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Developing Loudoun

Photographer Jim Hanna presents two shows in the county.

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Hanna

Jim Hanna’s two new art shows of photographs of Loudoun County give residents a bit of a different view of the place they call home, one figuratively and one literally. On the figurative end of things, Hanna is presenting, through August, "Rural Culture on the Edge" a photo exhibit at the George Washington University Virginia Campus in Ashburn that attempts to portray how modern urban Loudoun and the county’s more rural past are colliding and melding. For those looking to see a literally different angle to Hanna’s show, Dulles International Airport will be displaying his aerial photographs of the county through Aug. 26.

"First of all he had a message and he had something to say," said Gale Waldron, director of Gallery 222, who helped to organize and present both shows and put Hanna in touch with both GW and Dulles, when discussing why Hanna was chosen. "His work isn’t just taking beautiful photographs, he has a message. He has a real connection with Loudoun County and he has a real intellectual perspective of what is happening here and a real hopeful perspective."

"RURAL CULTURE on the Edge" presents a series of 23 images that create a photo essay addressing palpable tension between Loudoun’s rural landscapes and the advancing wave of urban development. However, far from bemoaning the advances in the county, Hanna hopes to show how the two seemingly contradictory landscapes are blending together.

"The title of it is ‘Rural Culture on the Edge’ and it’s really looking at the fastest growing county in the country and looking at the rural culture of the area and how it's being influenced by rapid growth," Hanna said.

Hanna says that he was inspired to create the show, which flows from photographs of Loudoun’s oldest tree to a long line of car headlights, when he moved to Loudoun about three years ago and noticed that there wasn’t much photography being done on the county’s heritage. Upon taking photos of the rural landscape Hanna noticed how much the development was encroaching upon it, which led him to take more photos of the contrast between the two.

"The second thing I started to notice is how [the rural area] is all changing and how land use is changing. That occupied my camera for a while. Then I kept looking around and I found out that there is a lot going on to try to sustain the heritage of the county. The overall theme is the balance of new development and trying to maintain this history."

TO ACCOMPLISH this Hanna took photographs across the county. Sometimes, like in the case of a photo of an old barn's window, he would simply be driving and see something that caught his eye that represented the rural history of the county. Other times it was more intentional like the oldest tree in the county or a pick-your-own flower place.

"The flower place is a thing I pass all the time and I was excited to see a pick-your-own flowers place that came out of an old farm. That sort of displayed the balance between Loudoun’s heritage and new development."

Another example of this is a photo of a swan on Wheatlands Manor Lake. Hanna says that the swan isn’t the focal point of the photo but the lake itself. The land used to be grazing land but it couldn’t be restored so instead the manor put a 10-acre lake on top of it that created a whole habitat and recovered the area.

"It’s a nuance," said Hanna about the photos subject, "but I discovered it through what’s underneath the photo and what is the significance in terms of it dealing with restoration and sustaining the environment."

This show also marks the first show that the new GW Virginia campus is holding in hopes of reaching out to the community and the local art scene. "Rural Culture on the Edge" is the first of four shows featuring local artists that the college is planning to display and it will be working closely with Gallery 222 to present more artists from around the county.

"[GW] approached me about presenting local artists' work and I said I’d love to because it's great exposure and a way for people to show their art around," said Waldron, "We came up first with this photo exhibit by Jim Hanna who has been taking amazing photographs of the county."

HANNA’S ARIAL photography actually stemmed from his work trying to capture rural Loudoun. After shooting rural areas on the ground he began to think about how to capture Loudoun in a way that would both give a larger scope and present a view that most people hadn’t seen before.

"As I was doing this at land level and kind of starting to show my stuff I realized that people see things everyday but they don’t necessarily make an impression and sometimes you need to see thing from a different perspective to truly make an impact," said Hanna.

He looked into taking aerial photographs and got in touch with the Leesburg Airport Flight School who said they’d be happy to take him up. Hanna would then plan where he wanted to shoot and fly over the county to snap shots of places like Furnace Mountain or Oatlands Plantation. He would have to open the small plane's window and have the pilot dive to the correct angle so he could shoot out of it.

"Jim is the only person I’ve ever met who's actually gone up in a plane taking pictures while hanging out of it. When I was looking for a new exhibit I thought the aerial photographs would be interesting for the airport and make a perfect match," said Waldron.

The exhibit, which is installed in Dulles Airport in the area beyond the security checkpoints in the Main Terminal on the Arrivals Level, features eight photos by Hanna and also applies to his rural/urban themes that he is displaying in "Rural Culture on the Edge."

"I wanted to take as many photo tools as I could for displaying these themes and I decided why not look from an extreme different perspective, which is from the air," said Hanna.

THESE SHOWS will not be the end of Hanna’s photographic work on the growth and development of Loudoun County. He is planning to publish the expanding photographic collection of "Rural Culture on the Edge" in 2009 and the current show will be moving to the Loudoun County Government Center later this year. Hanna, who has only been shooting seriously since moving to Loudoun but has had a camera in his hand since the age of 4, hopes that viewers will be able to take their own message away from his photographs.

"People who look at photographs are independent." said Hanna. "I may have some intention for the photo, but they’ll have they’re own reactions and sometimes what they see is more interesting than what I saw. That is one of the best parts about photography."