Hannele Lahti: Exposing Nature
by Cindy Brookshire
Nationally recognized documentary and fine art photographer Hannele Lahti remembers the first time she picked up a camera. She was 5. It was a pink Minnie Mouse 110.
Later, while she was in junior high, her father bought her a Petri 35mm from a pawn shop. “It was just a single lens SLR,” she recalled.
Everything about nature fascinated her, from the rippling waters of Lake Wesserunsett in central Maine, where she grew up, to the long drives out to Wyoming to visit the ranch where her grandmother worked. “My parents were both teachers, so we had the summers off to go on road trips,” she explained.
Wild horses often became the subject of her focus. She also seeks water, inspired by the first art show she attended as a child: a showcase of several oil paintings by French Impressionist Claude Monet, including “Water Lilies.”
Lahti brought her water images of her beloved Lake Wesserunsett to her recent “Ebb & Flow” exhibit at the Hylton Performing Arts Center, in Manassas. It’s her second exhibit in Prince William. Last year she participated in a group exhibit at the Center for the Arts at the Candy Factory, in downtown Manassas. She will teach a four-hour workshop there on July 12.
Lahti, who has exhibited her works as a professional member of Women Photojournalists of Washington, D.C., has participated in 20 shows and exhibits in the past 12 years in Washington and By Cindy Brookshire Maine, as well as in Rochester, New York. Her work as a photographer, which focuses primarily on images of nature, has earned her at least a half-dozen awards.
She was a winner in 2013 (Issue 32) in the professional photography category competition of New York-based Creative Quarterly: the Journal of Art & Design, among the top publications of its kind in the world. She also won runner-up in that competition, with a second image she submitted, and she won runner-up again in the magazine’s 33rd edition competition. (That publication listing winners hit stands the end of April.)
Additionally, Lahti won a 2005 FOLIO Ozzie Gold Award, recognizing excellence in magazine design (and photography) in New York.
At only 33, she is a member and past co-president of the D.C. chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers. She has served on the advisory board and awards committee for FotoWeek DC, rebranded in 2011 to FotoDC, Inc., a nonprofit organization in the nation’s capital committed to providing exposure for photographers and with an annual photo festival that draws more than 40,000 attendees each year.
“People think they have to have the right camera. They don’t. It’s more about who’s behind the camera, and what that person has to say,” Lahti said. “You don’t look at a painting and wonder, ‘What brush did the artist use?’ You don’t read a story and ask, ‘What kind of pen did the writer hold?’ Photography is still a new art form in so many ways. It’s only a couple hundred years old and has a long ways to go.”
Lahti, who is a 2003 graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York (with a bachelor’s degree in photography), has paid her dues. She once posed kitschy kids with-bunnies shots in front of roll-down backdrops at a suburban portrait studio. She lit a photo shoot in the dank basement barof the former Brickskeller (now The Bier Baron Tavern) in Washington, D.C.
She even shot (photographed that is) historic guns in the National Firearms Museum in Fairfax—including famous weapons from Hollywood action films—as a staff photographer for the National Rifle Association. Since 2008, she has been a contract photographer for National Geographic Creative. Through www.natgeocreative.com, her images are showcased among those of hundreds of award-winning photographers to professional buyers around the world.
Lahti and her husband—illustrator, oil painter and art professor David Labrozzi—moved to Manassas’s historic district from Arlington in 2009. Lahti focuses her photography on environmental conservation, travel and, more recently, dogs. The couple shares studio space in their home, and represents part of a growing synergy of creative artists drawn to Manassas to invest in its future as an arts and tourism district.
“Old Town Manassas has the cute coffee shop, the café restaurants, the outdoor concerts,” Lahti said. “I want it to attract really good artists, and photographers raise the bar.”
She said one of her heroes is Atlanta gallery owner Jennifer Schwartz, who started a nonprofit called Crusade for Art, to encourage communities around the U.S. to connect audiences at the street level with the fresh new work of local artists and photographers.
Freelancing in the Washington area for Lahti means covering a hearing on Capitol Hill one week and shooting an occasional video the next. Last summer, she shot “Three Schools in One Day Uniform Giveaway” for U.S. sports apparel and team uniform supplier Russell Athletic® , with the brand’s ambassador, Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garçon.
For the past five years, Lahti’s been photographing dogs probono for such clients as nonprofit City Dogs Rescue (www.citydogsrescuedc.org ), an all-volunteer organization in Washington, D.C., that re-homes canines. Now, Lahti’s marketing her dog photography to paying clients.
“It’s extremely difficult, but rewarding and fun,” she explained. “The dogs give me something different. I can’t go in with a set expectation. I have to play with them and figure out their personalities and see what happens. I enjoy that.”
Lahti said she has always just wanted to be outdoors, scouting for interesting water images at the Stone Bridge at Manassas National Battlefield Park or returning to Mink Brook in Moscow (Maine, not Russia), where her grandmother grew up.
“There are many more places that I want to save up for, like New Zealand, Iceland and Greenland, to see the icebergs before they all melt … Asia, India … the Ganges is so spiritual … and the U.S. Northwest—Oregon, Washington State,” she said, ticking off her bucket list.
Wherever she goes, you can be sure that Lahti will be fearless—thinking nothing of dangling off the edge of a ferry boat in Newfoundland—and honest, refusing to manipulate her natural images with Photoshop.
You can view her work at hannelelahti.com or on her Facebook page, “Hannele Lahti Photography,” where she posts a fresh image every week, she said.
Manassas resident Cindy Brookshire is a frequent contributor to Prince William Living. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.