In the worlds created by artist Sarah Elise Abramson, there are many striking elements: mystical-seeming objects, strange costumes and glitter. (Lots and lots of glitter.) What’s most riveting, though, is that these things don’t stick out from their everyday surroundings. Instead, it’s like they’ve been there all along, waiting for someone to discover them. Abramson, a California native who has studied under such artists as Susan Worsham, Taso Papadakis, and David LaChapelle, is also a writer and curator in her own right, with a regular column in American Art Collector Magazine. We caught up with her to talk patience, trances and why her mother knew she was destined to be a photographer.
When did you become involved with photography?
In the womb, I’m pretty sure. My mom knew I’d be a photographer by the way I observed things as a child. Then, at age eleven I got my first 35mm camera and I was hooked for life. It allowed me to focus in on the things I wanted to explore, almost like living in a world or on an astrological plane where you are the creator. I also liked the way the shutter sounded.
What drew you to this medium?
With photography, you are forced (if you’re shooting outside like I do) to think on your toes and use what’s around you to create your image. There’s no controlled lighting and it changes very quickly. It’s like I’m collaborating with my subject AND with Mother Nature.
I’ll be in the middle of a shoot and suddenly find a rusty machete on the ground and have my model hold it..and it’s ultimately what makes the whole image come together. I’m also not the most patient person — although after a crazy 15-foot fall I took last summer, my ability to be patient has improved.
How did you move onto instant photography?
I’ve always shot with analog so it wasn’t long before I started playing around with Polaroid film in high school. Not until college did I realize that it could and IS a legitimate medium and one that I will forever love. The alchemy of it amazes me every time. I get butterflies in my stomach each time I hit that shutter button.
And what was your initial reaction to it?
Love at first click. Sorry…had to…
How do you choose your subjects/environments?
My subjects are, for the most part, my close friends and sometimes my parents. Once in awhile I’ll approach someone on the street or in a store and ask them to model for me. For years I essentially only shot women but as of about two years ago I started shooting men as well. It’s been a really rewarding experience. It’s funny because I’ve dated both women and men and it’s a very different experience with each. I shouldn’t have expected it to be the same when using them as my subjects.
What do you try to capture in these moments?
My work is happens where rational ends and emotional starts. Or possibly where they swirl together. It’s that in-between space that I’m most interested in. That’s where I find comfort as well as challenges. I’m always aiming to capture the un-photographable or the things we can’t see. When I’m out shooting I’ll go into this sort of trance or meditative state. I call it “being in the ziggidy zone.” Hours can go by and I’ll have no clue. Being in that state allows me to see things differently-shadows, colors, shapes, etc., and how they relate to each other are all I can see. It’s when I’m the most happy. I also try to achieve honesty in the moments I capture using the people I’m closest to and love the most, which certainly facilitates this.
Do you follow a set of rules or guidelines when it comes to taking these images?
No, never. I try to not fixate on “rules.” The definition of art is to break rules.
What have you worked on recently that you’re excited about?
Several projects! I’m working on getting an instant film coffee table book out. It consists of 200 images taken over the last 10 years. I recently had a solo show at Coagula Curatorial in Los Angeles with this work. It was a retrospective of my Polaroid film work from the last decade. I’m also the creator and editor-in-chief of an annual independent art publication called SLOW TOAST. The theme of this issue is “New World” and will feature artists such as David LaChapelle, Ed Templeton, Elizabeth McGrath, Koen Hauser, Pip & Pop, and a couple other AMAZINGLY talented artists and writers like Shana Nys Dembot, Dave Carnie, Jasper Oliver and Penelope Gazin.
Do you have any tips for aspiring or current photographers who use the
My advice would be to just keep messing around with different types of film. I would also advise always to shoot what you love. Always. Shoot as much as possible and don’t look at what’s popular or trendy now. That will subconsciously stifle your creativity. But it is good to have photographers that inspire you. Don’t copy, but find elements within their work that you’re drawn to and incorporate that into some of your own work. Just be authentic and never be shutter happy. Take your time and wait for the magic to come.
See more of Sarah’s Originals on IG: @slow_toast
The Cultural Impact of Polaroid ➜
20 Original Instant Portraits ➜
Backstage With Vivienne Westwood ➜