As I reflect on 2020 coming to an end, I can’t help but also reflect on the past decade. At the beginning of 2011, I was in Seoul teaching English at a private school and was extremely involved with my church. I went to Korea to find some sort of purpose for my life, to “find myself” and to get away from my life in Canada. Even though I had always enjoyed photography and dabbled with it here and there, I compared myself to people around me and decided to stop taking pictures altogether and gave my DSLR away to my brother.

In the summer of 2011, I went on a trip to Bangladesh and was asked to be the photographer for our group. I had no idea what I was doing, but with a borrowed camera (ironically from my now husband who was just a friend back then) I found something I enjoyed. The original plan for my life to be a teacher was scrapped. I enrolled in photojournalism school in 2012 at the age of 26 and took the leap into a field I didn’t even know existed. I remember all the “WHAT AM I DOING” emails and blog posts I’d write. I owned a D5100 and a 35mm lens and still had no idea how to use it beyond the “P” mode.

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Bangladesh in 2011.

It’s been almost 8 years of being in the photojournalism world and it’s incredible to see how much has changed. Old blogs and old photos show a fearful and insecure Hannah — mainly trying to live up to religious and societal expectations. But living up to these man-made standards and expectations have never benefitted me; it’s only when I took a risk and stepped out into the unknown that I’ve experienced feeling secure and sure of who I am and where I am.

I’ll share some work in the next few days from when I first started because I think it’s important to show the process and to remind myself (and others) that I didn’t magically start working for the clients I wanted to. Recently, a young photographer asked me how I’ve been so successful even though I’ve only been in Philadelphia for two years. If only they knew the struggle from the years prior, the rejection, the failures, the VERY slow months and difficult path it took to get here. It doesn’t happen over night. And I’m glad it didn’t. It’s kept me humble to struggle for this, to get lost a few times and have no idea what I’m doing. I don’t have it figured out and even lately, I’m not content with much of what I’m producing.

These are images I made in my first year as a student in photojournalism school. Some of these I’m really proud of and others I’m quite shocked that I’d show to anyone at a portfolio review.

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Fall 2012. Isaiah and Leah. this was my first attempt at being a “documentary” photographer. Isaiah had recently been diagnosed with autism and the family was navigating how to handle it. Their family was actually living at my parents’ house but I didn’t get to explore it too much since I was away at school.
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Isaiah in the van. October 2012
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From my first year in school
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One of our assignments in my first semester (Fall 2012) was to spend time with one person and sequence a few photos together. I found Corbin Sutton-Davies at the local dance school in Belleville and photographed him for a few days. It was my first taste at spending a lengthy time with a stranger.
I met Madelyn and her sister at a Girl Guide’s meeting in Belleville. After chatting with their grandma, I realized Madelyn had seven other siblings so I decided to photograph them. They allowed me to come to their home for a few days for my school assignment. It was this story that made me realize I liked spending time with people and getting to know them.
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More of the Lafferty family
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Michelle White Hunter, left, Kristen Beck and Meredith Schummer burn sage during the World Day of Action Idle No More rally at Parliament Hill on Monday, January 28, 2013. This was a photo that ended up in a published book of essays regarding the Idle No More protests in Canada.
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The first time I photographed a protest in March 2013. Half of my classmates ended up getting arrested. This is when I realized protests aren’t for me.

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Photographer based in Philadelphia. www.hannahyoon.com

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