Hannah Whitaker, Millennium Pictures, 2022, for Aperture

For Aperture‘s “70th Anniversary” issue, seven photographers were invited to consider a single issue, an article, an idea, or even an omission, from a decade of the magazine’s history. In an original commission, Hannah Whitaker reflects on the 2000s.

The language of technological innovation is tinged with anxiety and awe. Its vision recasts us as beneficiaries of a more connected humanity—somehow both more human and more than human—yet its promise often feels suspect. In a review of William A. Ewing’s 2004 exhibition About Face, which proclaimed the death of the photographic portrait, Vince Aletti writes in the pages of Aperture’s Winter 2004 issue: “Even before photography’s documentary credibility was deliberately and irrevocably eroded from within, pictures of our fellow humans had been stripped of virtually all pretense to revelation, insight, or any but the most superficial emotional content.”

This skepticism frames Hannah Whitaker’s silhouetted portraits and still lifes, which address an unease, pervasive in the twenty-first century, about how technology relates to our humanity.

Seemingly familiar human figures are obscured and manipulated into dark, synthetic forms. “I wanted to make photographs that center around a particular face, without actually depicting it,” Whitaker states. Using mirrors, long exposures, reflective materials, special lighting, and anthropomorphized arrangements, her work treats technology as a medium as well as an aesthetic position. Many images employ digital interventions to conceal, dislocate, or duplicate human appendages, a response to technology’s tendency to fragment our everyday experiences and evacuate meaning in the service of data. In their stark contrasts, these “portraits” carry a menacing subtext within their outlines and an all-too-human trepidation in the face of disorienting change—a feeling as relevant today as it was decades ago.

All photographs by Hannah Whitaker from the series Millennium Pictures, 2022, for Aperture
Courtesy the artist

This piece originally appeared in Aperture, issue 248, “The 70th Anniversary Issue.”