Fine Art Photography Daily

The Sarah Hadley Mixtape

The Mixtape Series are profiles of movers and shakers in the fine art photography world, often reviewers at portfolio events and taste makers in their own right.


You should talk with other photographers between reviews and show them your work. The act of showing and talking about your work over and over again will make it easier and less nerve-wracking. Also, your peers may have great suggestions of people you should meet or places to submit your work.

Next Wednesday, September 25th, Chicago celebrates photography in a big way with the Filter Photo Festival.  The city will be rich with exhibitions, some seen in traditional gallery venues and some seen from the street with large scale photographs shown in windows.  Workshops, lectures, portfolio reviews, and lots and lots of photographer smoozing and connecting will ensue and it wouldn’t happen without today’s Mixtape spotlight and her fantastic team.

Photographer and Filter Photo Festival Director, Sarah Hadley, is known for all the good work she is doing in Chicago. But she happens to live in Los Angeles. Born and raised in a prestigious Boston museum (see below–well, she wasn’t born in the museum..), she developed an early artistic sensibility. While in college, Sarah strayed to Venice, Italy where she fell in love with all things Venice and began her photography career. She returned to the states and finished a degree in Art History and went on to work at the National Gallery and the Library of Congress. After being inspired by Robert Frank’s retrospective, Sarah received a degree in photography at the Corcoran College of Art and went on to work for newspapers and magazines.


Sarah Hadley, from Lost Venice

She eventually moved to Chicago, went to Ragdale, the artists and writers colony in Lake Forest, IL, and discovered the prairie. She was later asked to photograph the amazing Howard Van Doren Shaw house for “The Ragdale House Speaks”.  Sarah now lives in Los Angeles, where she regularly returns to Chicago for Filter business and to Venice to make work. Her passion, besides photography, is travel. In 2011, Sarah traveled for the second time to China as a curator for the Lishui Photo Festival and happened to bring me along. I have to say, she is an amazing travel companion, friend, and inspiration. I am so pleased to present The Sarah Hadley Mixtape.

Tell us about your growing up and what brought you to photography?
Art was always a big part of my life. My father was the Director of the Gardner Museum in Boston and I grew up in the apartment on the top floor of the museum. The museum was built by an eccentric and wealthy woman, Isabella Stewart Gardner, as a replica of a Venetian Palazzo. It houses her collection of ancient sculptures, mosaics, tapestries and the walls are filled with paintings by the likes of Titian, Rembrandt, Sargeant and Degas. We lived in the apartment she built as her private residence, which was part museum-like and part normal (i.e. my bedroom had posters on the walls, but our dining room table sat 12 and the chairs had carved lions on them). As far as photography goes, I got my first instamatic when I was 10 and then my older sister gave me a funny Russian SLR in high school and I just always took a lot of pictures. I interned at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston in college and saw an amazing show of rising Boston fine art photographers (Olivia Parker, Duane Michaels etc) and knew that was what I wanted to do with my life.


Sarah Hadley, Margaret

What is your title and job description and tell us about a typical day?
I’m the Executive Director of the Filter Photo Festival. The nature of the job varies from one day to the next, depending on the time of the year. The festival basically moves in phases: from January to March, the Filter team begins mapping out the festival – inviting speakers, reviewers and workshop teachers, confirming venues, talking with sponsors and then in the spring and summer, we launch the website, and try to spread the word about the festival and our juried exhibitions. Right before the festival we send the program to print, hang exhibitions and nail down the details of each event. That is a pretty simple overview. In reality there are a thousand moving parts that all have to come together, but it gets easier every year. Also, in addition to the festival, we also hold social events and exhibitions year-round in Chicago, as well as publish a newsletter highlighting Midwest photography exhibitions every month.


Sarah Hadley, Rob

What are some of your proudest achievements?
I am incredibly proud that the festival has grown into such an exciting and important event and one that photographers return to year after year. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to everyone on the Filter team, especially Erin Hoyt and James Pepper Kelly, who have both put a tremendous amount of time and effort into the evolution of the festival and who truly deserve a lot of the credit for its success. I’m also very grateful for the Chicago photography community, who embraced the idea of a photography festival right away and helped it to gain momentum.


Sarah Hadley, from Lost Venice

What do you look for when attending a portfolio review?
It depends. I attend reviews as a festival director, a portfolio reviewer and a photographer. I am always looking at the programming, who the reviewers are, how the event is run and whether there is a sense of camaraderie among the photographers. I really enjoy being a reviewer and I try to be open to all types of work, as I believe everyone can find their niche in photography. As a photographer, I am in the soup with everyone else and I try to be as prepared as possible, listen to the reviewer’s advice and comments, and ask a lot of questions.

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Sarah Hadley, from Evidence

Any advice for photographers coming to a review event?
You should talk with other photographers between reviews and show them your work. The act of showing and talking about your work over and over again will make it easier and less nerve-wracking. Also, your peers may have great suggestions of people you should meet or places to submit your work. Other than that, I would say definitely do your homework about your reviewers, thank them for their time and follow up! As you, Aline, have said many times, you are building relationships. Lastly, remember it’s hard to put yourself out there, so congratulate yourself for showing up and presenting your work.


Sarah Hadley, from Losing Ground

What is something unexpected that we don’t know about you?
I made the cover of the Chicago Sun-Times with the Dalai Lama in 1999. I was actually photographing the Dalai Lama for a local newspaper and had been shooting him from the back of this huge hall at the Field Museum while he spoke. Then someone told us that the press could go up front to take some photos. As soon as I got close to him, I shot the last frame on my roll of film and my camera started automatically rewinding. I only had one camera with me, so I just stood there staring at my camera and silently praying. I hoped to have time to throw another roll of film in and snap a few more shots before we were ushered away (I eventually did). The next day on the cover of the Chicago Sun-Times there was a picture of the Dalai Lama bowing from the stage and you can see me standing just a few feet from him looking down and praying.


Sarah Hadley, from The Water’s Edge

Favorite song, band, and do you dance?
I listen to everything – sappy 70’s, disco, punk, new wave, rock, jazz, rap, and monk’s chanting. One of my favorite songs is The Style Council’s “You’re the best thing.” It always makes me smile. That and the Talking Heads “Naïve Melody.” And, I love to dance, but rarely get to do it outside of my apartment anymore.

And now, from Sarah Hadley:

Each year, the Filter Photo Festival grows in scale, with additional programming and new ideas to enrich the event.  I am so grateful to have a tremendous team by my side and I want to share some of their photographs as a way to say thank you and acknowledge their contributions and hard work.  Filter Photo is a group effort and without James Pepper Kelly, Managing Director, Erin Hoyt, Director of Programming, Maggie Pfaff, Production Coordinator, Charlotte Woolf, Production Coordinator, Tanner Young, Social Media Coordinator, Eric Newman, Legal Counsel, the Board of Directors, Advisory Council and a host of volunteers, it would not be possible.  I am proud to work alongside these amazing individuals who want nothing more than to celebrate photography in Chicago and give photographers an inspirational experience. 


Erin Hoyt, Sarah at the Window


Erin Hoyt, Mom


Jeff Phillips, Busker+Amsterdam


Jeff Phillips, Holland Zombies

Tanner_Young_Untitled (3.16.13)

Tanner Young, Untitled (3.16.13)

Tanner_Young_Untitled (5.15.13)

Tanner Young, Untitled (5.15.13)


Charlotte Woolf, Rosa Hendrickx, ACRE, Steuben, WI, 2013


Charlotte Woolf, Helene Patrick, Toad Hill Farm, Danville, OH, 2011

Pfaff_Dirt Hill_Lenscratch

Maggie Pfaff, Dirt Hill

Pfaff_Grassy Knees_Lenscratch

Maggie Pfaff, Grassy Knees

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