By Alec Clayton
Anyone who has stopped in at Hawley’s Gelato for an affogato to sip on while watching people come and go across the street at the Washington Center has likely noticed artistic photographs on the walls.
Perhaps a group of high-contrast black and white photos of a ballerina in a white tutu that stands out in contrast with an almost completely black background. Maybe exciting shots of the band WINEHOUSE, an Olympia-based alternative pop band who recently released the CD “Hanover Drive.” These photographs are the work of Laney Hawley, who works at Hawley’s Gelato with her sisters, and her photos often are displayed there.
A 2015 graduate of Black Hills High School, Hawley says she has loved taking photos all of her life. “I was always just sort of snapping photos of whatever was in front of me,” she says. “I’ve been a portrait photographer since I was 16, so about seven years now. Portraiture is my favorite style of photography – I love getting to connect with other people, and have met many of my closest friends through photography.”
In high school Hawley studied with Josh Everson’s Visual Communications and Yearbook classes, where she often took photos of the school musicals, which sparked her love for photographing the performing arts. “I owe most of what I know to Everson,” she mentions.
Photographing school musicals transitioned into photographing ballet. Hawley photographed Giselle and The Nutcracker one year for Studio West Dance Academy, and Sleeping Beauty for Ballet Northwest. She says what she most enjoys, even more than photographing ballets put on by the local dance studios, is getting to work one-on-one with dancers. She loves capturing the dancers outdoors in streetwear.
Hawley has worked with dancers from all over, from Pacific Northwest Ballet to Oklahoma City Ballet. She says she prefers working with dancers outside of performing because it can be more of a collaborative effort she says, “creates something really artistic that showcases the dancers’ specific talents.”
In addition to her many ballet photos, Hawley often photographs of WINEHOUSE and local models, including Kayla Eyles and Casey Molenaar.
“I find that most people recognize me for my ballet work, and it seems to be the best received,” Hawley says. “I think I gravitate towards working with ballerinas or photographing live music because it’s often a challenge.”
Hawley continues, “With your subjects constantly moving, and differing lighting conditions, it can be quite difficult to capture beautiful images with great composition — I find it very fun to try and get unique but still high-quality shots during these situations.”
Hawley’s connection with WINEHOUSE began in September of last year when the band brought her onto their team to document their journey of releasing their first EP, “Hanover Drive.” She followed them around everywhere they went, whether it was photographing gigs or capturing the behind-the-scenes of filming their music video.
The connection happened pretty quickly, Hawley says. “After working with them for about a week, I think we all collectively realized we fit well together, and we decided I would join the team permanently, and I’ve been working with them regularly ever since.”
Hawley’s work with WINEHOUSE is what she’s most proud of, saying “There’s an authenticity to it that I haven’t been able to find in anything else I’ve done. It’s always different, and always interesting. It’s brought me into a group of people who share the same goals as I do, and we all just love and support one another and want the best for each other.”
“I think sometimes artists can get kind of competitive and it can be hard to find a support system, but with WINEHOUSE, it came very naturally,” she continues. “I saw them performing for about a minute and a half one day, and immediately knew I wanted to work with them. There’s something very special about that group, and I’m very grateful to be a part of it.”
Other than photography and working in the family business, Hawley’s world revolves around music. She plays guitar and edits while listing to WINEHOUSE from a couch while they are rehearsing. And she says most of her inspiration for photo shoots comes from music. “Whether it’s beautiful album art or some form of classical music that sparks an idea for a ballet shoot. Or you can find me singing in my car, or hanging out with my dog, Grohl.”
Dramatic lighting and value contrasts are a hallmark of Hawley’s photographs, both black and white and full color. “I think it really depends on the feeling you want to get out of an image,” she says. “Personally, I prefer black and white, although the feedback I get is usually that people prefer to see my work in color.” She mentions that she thinks color has its place, especially when photographing a wedding. “The colors of the flowers and the dresses can be very nostalgic in those situations and should be remembered, whereas with something like ballet, you can be a little more dramatic — and give it some more edge if it’s in black and white.”
When asked about her uses of black and white photography versus full color, Hawley explained, “I tend to focus more on the subject of an image in black and white, rather than the whole story, like I do with color. So, for me it just depends on the situation. Live music can look really cool and grungy in black and white if you’re in a bad lighting situation, but if the lighting is fantastic, you’ll want to see all those amazing colors shine through to get a more dynamic image.”
Laney Hawley was scheduled to show her work at Olympia Arts Walk April 24-25, 2020. The event was cancelled in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Some of her work can currently be seen through the windows at Hawley’s Gelato in downtown Olympia.