Creating Visual Haikus – A Conversation with Photographer Judy Hancock Holland

Judy Hancock Holland is an award-winning photographic artist and life-long educator based on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. Since retiring from a career in adult education and public health, she has concentrated on photography, and her work has been published and exhibited in Canada, the US, and Europe. She is best known for her minimalist photography, and her YouTube videos have garnered over 350,000 views. I spoke with Judy to find out more about her stunning and delicate imagery.

Adobe Geometry 2
Photo by Judy Hancock Holland

What got you into photography? 

J: When I started university, I lived in the student residence and had a bunch of friends who were into photography and darkroom work. They taught me how to load and develop bulk film, use a camera, and make black and white prints. I loved it and with their guidance, bought my first simple SLR kit. They gave me a good grounding in the technical aspects of photography, but I never heard them speak about composition or how to see. 

I maintained some interest in photography through the years, but career and family left little space for it. When I retired, my interest was rekindled and soon I was spending 30 to 40 hours a week learning everything I could. I’ve also been delighted to continue teaching in the form of presentations and workshops for various photography clubs in North America and the UK. When the pandemic started, I switched to Zoom and also started a YouTube channel which, to my astonishment, has taken off nicely. 

Photo by Judy Hancock Holland

A lot of your work has a very clean, minimalist style. Is this what you’re drawn to in particular, or do you enjoy shooting a variety of styles? 

Minimalism is definitely what I am drawn to the most. I love the simple elegance of it, and the sense of peace that I often feel both when creating the work and when viewing minimalist images. 

These days much of my work is closeups and sometimes macro. I seldom do landscapes, wildlife, or portraits, but when I do, they also tend toward the minimalist end of the scale. I’m most drawn to elements of simplicity, sensual forms, and gorgeous light. Unlike many photographers, I’m not enamoured by bokeh, but instead love to create very simple but detailed images with deep depth of field. Much of my work is focus stacked. 

That said, I do enjoy playing with abstract and altered reality images. Some of that is in camera work, and some is in post processing. (AI is not something I want to embrace right now.) 

Koi Dance
Photo by Judy Hancock Holland

What kind of influences do you draw inspiration from? 

Beautiful light, form, and curves inspire me wherever I find them. Natural objects are a big part of that, but I’m also very moved by adobe architecture with its sensual, organic curves and form. The human body is an inspiration, though I haven’t had much opportunity (yet) to explore working with nudes. Some of my flower images are quite suggestive of the female form. 

Even music and dance have influenced me… the pure, clear strains of Mozart’s 3rd violin concerto, for example, or the sensual grace of classical ballet. I’m also an avid reader and published poet; I’m moved by elegant turns of phrase and aspire to create images that are essentially visual haiku. 

Rudbeckia digital etching
Photo by Judy Hancock Holland

Do you have any favourite photographers or creative influences that have informed your photographic style, and why? 

The painter Georgia O’Keeffe is probably my top influence, along with Imogen Cunningham, 

Edward Weston, Michael Kenna, Yousef Karsh, and the flower photography of Robert Mapplethorpe. It comes down to their simple depiction of luscious forms and curves, and in the case of Karsh, his amazing lighting. 

What kit do you shoot with and what’s your favourite bit of kit? 

I shoot with an OM-1 and an assortment of Olympus and OM Systems lenses. I think it’s hard to buy a bad camera these days, but the combination of size, weight, lens choice, price, and image quality in the OM system is just right for me. 

As I’ve progressed as a photographer and become more fascinated with light, I’ve gathered various kinds of lighting gear. These days my favourite piece of gear is my Godox studio strobe with a strip box. 

Photo by Judy Hancock Holland

What are you working on at the moment? 

A while ago, I started conceiving more artistic projects that I didn’t have the skills to accomplish, so I’ve been spending time improving my post-processing skills in order to realize my creative vision. 

Right now, I’m continuing to work with a digital etching technique I’ve developed. Minimalism lends itself well to this kind of treatment, and I’m finding that the work prints beautifully on brushed aluminium. I sense that something new is coming, but not sure what it will be. I also love teaching and coaching, and I’m continuing to do presentations for photo clubs as well as one-to-one mentoring. 

Rudbeckia digital etching 1
Photo by Judy Hancock Holland

What would you say is your goal with your photography? 

I think photography, like any art, is a form of self-expression, and it’s something we need to do primarily for ourselves. So my work is often about expressing what is most deep and true for me. It’s an emotional expression of my soul. 

Even so, I love to share my work and my hope is that it connects and resonates with viewers in some way. So my goal is to create exquisitely simple, sensual images that move the heart and offer my viewers a new way to see the world. 

White Calla No 1
Photo by Judy Hancock Holland

As a female photographer, do you feel that you face any particular challenges? Do you feel that the industry is favourable towards women, or would you like to see any changes? 

Men still dominate the field of photography, especially the judging. But there has been progress. Until the last decade or so I was unaware of women offering classes and mentoring. However, we now have many outstanding women teachers, and I’m heartened by some of the all-women photography groups that are emerging and creating amazing work. More and more I see women photographers cheering each other on and encouraging each other to play, experiment, and be true to their own vision. It’s a more cooperative and supportive environment with less of the one-upmanship I see in some arenas. We’re lifting each other up, and that’s a beautiful thing. 

Yin and Yang
Photo by Judy Hancock Holland

What advice would you give to budding photographers? 

I teach photography quite differently than most teachers. To me, by far the most important skill for any photographer to learn is how to see, and to see in a way that is authentically their own. 

We need to develop our visual sensitivity, training ourselves to notice and tune into things that other people walk right by. This takes practice, and we can do this almost anywhere and anytime, even without a camera. Consciously practise mindful seeing as you go about your day. Look at things from different heights and angles. Pay attention to line, shape, colour, texture, pattern, and light. 

Next, I encourage beginners to put their cameras on auto and begin by concentrating on composition. Study the principles of design and the psychology of aesthetics. I’m not talking about following a bunch of arbitrary rules, but rather about understanding how different compositional elements can support or undermine your intentions for an image. In this way, you can build your visual literacy; photography is a visual language after all, and you need to learn how to express yourself effectively, as you do in any language. The technical part of photography can come later, as you bump up against the limitations of shooting on auto, but it’s crucially important to learn to see and compose. 

As a professional teacher for 50 years, I’m very aware that success builds success. I think a lot of folks give up on photography because they struggle with the technical side, but if you

first learn how to create powerful compositions that reflect your way of seeing the world, you soon become motivated enough to tackle the technical aspects as you need to.

You can view more of Judy’s work at her website, and subscribe to her YouTube channel for easy to follow tutorials. 

Judy Hancock Holland
Photographer Judy Hancock Holland
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