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The "Strange Women" Catharsis of Jill Beth Hannes

When Jill Beth Hannes became sober eight years ago, she was reintroduced to the many versions of herself that had been forgotten or lost. What she was met with, then, were strangersnew variations on her own womanhood that were rescued, reborn, and reimagined. “Strange Women” is the photo series that came out of this continued discovery—representing the many phases (and faces) that Hannes confronted. Today, the project has evolved with Hannes, this time into the new frontier of motherhood, and the photos present a stronger image to mirror Hannes’ spirit of courage and fortitude. We sat down with the photographer to talk more about “Strange Women”, parenting, and artistic catharsis.

Let’s talk about your “Strange Women” project. What makes them strange? Why that name?

I started this project in 2010. When I started it, I was becoming sober. I just stopped drinking, and so the women are all these different feelings I was having, and all these personalities that were coming out as a result of getting sober and becoming a new person. I named it “Strange Women” because they were all strangers to me, all these feelings. I was getting to know myself again, basically.

Did you know all of the women beforehand? How do you pick your subjects?

Some of them were self-portraits, and some of them are friends. So yeah, I know and knew everyone I photographed.

What was the experience like? It’s a reflection of yourself, though a lot of the images aren’t literally of you. How do you feel like it’s a reflection of your identity in an non-literal way?

A lot of my models have wigs. It is a part of me, but I try to create a little distance so it’s not just me. I feel like that would just be too much, not too personal, but I needed distance to look outward at it. And reflect, instead of it just being pictures of me. Creating my story instead of literally photographing it.

You started eight years ago now. How has the project evolved since you began?

It’s changing. I just became a mom. Now I feel like the women in the images are starting to be a bit more stronger. I just did a couple images, along with “Strange Women”, that have my son in them. It’s the beginning of motherhood. It’s almost like I’m learning myself again, because I’m a mom. I have to get to know this new person. It’s interesting, you’re always changing. I feel like this is why this series can keep on going, I’m always learning something new. Especially becoming a mom, it’s an all new world and feeling. A whole new person I have to be. I feel like a lot of that is in the images now.

Looking back at some of the older photos, do you feel still connected to those personalities/headspaces at the time? Or is there some separation?

I feel like there’s some separation now. I think I was so lost and lonely at the time. I feel much more stable in my life, so I do feel that there’s a bit of distance when I look back at those images. I can remember those feelings, but yeah, there is a distance now.

What kind of reaction have you gotten from people, who either know or don’t know the story behind it?

It’s interesting. People don’t guess the getting sober part. They look at the images, and they get the feeling that I’m trying to say. The loss, the loneliness. Just sort of this fear, I feel like I shoot a lot. I have a lot of fear. That’s portrayed a lot in the images. I’m surprised that people seem to really pick up on those feelings. A lot of isolation too. I usually shoot open spaces, or when they’re alone. When you’re dealing with these feelings, it can feel pretty isolating. I think that comes across to people.

Do you feel like you’re able to release some of that pain or feelings of isolation when you shoot? Is it cathartic, or is it still a part of you?

It’s still a part of me, but I think it does help relieve. One, just telling your story helps you feel not alone. It is helpful—I can put these images out there, and connect with other people.

What are you planning for the series coming up? Or is it more spontaneous?

I’m going to continue shooting more about motherhood. I’m hoping as I start this new chapter to put all of the past women in a book. I’m designing a book now, and that’ll be the first series.

Images courtesy of Jill Beth Hannes

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