripped pants and my cheeks hurting from joy. But as with all things positive, they are countered by some things negative. For example, I was always surrounded by other people as a child. My family home was a hostel for friends, relatives, neighbours. It makes me appreciate having some time for myself but at the same time, I think it’s terrifying to be alone, to be in silence with the power of my own thoughts. I miss the ability to be my own friend which often results in a lot of frustrations.
Can you tell us a little about your first solo publication Hiraeth? Also, where did the title come from?
There is no direct translation for the Welsh word ‘Hiraeth,’ and neither is there a direct explanation why it appealed to me. The best we can do is associate a feeling with it. Hiraeth is about a feeling in the gut that you can’t put your finger on, a longing for a home that never was. The pictures in this book are taken on our family holiday in America, two years ago. It was the year I finished secondary school and it was also the year I became ill. I was scared by the sudden freedom I had at that time, the fact that I could do what I wanted with my life made me feel imprisoned and lost. I think it was the growing-up thing. I started feeling pressured by society to let go of my inner child and these pictures depict that feeling. I felt I lost a part of myself I wasn’t allowed to return to. Suddenly I felt as if my dreams were turning into a greenhouse, the trees were bending in a rhythm I didn’t understand anymore. I missed the time I could count the days without the feeling of them being numbered.
How would you describe your work in general?
I hate to put a stamp on anything, to bring it under a general term. I can’t answer this question anyway cause I don’t look at my photographs as ‘work’. It’s mainly something I do for myself, to stay in balance. I never work on a certain subject, it’s only after I take pictures, that they are connected in a certain way.
Who are the people in your photos?
Most of the girls in my pictures are people I meet on Instagram or are friends who you would never get to know better by simply communicating verbally because they are too mysterious for that. The girls in my photographs are usually girls I recognise myself in somehow. I love it when I get to know people better through photography. When you place people in front of a camera they suddenly become so real, the feathers disappear and they become almost like a naked little bird. They can’t fake themselves anymore. Especially with analogue photography. It’s this what makes the moments so intimate, almost embarrassing.
What excites you about photography?
It’s the fear of forgetting that makes me pick up a camera. With photography, you can catch moments which would slip through your fingers otherwise.
Your words are as beautiful as your pictures. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing? What made you pick up your pen?
I actually started writing much earlier than I started photography. Ever since I was a kid, I had this feeling that there are not enough words for the things I want to say or to express what’s inside of me. Dictionaries are pretty dumb if you think about it, certainly when it comes to human feelings. I mean what a stupid word is happy for example. There are a thousand kinds of happiness, coming in different shapes and colours. This inability of words made me taking photographs. So actually my camera is helping me solve the problems language can’t.
Why do you decide to print in this digital age?
The reason for print is the same as the reason for shooting analogue. There is something magical about analogue photography. It always feels like Christmas when my pictures are getting developed. These days people are taking the picture in a frenzy, mindless snapping, without paying any attention to the act in itself. Also, with analogue photography you only have one chance to make the best which as a perfectionist is a challenge for me.it makes photography even more exciting.
What or who inspires you as an artist?
I get inspired by a lot of things. I am usually obsessed with one thing for a period of time and then it moves on to something different. Currently, I am obsessed with Furbies (those talking robot animals), pastel colours, children’s books (I keep on reading Roald Dahl, he is a genius) and the strange behaviours of human beings. For example, a friend told me he saw a man who was trying to catch his own shadow and now I can’t stop thinking about it.
Is there anything you’d like to accomplish with your photography and if so, what would that be?
Very often my photographs are things I am dealing with, feelings and emotions that I am unable to express in any other way. There was a time I was obsessed with photography. I wouldn’t go anywhere without taking my camera. The past couple of months it’s fading away in a rapid tempo. Don’t get me wrong, I still look at this world with my photographic eyes: curious, not taking the common views for granted. I just don’t want a third eye to interrupt these beautiful moments I am living. It may sound a bit selfish but I don’t want a camera to steal them anymore, I don’t want all my experiences shared with others these days.
Any exciting new projects you would like to share with us?
I am currently travelling through Asia on my own. It’s so overwhelming in a good way, I am getting so strong. Sometimes I am so close to happiness I can almost touch it, I can feel its warmth, it makes me glow and makes my cheeks blush.
Who should we interview next?
The mango sticky rice ladies here in Chiang Mai! They are pretty amazing.