April 2016 Artist Feature: ALAINA HICKMAN
Alaina Hickman is a photographer based in Omaha, Nebraska who explores ideas surrounding femininity, the body, and ephemerality. She works in a variety of alternative photographic processes including traditional black and white, tintypes, salt prints, tri-color gum bicromate, and lumen printing. She also creates artist books. Her work has been shown throughout Nebraska and has received regional and national student scholarship awards from the Society of Photographic Education in 2012 and 2013.
Janna Añonuevo Langholz: Hi Alaina, thank you for interviewing with me! To start, could you tell me how you began doing photography?
Alaina Hickman: I received my first camera from a corner shop when I was 7. I was delighted each week dropping off my film and picking up the photos from the week before. It was magical documenting snippets of the world. I wanted to photograph everything. I still do.
JAL: You work with several alternative processes, such as tintypes, salt prints, etc. What do you like about using analog media?
AH: When you work outside, or partially outside of digital you end up creating objects. Beautiful little artifacts each unique with all its imperfections. I create them from conception to birth. They are like parts of me.
JAL: Could you tell me more about your Filipino heritage? Is there a Filipino community in Omaha?
AH: My family is from the island of Panay. As a young man my grandfather joined the Merchant Marines. After traveling the world he settled in Philadelphia when he met my grandmother. He spoke about 5 different languages but English was his worst. So he wasn’t easy to communicate with. I do know he was an amazing cook and he taught my father to cook. Food is what I think of when I think of heritage. It breaks all language barriers.
There aren’t many Filipinos that I have found in Omaha, but it just makes the joy I get from discovering a shared heritage with someone that much more special. We are a rarity and therefore part of an elite club.
JAL: In your artist statement you talk about ideas of transience and decay. I like the term that you use; that you consider yourself to be a “hopeless preservationist”. What motivates you to preserve ephemeral things using photography?
AH: Photography bestows an amazing power to capture something forever. It creates a visual record. I can let my brain rest once I’ve photographed something I needed to say or remember. My photographs allow me to store my thoughts and memories externally. It’s really freeing and has always felt like a natural extension of me. Like a second voice. One that is often much more concise than the one that comes from my throat.
JAL: There’s a strong theme of female lineages in your work, as you recall matriarchal ancestors, your mother, and daughter in relation to yourself, especially in your series Millinery and With Love, Betsy. Would you tell me more about making these series?
AH: I’ve been trying to grow up my whole life. From what I can tell, growth is more about self-discovery and self-acceptance than anything else. Who you are, what you are made of, and what you strive to be. Millinery was an exercise in growth by example. I wanted to discover what I felt truly embodied growth and strength and study it. In the majority of cases it’s the women around me and the women that have come before me that I idolize.
Betsy was more about being forced to evaluate who we are due to the confines of society. A burden I was born into that I only really saw when I had my daughters. Once I was able to identify the struggle I was better able to process and evaluate it. It was something my daughter and I could explore together. One positive aspect is that we can find parts of our truer selves by using others expectations as a metric. Where we diverge is often where all the good stuff is.
JAL: If you could meet and have a conversation with any artist or photographer, who would it be?
AH: Emmet Gowin comes to mind. He is one of my very favorite photographers. I’ve actually seen him speak and had the opportunity to meet him a couple of times. Every time though I’ve gotten a little star struck and ended up retreating. Maybe one of these days I’ll work up the nerve.
See more of Alaina’s work at: