• Jonathan Murillo

Linda Hacker - The beauty of abstraction

Linda Hacker (@stretchhack) is a self-taught street photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. Her DNA is abstraction, textures and colour. She achieves this by shooting through different surfaces and reflections, using motion, or shaping her subjects into beautiful silhouettes. We live in a fast-moving world that evolves and changes every day. Linda invites us to be aware of what is around us, capturing beautiful moments, and sharing them with us. I asked her few questions to know more about her life and work:

What was your first experience as a photographer? What drew you into photography world? What was your first camera?

I was given a Brownie camera as a child and really enjoyed taking every day, family pictures. In high school I saved up and purchased a Minolta SR T 101 and began to get a bit more serious about photography. Photography was something I shared with my father who did a lot of travel photography. We took a couple of one day courses together. I didn’t have any real vision though — my photos really weren’t very interesting to me and at some point, my interest petered out.

Does anybody on your family have a creative background or are you the first one taking that path?

No, my family has never been creative. No real knowledge of — or interest in — art. It’s been quite surprising me — and everyone who knows me — that I’ve taken photography so seriously. I also started to learn to paint last year (multimedia abstract painting) — which is another big surprise to us all.

Do you make a living out of photography or is it a side-job or a hobby?

I discovered my true love of photography rather late in life — so never tried to make a living at it. I am now retired so am lucky enough to be able to take the photos I want without having to worry about making money from them.

Why do you shoot street photography? Do you remember how you ended up focusing on this photographic genre?

I think that like many, I started shooting street because it was very available. For many years, I would primarily take photos on vacations and I came to realize that was not nearly enough — and if I wanted to progress, I needed to take a lot more photographs. I took a workshop at Maine Media workshops and when the teacher reviewed my photos, she wasn’t terribly impressed. She suggested I do a 365-day project shooting at least one photo every day — not with the idea of taking a great photo each day but rather to become aware of the photographic possibilities all around you. I started the project the day I returned home, and it made a huge difference in my visual awareness — I truly awoke to the world around me.

What is your approach to street photography? How often do you go out shooting? Do you always go to the same spots or do you like exploring?

Before I retired, I was always trying to work in time to take photographs — trying to arrive at place/meetings a little early to take photos, walk to events whenever I could, etc. Now that I’m retired, I go out for longer shoots. The amount of shooting varies quite a bit — but probably averages once or twice a week. I have some favorite areas — lower Manhattan, Soho, etc but definitely try to vary where I shoot. I truly believe photos are everywhere. I’ve gotten some great photos when I was eating lunch without every moving from my seat.

Which is your “to-go” gear for street photography? Why did you choose it?

I shoot with an Olympus OMD EM5 and either a 28-300 (35mm equivalent) lens or a 24-80. I like the Olympus cameras a lot as they are very light weight, weather resistant, and have great in-body image stabilization. I can easily carry the Olympus with me all day. I also use the Sony RX VI so that I can have a camera with me everywhere.

It’s unusual for a street photographer to use a long zoom but I love to shoot reflections — and you can’t simply walk closer to them as they change as you walk up. I find the 28-300 gives me tremendous flexibility to get the shots I want — and I only need to care the one lens.

Which is your editing workflow? How do you select your final photos and how much time do you spend editing them?

I load all of my photos into Lightroom and ideally let them sit a day or two before I look at them. I take a lot of photos as it’s hard to tell how many of my shots will come out — especially if I’m shooting through something or using unusual reflections. I go through the photos marking those that seem to have some possibility with 3 stars. I then go back through them and select those I think are best and put them into a collection for using on Instagram or elsewhere.

I do all my editing in Lightroom. Shooting through things or using reflections off odd surfaces often significantly reduces the contrast on the photos so I work to bring back the contrast. I also do everything I can to bring out all of the texture and details in a given photo. It’s all pretty simple and straightforward and I rarely spend more than a few minutes editing a photo. If I am going to print it or submit it to a contest, though, I’ll spend more time trying to perfect it.

I do most of my editing on my desktop using Lightroom Classic but find that sometimes when I’m lying around on the couch it can be fun to open the images in Lightroom mobile and just play around with them. I find I can sometimes come up with more creative edits this way — it feels more like play.

You often use of abstraction in your images, why do you use this “technique”? Did you have this vision since you started street photography, or has it been a process?

It’s definitely been a process. I started out just taking a lot of photos — not being at all sure what I wanted to take photos of. Gradually my style evolved to its current emphasis on ambiguity and mystery. It wasn’t a conscious decision — just a natural evolution.

Color is always present in your photos and very often is a key element. Why did you choose color over black and white?

I just love the beauty of color. I also love black and white photos and may give them a go at some point — but right now I still love color and think it’s very difficult to try to shoot both at the same time. I think black and white involves a different way of seeing that would need to be cultivated.

Your style is different to the classic concept of street photography. How would you define “street photography”?

My personal definition of street photography is candid photos taken in a public place. My photos fit that definition. I’ve taken to calling what I do abstract street photography. I’m aware though that many street photographers would not consider my photos street photography. I’m not hung up on definitions.

Like many photographers, you use Instagram to showcase your photos. What are your thoughts on the platform? Do you see Instagram as a place to present your work (like a portfolio), or more like a social network to meet and engage with the community?

Like many I have a love/hate relationship with Instagram but overall, I really enjoy it. I have drawn a lot of inspiration from photos on Instagram and made many long-distance friends. Some of these people I’ve been lucky enough to meet in person — some remain virtual for now. I’m a true introvert and I wouldn’t have expected to get to know people through a social media platform, but it has definitely worked that way for me.

Instagram is a tremendous opportunity to get your work seen around the world. Overall, only 17% of my followers are from the US which I find mind-blowing. I don’t think it works that well to present a true portfolio or series though. And the rapid scrolling of many (including often myself) does not lend itself to appreciation of more complex photos. Most dangerous of course is changing what you shoot to meet the preferences of Instagram. I really try hard not to let that happen.

In the world of Instagram, where people spend less than a second on each image, do you think your abstract style makes people stop and look more deeply into your images?

I hope that my work makes people stop and look a little longer. The focus of my work is often mystery and ambiguity and it can take a little while to see what’s happening in some of my photos.

What motivates you to keep shooting?

I still love going out and shooting. I love how photography gets me out into the streets, exploring different areas. Even when I’m not in the mood, if I head out as soon as I take one photo that seems like it will work, I immediately get excited. The ability to share my photos on Instagram also helps keep me motivated.

Do you have any upcoming projects this year?

Right now, I have an ongoing project I call Passersby. I was very fortunate to have it chosen as best street photography project by Paris Street Photo Awards. As a result, it was due to be shown at a new photo festival in Selma Alabama in late April and at the Pierrevert Night Photography Festival in France in late June. Obviously, timing on those is not great given the pandemic. The Selma festival has been postponed — don’t know about Pierrvert. I am still shooting for that project.

Could you recommend one photographer and one book that have inspired you lately?

I would highly recommend Gueorgui Pinkhassov, a Magnum photographer who takes very complex, poetic, and playful images. He’s active on Instagram — and also has several books. One of my favorite recent books is Ernst Haas’s Color Correction though unfortunately it’s out of print. Ernst was a fabulous photographer who in my opinion has never received the recognition he deserved. He was one of the early color photographers.

What would be the best piece of advice to somebody starting out in photography?

My advice would be to go out and shoot a lot — and to always have a camera with you. Doing a 365-day project for a year really helped me develop my visual awareness so I’d encourage that as well. I’d suggest studying the masters — buying or borrowing books and studying them — don’t just rely on what you are seeing on Instagram and other platforms. I’d also recommend taking workshops. In person ones are of course great if available but there are a lot of great on-line options these days as well.

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