// Hazel Hankin, a Brooklyn native now living in Jackson Heights, Queens, NY, began her photographic career in the 1970s. Her work combines elements of fine art, documentary, and street photography. We are proud to present some of her photos from her long-term series about the Latin and swing dance scene in New York.
Hazel began photographing Coney Island in the late 1970s, exploring the amusement park she’d loved while growing up. In the 1980s she became an artist-member of the Coney Island Hysterical Society, an innovative troupe of visual artists who created art in, for and about Coney Island. Photo essays of Hazel’s Coney Island work have been featured in the online photography magazine Life Force and in Proyecto Diseño, a Latin American art and design magazine. Her work was shown in Greetings from Coney Island, a 2018 group show at the Charles P. Sifton Gallery in Brooklyn.
In the 1990s Hazel worked regularly in Cuba. Her series interpreting the innovative architecture of Cuba’s National Art Schools was exhibited in Havana and has been published in books, magazines, and in the film, Unfinished Spaces, an award-winning documentary about the Schools. Her images of Muhammad Ali’s humanitarian aid tour of Havana have appeared in LIFE’s Album of the Year, SOCIETY magazine, Esquire and BBC Mundo.
Her work has been widely published and exhibited. While pursuing personal projects she has also carried out assignment work for foundations, publishers, corporations and non-profit organizations. For more than two decades she has been teaching photography at the City College of New York.
“Which of the photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”
What draws you to the arts?
“The arts were always part of my life. My family loved music, dance and the visual arts. Creative pursuits were encouraged, and I drew and painted, took dance classes and played the flute growing up. I fell in love with photography in college. Art to me is an expression of the best aspects of humankind. Listening to some wonderful music can restore my faith in humanity; in these fraught times that means a lot.”
What impressed you most about the experience of photographing these dancers?
“I like having the challenge of trying to capture a peak moment in the midst of motion and flux. Just as in the perfect dance, the perfect photo is the one in which many elements come together in just the right way. When it happens, it’s a thrill.”
Hazel’s ongoing long-term dance photography project grows out of her passion for Latin music and dancing, in a series that documents New York’s pioneering Latin dance scene from the perspective of a long-time participant, as Hazel is herself also an avid dancer of Latin rhythms. She has since also expanded to documenting swing and other social dance rhythms. This series was featured in the NYTimes Lens blog.
Hazel says, “These images of salsa, swing and tango dancers in action were inspired by my personal experiences as a participant in New York’s social dancing scenes. These photos show people immersed in the energy of the dance floor while simultaneously engaged in intimate communication with a partner. Though their lives may differ off the floor, these dancers all want the same thing: to find that ultimate groove — the perfect dance where they, their partner, and the music flow together as one.”
None of the photos were posed. Some were shot on film, others with a digital camera. For some she used flash mixed with ambient light, while others were shot with available light only.
Fascinated by the vibrant street culture of her neighborhood, Hazel is currently working on a street photography project in Jackson Heights.
Images may be cropped for layout. Click on the photos to see the original version.