Photographer Hanna Kluner’s Special Project: Our Exclusive Interview
Through a unique project, photographer Hanna Kluner strives to help women with eating disorders discover their inner beauty. As a photographer and yoga therapist, she has helped women reconnect with their bodies.
In this interview with EatingDisordersOnline.com, Hanna shares how and why she created the project and the impact of the photos on her subjects.
When did you first think of this project?
I’ve been a photographer for about eight years, and the last 10 years I’ve been working more with body-based healing modalities. I’m a Phoenix Rising yoga therapist, and I do something called "somatic experiencing." I started working at an eating disorder center here in Solana Beach. I worked there for three years closely with primarily women, and I just always had a sense that photography could be used as a healing tool or would become a part of my work, merging the healing with the photography. But I didn’t really know at the time how that would end up happening.
And then it was an organic and natural evolution. It was a spontaneous thought. I wondered what it would be like to photograph these girls. Some of them I worked with and I was comfortable with, so I threw out this idea to them and they were open. I asked them if they’d be willing to do a photo shoot and see where it was going to go and they were really open.
I tried it and the results were really miraculous. They received so much out of it and the feedback I got from these girls mostly was that they could see themselves in a new way. One of them said: "I really do have beautiful eyes. I’ve been told that, but I could never see that before." There’s something about catching them in their innocence and not inhibited and having fun – then I can capture something they may not have embodied yet or not have experienced yet.
I really like the idea of healing through photography, and I think it applies especially to women with eating disorders. With eating disorders, what I found is of course there is a dislike for bodies and a disrespect, but along with that is also a disconnection from their body. So with the Phoenix Rising and somatic experience, it brings them into the body and into sensation. When they connect to the body, the body has wisdom so when they connect to their body then they start to feel sensation and its when they start to feel that they can start to heal. When they disconnect from their body, they disconnect from their emotions.
We live in a very photo-heavy society. Do you think photography can harm self-esteem?
Absolutely. That adds to the increase, I believe, in eating disorders. Social media, magazines – they really think these women look like that and they don’t. I absolutely feel that it does really affect one’s self-esteem when these young women, or any age, are comparing themselves. They can’t possibly measure up because these aren’t real photographs. The standard is set in the wrong place, and unfortunately women’s self-worth comes from how they look rather than how they feel or who they are. That’s what I hope to change with women – the measure of their self-worth to come from a different place.
What’s been the best thing a subject you photographed has said to you?
One of them that really struggled with body image thought she had a big stomach and had very low self-esteem, and she told me after she looked at the images that she actually really likes how she looks and she’s wearing a T-shirt that shows her stomach. She said her stomach looked good. She said she liked her eyes. She saw herself in a completely different way. Another powerful thing that was said was one woman was worried about seeing the photographs. She thought she’d see, in her words, "a monster," but when she looked at the photographs she saw this beautiful young woman and she realized the monster was really just in her mind.