Jason Hanasik’s Portraiture Projects

We first discovered Jason Hanasik’s work through his submissions to our recent exhibition at the lab, “The Americans 2013.”His portraits of youth NJROTC participant Sharrod have a pensive, authentic feel to them, and we were interested in learning more about his process.


Take a look at our interview below to learn more about his project with Sharrod, “I slowly watched him disappear,” and other works in “He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore” and “My father (and other men).”

Kim Sikora: How did you first become connected with Sharrod as a subject? What inspired this project?


Jason Hanasik: During my first semester of graduate school, I started a project that would become my thesis work called “He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore.” By the end of my first semester, I realized that I was working with and on a larger idea about the evolution and devolving of the military body. So, when my father asked me what I wanted to do during my winter break, I told him that I’d love to meet someone who was going through the same NJROTC program that some of the men in my project had also gone through. To my surprise, he said that a coworker of his had a son who was at my alma mater and was just starting NJROTC.


I met Sharrod and his mother Angie a few days later and made the first few images for what is now known as “I slowly watched him disappear.” Sharrod (balcony) is actually the first image I ever made of Sharrod.

KS: What changes have you seen as your project progressed?


JH: When Sharrod and I first started working together he was shy. As we found our groove, I became a big brother of sorts and in between photographs he’d ask me questions that I imagine would normally be reserved for a father figure or a very close confidant.


About midway through the project, seeing the frustration in his mother’s eyes, I ended up teaching him how to drive in the city hall parking lot. And when we were done, I could see that both he and I were tired of the fantasy that the uniform and ROTC afforded. He was tired of playing their game and I had lost him to other curiosities. He’s now a sophomore at a college in Atlanta studying mechanical engineering.


Apart from the relationship progress, as an artist, I realized that I was becoming very interested in the movement of the body across multiple frames and through video. Midway through the project, I made “Sharrod (Turn/Twirl)” and when I look back, I see my move to making still image triptychs in the project as a direct result of figuring out how to capture movement in time via still imagery.

KS: Can you speak a little bit about your photographic relationship with your subjects? We’re interested in learning more about how photographers use different methods or techniques to get the images they want.


JH: I develop a relationship that is birthed out of trust or we eventually arrive at that place. When I was shooting “He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore,” I had the voices of some unfortunate people in my head saying things like, “these are your surrogate boyfriends.”


These people/voices were incorrectly mapping a sexuality onto these men in pretty one dimensional ways. So, when my friend Steven (one of the main protagonists of that project), asked me what I was doing with the images, I had this moment of panic because I thought he had heard something or was starting to go down that same path. I breathed and said what I thought I was doing and in the end, he trusted me even more. So much so, that the next morning he said, “I have some images you might want to see.” The images and video clips he showed from his time in Iraq were the final piece of the puzzle for that project and I doubt I would have ever found/been able to make images that did the same kind of work. I also don’t think Steven would have ever lied down in his uniform in a bed of flowers had that trust not already been established.

KS: What is the future of this body of work?


JH: “I slowly watched him disappear” is slated to be published this fall by the newly formed imprint, Kris Graves Projects. Kris Graves is a colleague of mine from undergrad who opened a gallery in Brooklyn and has now turned his boundless energy towards the world of publishing. But really, this body of work is a part of a larger project that is still untitled and still unfinished.


In the larger project, the viewer will be invited to focus both on the individual narratives and stories as well as look at the whole series as a way of thinking about performance of the (male) military body. We’ll see the fantasy of it, the acculturation into it, and finally some form of the destruction of that body.

KS: Do you have any new projects you’d like to tell us about?


JH: I have a few new projects which I’m slowly working on. The first is called “This is the Hanasik home” which is an extension of an installation I showed a year ago at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery. This project looks at the idea of the family home, the expectations therein, and how we imbue a place, much like we do a photograph, with meaning that isn’t necessarily present for anyone but the family or individual viewer.


I am also working on a publication that will better represent my thesis work called “He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore” and a novella titled “My father (and other men).”

KS: We all struggle at times, balancing our personal work and professional lives. How have you made time to photograph and make work?


JH: Well, I don’t think we all struggle. Fortunately for some, there are trust funds or lucky investments or hard earned savings accounts which afford the time to just make. Sadly, I’m not in that position so, for me, it’s about priorities.


Last year was a year where two major things happened in my life. The first was a life long dream was attained when I exhibited “Sharrod (Turn/Twirl)” at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. I was also in talks twice to move back to the East Coast and take a fairly well compensated but highly demanding position with two different companies. I walked away from all of the employment offers when I realized that it would be a long time before I would make “my” work again. When I was at the Hockney exhibit at the De Young a few months ago, a woman was amazed at how many drawings he had made over the course of a year. I thought to myself, this is his job and a major part of his life.


I think the narrative for every artist is different but for me, leading an engaged, mindful, generous and “creative” life is my number one priority. When I’m not actively making something, I’m thinking about the world of images and ways to play with them so I kind of feel like I am making work all the time. Given that disposition, I don’t feel so bad and I don’t feel like I am wasting my time when I walk into my 9-5 Monday through Friday. In fact, I kind of look forward to it.