Sarah is devoid of bullshit ("I come from a long line of people with no filters," is how she puts it) and is one of the gentlest, most loving souls I've ever met. She is also a phenomenal photographer; she gets a lot of attention for her self portraits, a number of which are nude and/or staged in abandoned buildings, and also takes incredible portraits of other artists and people she loves (her photos of my daughter take my breath away). Sarah has seen some shit in her life, but she still gets excited by ice cream, which pretty much sums her up in a nutshell, I think. Her latest photo series, where she overlays textures and images on top of photos of her body, is truly exquisite (see slideshow below). Read on to learn more about this phenomenal woman and artist I'm proud to call my friend.
1. You are very bold as an artist -- willing to expose yourself, literally and figuratively, in your work. Where do you think that boldness comes from?
I think it comes from being supported—supported not only in general but specifically by having my creative self supported. I am so lucky to get that from my family and friends. I grew up seeing my mother create art and be supported in that. I grew up surrounded by art history books and seeing my mom lecture on art history (she has a Master's degree in the subject). The nude in art was never something odd to me, it was always there. I posed for my mother on occasion. It doesn't always seem that bold to me to pose nude or to expose myself in other ways—being open and honest seems to be my default setting, I don't think I can help it. I come from a long line of people with no filters. ;)
2. Related question: What scares you?
I'm scared of the dark, of things that go bump in the night. I'm scared of bugs that fly near me. Silly things, mostly. Sometimes I'm scared of being left out or misunderstood. It scares me that I've wasted so much time. And while I enjoy spending time by myself, I'm afraid of ending up all alone.
3. What pisses you off?
How much time do we have! Willful ignorance has got to be at the top of the list, and there's a lot that falls under that umbrella. If you are walking around being hateful because you're too closed-minded to bother learning about other points of view, then you piss me off. Using religion as a weapon enrages me. If you move through life as if there is nobody else of value, you piss me off—the way you drive, the way you don't make eye contact when we pass directly by each other, the way you don't say hello or smile back, the way you don't get the fuck out of my way when there's three of you walking on the sidewalk towards me and I have to go into the street in order to get around...ad nauseam.
Being exclusionary pisses me off. People not picking up dog shit pisses me off. People talking loudly on their cell phones in public. I guess that's back to acting as if nobody else exists. People generally piss me off. But people also surprise me in the best ways sometimes.
4. What inspires you?
Creatively? Other artists, contemporaries mostly. People I know and love and admire who right now are working their asses off making good work. Finding light in the darkest places. Trees growing out of broken concrete on the fourth floor of an abandoned building. Cinematography. My daughter.
5. When was the first time you took a nude photo of yourself? What do you remember about the decision, and about the experience of both taking the photo and then sharing it online? Does looking back on that experience highlight anything for you about how you've changed since then -- and/or how you've stayed the same?
The first time I took a nude photo of myself with the intention of sharing it online was very early on in my first 365 daily self-portrait set. Well, it was a jigsaw puzzle thing where certain pieces were missing (Note from Amanda: Click to see the photo on Flickr - you'll have to login to view it since it's considered "adult content"). It got a lot of really intelligent comments and positive responses, and raised a lot of questions for me. It put me on a path initially to explore my sexy side and the instant positive feedback was a great motivator, I won't lie! I had never looked at myself in that way, so it was fun to play with the role.
I've changed a lot since then in terms of how and why I shoot myself nude. America has such a fucked up relationship to the female nude, it's absurd. So even for me, there's always been these lines—nipples crosses one line, showing pubic area crosses another, showing open leg vagina shot crosses yet another. What is porn? What is erotic? What is just a naked body? I did a series during that first year where I put my naked body into famous nude paintings. Part of this was a photo manipulation challenge, but part of it was to remind myself and others that the nude has a long, long history in art that somehow gets dismissed in photography out of hand.
I got a reputation very early on during my online sharing for being naked, but in actuality a very small percentage of that first 365 set are nudes. An even smaller percentage of those show anything. What this all did for me is get me comfortable with my body; more accepting and more nurturing. Nowadays I utilize my body as a means to an end, the end being a piece of art (I hope) that conveys something. I often do not show any 'bits' nor my face in favor of creating a more universal image that doesn't distract a person because of pussy and tits. Because people really do get so distracted (of course, sometimes that might be my point).
6. What role does community play in your life?
I cultivate the communities I need. The online world has made a huge impact for me with that. I have a very large community of photographers from Flickr, from all over the world, many of whom have become good friends. I have sought out and found a small nurturing group of women photographers/artists who have saved my life many times. And I have finally found a community of urban explorers (some photographers, some not) who are supportive, fun, and welcoming to all. Community is my life support.
7. If you don't mind talking about it...I know you struggle with depression, as do I, and as do many of the women I know. When did you first realize you were depressed? What advice would you offer other young woman who might be grappling with depression for the first time?
I have never been officially diagnosed with depression, so I don't want to offend anyone here. I think I am aware enough to know that I struggle with it, however, and have my whole life. I probably first realized it before puberty, to be honest. I was teased a lot in school and had several groups turn on me in 4th, 5th, 6th, then 8th grade. Maybe 9th grade too. I kind of gave up by high school (then found a few friends and started doing drugs). I saw a psychiatrist in college who just agreed with me when I complained about how fucked up the world was. I self-medicated from my teens through 26 (when I was pregnant with my daughter) with alcohol and drugs. I took St. John's Wort at some point in there for a while but it didn't seem to make a difference. After that it always seemed situational, so I always muddled through. I saw a therapist after I got sober for a while. I saw a therapist again at 4 years sober when some tough stuff was coming up for me. I saw a therapist again this past year as I worked towards a big decision.
I've been suicidal. I've felt hopeless and bored and angry and like nothing has any point. I still feel that way sometimes, and this past winter was the worst I've ever been. I probably should have had some medication because I was really hurting bad, but my marriage was over and I was aware of turning 45 this year and my daughter was having struggles and I was really, really broke. Of course I was depressed. I'm also hormonal. I seem to keep telling myself I'll level out eventually. I'm a work in progress, what can I say?
If you are a young woman and think you are depressed, I suggest seeing your doctor about it and getting a recommendation for a very good psychoanalyst or therapist to start. And know you are not alone and you are not hopeless and you are loved, I promise you. And we are all works in progress; if we keep trying and things get better in different ways. We grow. We learn. We are never perfect.
8. Tell me about a good day that you remember from the last few months. What makes it stick out in your memory?
Oh wow, this is hard. That's sad, isn't it! My neurons don't fire very well due partly to age and mostly to past drug abuse. So I'm lucky if I remember yesterday. But ok! A day that sticks out was a few weeks ago in April. I had a ticket to see Christina Perri, my friend's cousin at a general admission show. My friend was not going, it turned out, because she was documenting an art opening for a local legend street/urban artist named NTEL at a Philly gallery. I did not want to go out at all that night, I felt emotional. Vulnerable. I went anyway. I gave myself an actual pep talk as I got ready, telling myself I was cool enough to be at the art show (I know!); and off I went. I ran into a photo friend on the way there and dragged him along. The show was outstanding and I was so glad to see it. I got a lead on a photo job. I ran into one of my favorite humans there who introduced me to another artist/photographer with whom I'll be connecting. Then I went off alone to the concert, where I had a very slim chance of finding my friend's sister and kids. I didn't want to go. I went. I found them. I got to watch the concert with my friend's daughter singing her heart out to every single song and it was awesome.
It sticks out because I did things even though I didn't want to and didn't feel strong enough/good enough/cool enough/okay enough—and I had a great night.
9. What makes you laugh?
My daughter. She is the funniest person I know. Also, Louis CK. He is the funniest person I don't know. Generally I like pretty dark humor, but I also have the mind of a 14 year old boy a lot of the time, so inappropriate? Sexual? Crude? Bring it on. My daughter has a similar sensibility.
Oh, and also -- cat videos.
Check out Sarah's portfolio on her website and on Flickr, "like" her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter. You can also read this excellent interview with her in Hidden City Philadelphia about how and why she began photographing herself in abandoned buildings.