Artists at Home: Adad Hannah

The last exhibition that KWAG was able to sustain from open to close before COVID-19 upended our exhibition schedule was Adad Hannah’s Glints and Reflections. A mid-career retrospective organized and circulated by the Musée d’art de Joliette, Hannah’s exhibition provided a broad overview of the photography and video works that have been hallmarks of his practice. Often working with community volunteers through carefully staged collaborations, Hannah captures subtle movement through seemingly still videos to convey encounters with art history and scenes of everyday life alike.

Far from slowing down during this pandemic, Adad Hannah has kept busy creating a fascinating new series of video portraits through spontaneous encounters with strangers in his home town of Vancouver. We caught up with Hannah for a conversation to learn more about this unexpected new body of work.

Vertical still image of a female skateboarder in dark clothing and a black facemask holding up her green skateboard while reclined against the side of a graffiti-covered half-pipe   Vertical still image of an older man and his young son on a sidewalk holding a canvas shopping bag between them   Vertical still image of a take-out restaurant worker in a facemask standing behind a glass counter while tying a white plastic bag

What have you been creating at home?

I've been working on a new series I started on March 14th called Social Distancing Portraits. I had no idea when I started that it was a series but it very quickly turned into one. I've already done more than forty of them now. Besides working on those I've been doing a little bit of creative stuff with the kids, but never enough.

Have the limitations of making new work right now made creativity more challenging? 

I actually like to have limits when I'm being creative as it makes it less difficult. The more restrictions there are, the more you have to figure out what you can do given the circumstances. 

Can you tell us more about the process of how these portraits are made? 

The process is straightforward. I work up the courage to go outside then walk or jump in the car and go maybe a kilometer or so until I see someone. Then I shout to them from a distance asking if they would be willing to pose for a portrait. If they say yes I quickly set up my tripod and frame the shot. I'm shooting with a long lens so I’m at least five metres away from them. I ask them to stay completely still for about thirty seconds. Then I come closer to them and reach out my hand with a recorder to ask them a couple questions and get their email address so I can send them pictures as a thank you.


051 SDP April 4 from Adad Hannah on Vimeo.

When I get home I wash my hands and download the videos to my computer. I then send them to my friend, the composer Brigitte Dajczer, who writes a short piece of music for each piece. Then I upload them to social media. I can't spend too much time on this as my kids are also off school.

What sort of reactions and responses are you seeing in the people you approach?

Some people say no, some say yes. It seems there’s no particular demographic that is more or less likely, so I just ask nicely and always take no for an answer. Then if they do say yes, I am very appreciative and try to do it as quickly as I can. I've been surprised by the amazing generosity of the people who have posed for a complete stranger.

What do you hope to receive by sharing this new work with others? What do you hope they receive from your sharing?

I'm just glad people appreciate the project. It’s been gratifying to work on this and then have the instant response via social media; it has helped raise my spirits as the project helps others. Recently someone commented on Instagram, "Thank you for this series. They seem to help when I am feeling anxious." I guess it does the same for me somehow.

How else are your adapting to this situation – what keeps you going right now?

We have two kids so I honestly haven't had the time to think about this – it’s just moving from meal to meal, activity to activity. But then they also comfort us so it's fine. I've been amazed by the kids' adaptability given the situation. They have really risen to the occasion. I've also been talking to lots of friends around the world, that is always comforting. Oh, and I've made twelve loaves of bread in the last two weeks and given half of it away to neighbours.

I’m happy to see how people are adapting and figuring out ways to keep themselves busy, take care of each other, offer help, make themselves and others laugh, and stay creative. Humanity ain't so bad after all.