This photographer holds the secret to eternal youth
Though he may only be 17, Dan Hall proves that youthfulness has little to do with age.
Whether it’s simply a preoccupation for celebrity gossip mags, or something more idyllic derived from fiction, the notion of ‘eternal youth’ is open to interpretation. Defined as “the concept of human physical immortality free of ageing”, it is, ultimately, a common theme within current popular culture. For 17-year-old Dan Hall, the expression was a neat summary with which to label his ongoing photo series; a collection of images informed concurrently by the spirit of youth and the perspective of our grandparents.
Picking up a camera at a young age -- “my father enjoyed taking photographs and has several cameras, so I learnt the basics from him and eventually got into it myself,” he says -- Dan’s early interest has remained ever since, resulting this weekend in his debut solo exhibition at Notting Hill’s JM Gallery.
Characterised by a curiosity for the “different expressions, characters and identities” of his subjects, Eternal Youth captures couples embracing, friends playing, and flashes of Dan looking in the mirror. Here, ahead of the show's opening, the young photographer shares his thoughts on intimacy, rejecting digital, and why he’s using the exhibition to help Young Minds and Age UK.
How do you define eternal youth?
It suggests that, whatever age a person is, they always have a sense of youthfulness. The young want to be old and the old want to be young. Even though the people in the series are at opposite ends of adulthood, they all share youthful spirits.
Intimacy is a key theme in the photos, yet difficult to manufacture or feign. How did you create that ease between you and your subjects?
The people that I photographed are close to me, so it allowed me to delve deeper into their vulnerability and how their character is portrayed or concealed through the image.
You’ve mentioned previously ‘the contrasts and similarities’ between young and old. Can you elaborate?
Both groups are at the opposite ends of adulthood: young people are about to experience everything for the first time whereas older people are doing things for the last time. I discovered, after having conversations with both groups, that they share similar feelings of loneliness but have differing attitudes to beauty. The younger group are more self-critical whereas the elderly tend to accept the ageing process and wish they had appreciated their youthfulness more.
The images are all shot on an analogue camera. As someone who’s grown up in a predominantly digital age, why do you think so many young photographers today are drawn to film?
For me, the more tactile experience of shooting film took me away from digital. I can slow down and focus more on the composition of an image, connect with the subject more fully. The outcome isn’t instantaneous and each frame counts.
Do you have a favourite image from the series?
My favourite is 'Grandma’s Hands', because it shows the evidence of a long and varied life -- the lines and details in her delicate hands show her age and there’s beauty in that.
What can you tell me about the book?
It contains an extended selection of images from the series, with additional text written anonymously by people, describing their experiences of being young or old. It’s an accompaniment, and I think the text adds another layer and hopefully more depth to the photographs.
Profits from the book and any print sales you make are going to Young Minds and Age UK. What’s your relationship to those particular charities?
I chose these two charities because they support mental health in the young and elderly, which reflects the people photographed. Amongst young people nowadays there is a lot of discussion surrounding mental health, whereas older generations are often forgotten about -- they grew up [in a time] when mental health wasn’t talked about so openly. These charities can help both groups of people get the right support they need, so there’s a nice link between the subjects and charities.
'Eternal Youth' by Dan Hall runs Friday 6 – Sunday 8 March 2020 at JM Gallery, 230 Portobello Road, London W11 1LJ.
Photography Dan Hall