Austin-based photographer Sarah Eiseman creates gorgeous yet strikingly strange images that force you to question what exactly it is you're looking at. With a fondness for polaroids and good-old-fashioned film cameras, Sarah creates layered and textured photos that often fuse dream imagery and the mundane. The results are mesmerizing visual adventures into a haunting and beautiful world where the fantastic and reality overlap. Her subjects range from levitating bodies to dancing beauties, but Sarah always stays true to her desire to "pull out the real-ness of a person." The unnatural scenes and post-production editing never overpower the strong individuality of the person on the other side of the lens. We caught up with Sarah to ask about her recent trip to Asia, her love/hate relationship with the whole iPHONE-ography craze, and the accidental and intentional methods behind the magic. Read the interview below and then do yourself a favor and go see Sarah's work here :)
First of all, you live in Austin, right? Is that where you are from?
Yes! I live in the beautiful land of Austin, Texas. I'm originally from Panama City, Florida but moved to Austin for a change of scenery about 2 years ago. I was only supposed to be here a few weeks and then just never left. I fell in love with the inspiration in the city. I fell in love with the people that make the city.
Did you grow up with an interest in photography? When did you start taking your first pictures?
I always grew up with a love for photography.. of course back then it was all film and polaroids which is funny enough what I prefer now days. I started really picking up photography and trying to learn everything I could about cameras when I moved to Austin. There is just so much inspiration everywhere and so many people who want to create and support you.. it's kind of hard not to fall into pursuing the things that you love. I started with my digital camera. I carried it with me everywhere, watched tutorials, asked questions..until I felt I had figured it out. Then I decided to delve back into film (that's the real love affair). Learning cameras, film types, developing.. really making a picture beginning to end... that to me is beautiful.
You just returned from a 3-month trip to Asia; was it for vacation or work? Tell us a little about it: where did you go? What was your favorite spot? Any photos you want to share?
Yes, I did just return from Asia. I backpacked for a few months just for an adventure. I visited Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, & Japan. I could tell you my favorite but there was honestly a piece of each I love. People, culture, weather, landscape.. all those things are different in each place and each destination had surprise ups & downs. I really do adore China & Japan though :) As for the reasoning of the trip, I just decided I needed a few months of adventure where I could just wake up and photo/write the day away.. sleep on a beach.. wake up to sunrise on a mountain, coffee in a village hut, and a full day open to taking pictures of locals or writing poetry about my experience. Take trains, get lost, make friends.. just be inspired.
You shoot both digital and analog, right?
I kind of answered above but yes I shoot digital and analog. I currently have around 20 cameras but of those I shoot most with my Canon 6D, Canon AE, Polaroid Land Camera, DianaF, Polaroid600, and on my trip a GoPro. I prefer film / polaroids over anything.. it's like a listening to a good vinyl, just rich and real. Nothing captures a moment like analog photography.
As an artist, what are your thoughts on the whole iphone/instagram/everyone can make their photos look cool with a click? Is it hurting the art of photography at all?
Haha Oooooh IPHONE-ography. I was just discussing this with a fellow photographer yesterday. The thing is.. it didn't take an Iphone for everyone to pick up photography. Digital cameras basically already did that. However I have a love/hate relationship with all of it. I am guilty as charged as being an avid iphone photographer. I will sometimes go shoot and have 5-6 cameras and still pull out my Iphone to snap a photo as silly as it sounds. The thing is art is art. I browse tons of other instagrams for inspiration .. there really is a way to make an artistic photo even with a phone. You can point out an artist or atleast someone with an artistic eye just by browsing a row of their recent pictures. Like everything even iphone-ography takes thought. Although this instant satisfaction is sometimes irritating, I don't feel it is hurting "the art of photography at all". In the end - real photographers are going to keep using real cameras (hopefully). There will always be a deeper appreciation on my half for real, genuine photography , film, and cameras. Phones are just an easy way to document things quickly.. and share things instantly.
We'd love to hear just a quick thought on each of the photographs below that you've taken that we love. Could you give us an idea of what your thoughts were going into these pictures? Did you have them planned out? How much did you work with them post-production?
Sure! Most of the time I will come up with a strange thought or idea then think of a way to make that reality. The first photo I knew I wanted some sort of levitation to contrast the ordinary apartment imagery around it. Because I mean, that's just strange, right? I like strange. I ended up accidentally overlapping images and leaving myself in the background and actually really liked it. A lot of the time I will have a broad idea for photos then during the shoot or in post production I'll be inspired to change things or add on.
The second photo is of my friend Ceci Alejandra. This was actually our first time meeting and shooting together. Before hand I didn't really know what we would shoot I just told her we could drive around the east side of town and see if anything caught our eye. Prior to this shot we did some Polaroids in front of this creepy, old, house. A black cat wandered up where we were lounging and with Ceci's long, beautiful, hair.. it just gave this haunting, witchy, feeling to it. So I imagine that coming first had something to do with this image following. We came to this abandoned building wanting to do a levitation photo and the product came out looking haunting. It fit the vibe of the day & of the location perfectly. There was a good amount of post-production in this photo, as typically in most levitation photos (although I just like to say it's magic) :)
The third photo is actually a project I'm working on with a local vintage store - Charm School Vintage, local artist - Megan Lane, and model- Marissa Liana. Megan painted different topographical shapes and patters (inspired by the location) on Marissa , Shari from CharmSchoolVintage styled, and I photographed. We are planning to shoot a few other women with different themes and have Megan then paint on tope of the images and create a mixed media image. So we started with Marissa! We knew we wanted earthy vibes and emotions...and what came out of the shoot was just that. Not much post-production.This picture was honestly just an experiment with in-house multiple exposures.
Your photographs often mix the magical and ethereal with the mundane. In one of the images above, for example, you place a mysterious, almost occult, image of a levitating girl in front of an every-day backyard grill. Is this juxtaposition intentional? Does it function as a way to highlight the existence of the magical in our daily existence?
It's funny you mention that. I like to keep a level of reality/every day common-ness intertwined with a realm of dreaminess. It is as you say - picking out the everyday magic we are surrounded by and magnifying that through photography. I like to pull out the real-ness of a person, the real raw emotions of people and mix that with a bit of magic. Pure Magic. You see you can think of photos all day long, come up with ideas and visions.. but it is really the person that makes the image. I don't like to take away from the natural state of a person. If I have an idea I want to shoot, I like to think of a person that idea reminds me of..and shoot the idea with them. If I don't have an idea and I'm just shooting someone then I like to keep the image more about their natural state, more about their raw, underlying, true self. I like to see the real, sometimes hidden emotions of people and document that in a way that is beautiful, in a way that other people can relate and connect with the emotions..Then we usually end up talking while adventuring and I will build the photo from there.
Who would you name as your greatest photographic influences?
Hands Down - Francesca Woodman & Robert Mapplethorpe. Their images are dark, sultry, and somewhat disturbing. They created images unlike anyone else in their time. Images that shocked and made people question what they were really looking at. To me they opened to door to an appreciation and an acceptance of nude, strange, and beautiful photography. They were true visionaries.
What exciting projects do you have coming up?
I have a few projects coming up with fellow photographers, models, musicians as soon as I return for good from my travels. I can't give away everything though!
As for now I'm working on a video edit/photography project from Asia. & I'll be doing a short film / photography project on an American Road Trip in the next week! I'll be documenting the next few weeks of film and travel on my websites & travel blog.
Be sure to check them out!
Tumblr - analogadventurers.tumblr.com