Syracuse University Magazine

Hannah Frieser


Developing the Big Picture

The most basic elements of photography—film, developing chemicals, contact sheets, color processors—are gradually going the way of the blacksmith’s tools in the age of digital image-making. “If you learn photography in a digital lab, it’s a very different process,” says Hannah Frieser, director of Light Work/Community Darkrooms, SU’s focal point of access and appreciation for all things photographic since 1973. “Working on silver gelatin teaches you a way of looking at images. You have to worry about burning in the edges. You get that breathtaking moment when you see the image emerge. These experiences are being lost. What will that mean for a generation of photographers who may never see the inside of a darkroom?” 

An accomplished photographer whose work has been exhibited at dozens of galleries across the country, Frieser engages the photographic arts with an impressive array of talents: essayist, lecturer, curator, educator, and co-administrator of Light Work’s celebrated artist-in-residence program. Born and raised in Stuttgart, the daughter of a German father and Hispanic American mother, Frieser enrolled at the University of Texas in Arlington. “I began with an interest in photojournalism, but was wooed away by art photography,” says Frieser, a cum laude graduate who majored in interdisciplinary studies. She later earned an M.F.A. degree in studio art from Texas Women’s University in Denton.  

Elected to the board of directors of the Society for Photographic Education (SPE) in 2007, Frieser is co-chairing the organization’s 2010 national conference, “Facing Diversity,” to be held in Philadelphia this March. Her long association with the SPE began as a student volunteer at its Arlington office. She worked there professionally for more than a decade, designing and editing publications, curating exhibitions, and learning the ropes of arts administration, experiences that have served her well since joining Light Work in 2005. “I have met thousands of photographers through the SPE and Light Work, and I know their problems and issues,” she says. “Many are struggling to jump on the digital bandwagon, while others still shoot on film for a variety of reasons.” According to Frieser, there are some significant cost advantages in traditional photography. “Cost can be very important, since our programs are dedicated to emerging and under-represented photographers,” she says.

Light Work broke new ground with the August opening of Intermissions by Barry Anderson, one of the largest projects in its 36-year history to include videos as well as photographs. Frieser did not hesitate to innovate in mounting the show. “I didn’t want video presented on flat panel screens in room after room, because to me that’s too much like watching television,” she says. Needing space for video projection and other formats, she gained the participation of a dozen Syracuse venues for Anderson’s videos. These included both traditional settings for artwork (the Everson Museum) and not-so-traditional ones (outdoor electronic billboards). The presentation was improved and, beyond that, the exhibition morphed into a community initiative, bringing together people from all over the city to collaborate. “It’s great to see that a project of this scale can take place in Syracuse—technology and all,” she says.

—David Marc