Hana Ardelean and Jen Dionne are the fierce and fiery duo known as Tiger Tiger, and I think I’ve come to learn their secret: Purpose is found in attacking opportunities.
Accident or grand design, I would like to argue that there is no coincidence that Hana and Jen knew they were going to have a business together. But who would have thought that flicking through the pages of a magazine an evening in Echo Park, would later be recalled as the early beginnings of their photography business?
«We could do this! This could be fun!», they told each other while looking at event photos posted in the magazine. With no lack of capacity, and the determination to follow through and complete whatever is set before them, Hana and Jen taught themselves how to shoot photography. Developing their skills and discovering their purpose, they would soon find resemblance in William Blake’s poem The Tyger, and voilà – with the often forgotten add-on of a lot of hard work – Tiger Tiger turned into a self-sustained and distinct storytelling studio. Clear as day, this was going to be a memorable experience.
«Whether it’s love or anxiety, we work to bring people to some awareness they didn’t know before.»
Maybe it was the delightful urgency in responding to the challenge «follow your dreams! Follow your heart!» that lead Jen to have her own business making customised cookies, and Hana selling jewellery through her MySpace site, all the while being committed students. Although this might be a more familiar concept to millennials currently in college, doing business through social media from the comfort of their dorm rooms, this was new and unheard of a decade ago; when these two young pioneering entrepreneurs were working on their degrees, way ahead in the game.
With everything going on they had no problem keeping themselves busy, however not too busy to recognise a best friend when they met one.
«We met in speech class», Hana laughs, as she elaborates on the first meeting between what was to become the inseparable duo. «I thought we were in a different class together, so I started talking about completely different homework.»
Taking no offence from the minor misunderstanding, Hana and Jen were now officially friends. I guess this proves the saying: It takes a good friend to know one. The qualities of their characters, displayed through love and kindness, seem to have taught them to be the superlative of friends. Similar, yet complimentary to each other, they keep each other balanced with a joyful perseverance to grab hold of the full potential in every situation.
Having collaborated since they first met, Hana and Jen often find that two heads are better than one. «It is like we are playing tennis», Jen explains, and the more I see the interactions between the two, the more I know this is a pretty accurate description. They bounce off of each other; when one makes a statement, the other one will quickly follow up on what is being said, before the first one jumps in again to elaborate further.
«The world is missing out if you don’t make sure to use your thought, your ideas.»
Although I myself don’t find the biggest thrill in watching tennis (or other sports) on TV, I find this version of interplay both captivating and edifying at the same time. The authenticity, and simple respect and admiration for one another as people and artists, seem to give no room for competition between the two.
On the contrary, and maybe not surprisingly, they both answer the same thing when I ask them which person they take encouragement and criticism from. «It is this girl right here. And my husband», Jen says before Hana quickly copies her answer. Both their husbands had to know that when marrying the one, they would kind of get the other one too. Of all the people they are exposed to in their work, what matters the most for them both is the recognition of the other.
«I am very sensitive to what Hana thinks. There is no one’s opinion I trust as much as hers», Jen says and looks over at Hana with validation in her eyes. So seamlessly do they complement each other. «Jen gets me. She fills in the blanks. We are on the same wavelength», Hana says. «And vice versa», Jen finishes. See what I mean? My point exactly.
Finding inspiration in everything, it’s evident that there is so much bubbling underneath the surface of these two. So much life. So much talent. So much potential. So much determination. So much hard work, and so much courage. There seems to be no limits to their creativity.
«We could do this! This could be fun!»
«You have to be open for creativity and disregard the limitations», Hana reflects and goes on to explain how hard that process can be.
Admitting that when they do have their moments of being hard on themselves, the real friend slap comes in handy, as one can remind the other that we can do this, and push through.
«Iron sharpens iron, and we constantly sharpen each other and constantly inspire each other», Jen says. This is what they work for: creating avenues for people expressing themselves.
«Knowing that people get a feeling from viewing a piece you made, makes you feel accomplished», Jen says. «Whether it is love or anxiety, we work to bring the people to some awareness they didn’t know before.»
Even though they always keep their audience in mind, Hana and Jen create first and foremost as a way to express themselves. They don’t work for audience satisfaction; yet they are thrilled and inspired when people have a completely different take on their work than the original thought or intended idea.
This is exactly what happened this summer when the co-LAb in Highland Park hosted a solo exhibit of pieces that encouraged the audience to use their own imagination. While telling the story, Hana leads my attention to a picture leaning on the wall on the other side of the room. She explains how photographs just like this one were chosen for the exhibition because of their dreamy ambiance. The Faceless exhibit was a collection of work intentionally given ambiguous titles in order to give the audience the freedom to experience the work in their own way.
My mind wanders to the potential emotional risk of exposing your creativity to the public. When your art is an outlet to express who you are, how important is it that people understand the underlying choices behind a photo? I would argue that there is room for being misunderstood and misinterpreted, but I wonder if sometimes the fear ever sneaks in.
«No», Jen quickly responds. «You have to be true to your original creative ideas. Our goal is just this. Bringing the viewer to who they truly are, finding feelings and emotions, making people feel alive. Reminding someone to think; I am a human.»
While deep goals are reached through dazing technical photography skills and unique style design, their overall purpose is simple, yet profound. «Our philosophy is to be kind and loving to people. It really does not matter what you do», Jen says. The firmness of her voice speaks of confidence. But it is a rare kind of confidence. One of humility.
Especially in terms of how social media has become a platform for both hobby and professional photographers to display their work, the line between competition and inspiration may be a little blurred. Admiring their approach to creativity, I wonder how they stay confident in their work and how they learn to trust their talent.
«Confidence is something you have to work on constantly», Hana says. «You need to remind yourself that only you have your thoughts and your ideas», Jen continues. «The world is missing out if you don’t make sure to use your thought, your ideas.»
To some degree, social media do indeed promote constant comparison, and my own personal experience is a testament to that fact. Instagram, for example, adds to the pressure of keeping up with something. Yet, it is a great source of portable inspiration, they explain, sparking ideas in colour combinations and mashes of texture. Talking about the likes and dislikes of Instagram, Jen suddenly confess: «I just hate writing captions!». The truth is obvious even as she laughs. «Can we just post a photo and an emoji every time?», she wonders. Simplicity is a lifestyle for Hana and Jen.
«It is about cutting the fat, keeping it lean», Hana says. Minimalism and simplicity bounce between every aspect of their lives. Sitting around Jen’s kitchen table, admiring her delicately styled living room, it is soothing to note the clean symmetry and intentional interior. The open sliding door, uncovering the hills of Silver Lake, interestingly speaks the same language. Neither Hana, nor Jen, care about having all this stuff for no particular reason.
«It is about bringing the focus back to where it should be», Jen says and Hana continues: «Let’s be purposeful.»
A great fascination for different textures, colours and styles makes fashion an attraction for the duo. The world of fashion holds a long tradition for secret and obvious rivalry. Whether it is the way society has become, or if it is just more visible now, people are generally not generous with compliments. Unfortunately, bitterness and competition is prevalent. It is more normal to see people putting up a front, and cutting people down to get that one-up on someone.
«We decided from the beginning that we wanted to go out of our way to give compliments», Hana says. Although this value is prioritised in their way of doing business, the constant shooting of praise and affirmation during our conversation proves of innate and subconscious character traits.
«It is important for us to not withhold praise from anyone», Hana says. Looking at me as Hana finishes, Jen assures me: «I knew she was going to say that before she said it out loud.» There is no doubt in my mind. These are kindred spirits. Hana laughs as she tilts her head, looks at Jen and says: «Girl, there you go. You and me.»
In an industry like theirs, in a city like Los Angeles, it is not strange that people are surprised when working with Tiger Tiger. The duo makes a point to acknowledge their clients’ uniqueness, and in that way, they create a fun and encouraging atmosphere at their shoots. My theory is that this is exactly why they appreciate fashion and do their work as artists so well. As they work with people of different textures, colours and styles, they are able to expose a grand picture of life itself.
«We want to be different. We want to be kind and loving to everyone. If this is the outcome of a job, we consider it a job well done», they conclude, perfectly in sync.
The commitment Hana and Jen have to their vision is evident through the bravery they perform as outgoing introverts, continuously surrounded in booming social settings. Reaching people through creativity, not only in a physical and visible sense, but also in an emotional, personal and spiritual way, is the cornerstone of their lifestyle. With so much depth in their view of the world, laughter and smiles, make it all so relatable. There is so much potential, and Hana and Jen will not cease to use it. Take my advice; stay aware for the next attack of the tigers.