Sabine Mirlesse

Interview 22.02.17

We talk to the photographer and artist about her work and her fascination with the relationship between people and nature

When did you first start taking pictures?


I started taking photographs when I was twelve years old at summer camp. I can still remember the first print I made in the darkroom, a portrait of a girl with long braids and I still have it somewhere in storage in New York. The analog process was tremendously mysterious to me and I loved it right away. I think I might be of the last generation that learned that way though. I heard that that summer camp replaced their darkrooms years ago with a computer lab. At the risk of sounding a bit like a luddite I’d say it’s a bit nuts to think you can appreciate the magic if you’ve never shot film and processed/developed it yourself and I’m excited to see photographers that still bother to do it.

You studied Religious studies and English Literature before settling on photography, do you feel this has inspired your work and if so in what way?


I think all of your experiences influence your way of seeing the world and I tell my students that they shouldn’t dismiss what they studied before photography (if they studied something else), or what part of the world they come from, or how they grew up for example. I think that all those elements are ultimately what make the work uniquely yours. So, yes… a lot of the connections I make in my research are probably thanks to the texts I had to read in college or the courses I took, and where I initially feared there was no relevance whatsoever I now know better and try to embrace it as much as possible.


You constantly explore the relationship between people and landscape/nature in your work. What are you looking for/what is the essence of this relationship that drives you creatively?

I’d say searching for where one ends and the other begins. Trying to explore that border or threshold between the two.

You live in Paris but you photograph the city rarely. Does your daily life inspire your work in other ways?

I usually have to go away to make my work, or otherwise cut off from social distractions and professional obligations, but the latter is more challenging when you are in the middle of them. I’m less disciplined in that way. As for the quotidian…  I love Paris and it inspires me because it’s a stunningly nostalgic city filled with people who have a lot of strong opinions on life at large. It’s lively and cinematic. I would like very much to make a project in Paris… one day.


You are often commissioned to photograph actors, diplomats and people in positions of power. What do you think makes a good portrait/sitter?

I’d say a sense of humor and flexibility in terms of both time and art direction. If someone is open to try different things and play that’s always the very best. But usually with super important folks their time is limited so you have to think on your feet. Often you only get about fifteen minutes and there is a still the expectation for you to deliver something intimate and unexpected, so the energy you put out is important. You have to be sensitive and observant but not introverted.


Tell me about your latest project, what drew you to Armenia?

I went to Armenia because I heard it was one of the hypothesized geographical locations of the Garden of Eden. I had to see it for myself. Since that first trip I’ve gotten more and more consumed by the biblical and local mythology of the country.

The juxtaposition of photography, drawing and found images in your work is striking, what is it that inspires this very visual story telling?

My foundation is and will always remain photographic but the more I work the more I crave incorporating other mediums into my practice. Descriptive pictures on the wall were never entirely satisfying. But I don’t think I’m very unique in feeling that way. It’s a growing trend these days that artists starting in photography branch out into other realms. So let’s hope I’m not just a sheep?

You will be on residency in Tuscany this summer, what will you be focusing on in an area with such picture-postcard beauty?

That is top secret until it actually happens I’m afraid! I’ll say that I’ll be working on the ground there. Literally. That’s all. I highly recommend to any creative out there to apply for residency programs. They have been really fruitful for me and they exist just about anywhere in the world.

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