By Lou Mancinelli
The heartbreaking beauty of nature is the theme of a flower and animal life photography exhibition now on display through April 29 at the Allens Lane Art Center.
Photographer Lisa Haun, who grew up in Chestnut Hill near the corner of Ardleigh and Mermaid and graduated from Mt. Airy’s Cecilian Academy in 1974, was once assigned to capture the image of musical superstars like Paul Simon, Joan Jett and a young U2 front-man Bono, during the band’s first trip to the states, and she even stumbled upon a chance to photograph famed beat poet Allen Ginsberg (“Howl”) during her more than 25-year career as a photographer.
Her Flora/Fauna Exhibition at Allens Lane, where she also serves as administrative coordinator, features photos of flowers like dandelions, solandros and lily of the valley and animal life such as the praying mantis, a blue jay and a fox.
“I’m looking for things that are not that hard to find yet are absolutely extraordinary,” said Haun, 53, via telephone, last Sunday after her exhibition’s April 1 opening.
The majority of her floral photos are taken from bunches of flowers Haun buys at the supermarket. There is an element of life in her photos and subtle energy and precision that emanates from her photographs that bustle with color.
Dandelions are a flower homeowners often remove from their lawns. But Haun’s close-up image of an ordinary dandelion looks like an interconnected web of white fireworks or the structure of a chemical compound pictured in science textbooks.
Haun got her start in photography while studying communications at Temple University in the late ‘70s. She took a photography class that included free use of a school Yashica-Mat camera, a popular box camera from the era, for the semester. In three weeks she was hooked. She sometimes worked at WRTI, the school’s then jazz-only student-run radio station and took photos of local bands. She started sending her photos to local music fanzines and getting them published.
Haun graduated from Temple in 1980 and continued to take photos of local bands and balance part-time work to pay for her center city apartment. She sent her portfolio to larger fanzines. Editors liked her work, but before they would send Haun on assignments, they advised her to check in with the magazine once a month to see what the editors might need in the way of photos.
A year later, the popular “Creem Magazine” became the first music publication to purchase her photos. In the movie “Almost
Famous,” main character William Miller meets one of his idols Lester Bangs, an iconic American music journalist who wrote for “Creem” as well as “Rolling Stone” and numerous other magazines.
By 1982, Haun was living in New York City and getting lots of assignments to photograph bands she described as punk and new-wave, like The Cramps and Liverpool’s Echo and The Bunnymen. From 1982 to 1992 she lived in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In the 1980s she also worked for England’s New Musical Express, Musician, Trouser Press, Spin and the East Village Eye.
In 1983 Haun was hired by the now defunct “Trouser Press” magazine. That job provided Haun the opportunity to shoot photos of Paul Simon during his Graceland days, and Jim Carroll, subject of the movie and author of the memoir “Basketball Diaries,” featuring Leonardo DiCaprio.
“By then, I wasn’t just waiting around, hoping someone would pose for me after a show,” said Haun, a Glenside resident who also works as a hostess at WXPN’s The World Café. (She has no spouse or children.) Haun stopped taking photos at the beginning of the 1990s despite her talent and success. The growth of MTV had made the already competitive and tight-money music photography market tighter.
She moved to San Francisco for a year in 1992, until a friend called and said, “Why don’t you come home?” So Haun moved to Brooklyn in 1993 and managed a handmade goods store. Then, one day in 1995, Haun was home looking at a bowl of flowers in her apartment when she decided to take a picture of a red anthurium.
She liked the results. “Maybe I can do photos other than people, I thought to myself,” said Haun, who began working as a photo researcher for Sony Music in Manhattan. At the end of the ‘90s, Haun moved to L.A., but within three months, a book deal and music industry job fell through.
Haun came back to Philly in 2002 because “I was kind of homesick.” She found work at the now closed ADM Gallery in Northern Liberties in April, 2003, that led her to become the gallery’s photo curator. But when The World Café opened in 2004, Haun got a job as a hostess. One year later, she started to work with Singing City, a Philadelphia-based non-profit choir.
In the autumn of 2008, she began to work at Allen Lane Art Center and gradually worked up the courage to ask to have her work exhibited. “What I want to show is that there are beautiful things all around you if you stop and look. It’s heartbreaking in a way because it doesn’t last forever, and we don’t always stop to look.”
For more information visit lisahaun.com or allenslane.org/galleryschedule.htm. Allens Lane Art Center is at 601 West Allens Lane; 215-248-0546.