American Vintage Photography Award: Sarah Mei Herman

American Vintage Photography Award: Sarah Mei Herman

Why did you choose China as a subject ?
When I applied for the residency at the Chinese European Art Centre (CEAC) in Xiamen I had never been to China before (never Asia even) and I was particularly curious about visiting a place in which the culture and language are completely different and unknown to me. I wanted to learn about the differences but also about the things that are universally recognizable: the things that tie people together and the meaning of friendship and love.
Before deciding to apply for this residency I met up with the director from CEAC (Ineke Gudmundsson). She told me about the city Xiamen and the beautiful beaches and coast. And about the curiosity of the Xiamen residents towards foreigners and about the fact that girls and women often walk hand in hand as a sign of friendship. This was something that immediately triggered my imagination… Where I am from this kind of intimacy of holding hands in public usually is between couples, not so often between friends. I found this form of intimacy very interesting bearing in mind the fact that a public display of affection between men and women in China seldom occurs.
I was anxious to know to what extent I would be able to gain entry to the youth and their relationships. And to what extent they would reveal themselves to me. Also I wondered whether it would be possible to find young lovers prepared to show there affection in my presence.
You won the American Vintage photography Award. What will you do then ?
The American Vintage Photography Prize consists of prize money as well as a commissioned series for the brand. I will use the prize for my personal photography projects and hopefully also to cover a trip back to Xiamen, so that I can follow up on my ongoing work project there.
How is it like working with American Vintage ?
I havn’t started working with them yet. I’m still in the process of making a plan for the new series, and I will probably shoot this upcoming July. For the commission I have “carte-blanche” which is very exciting !
How did you develop this photo project ? Do you try to get to know someone a little bit before you take a portrait?
When I first arrived in Xiamen, I felt completely lost in this to me unknown city, where I wasn’t able to speak the language nor read any signs. It took a bit of time to find my way around and prepare things before leaving my apartment, like having my address written down in Chinese, as well as the place I was heading. The first few weeks I spent most of my time walking and wondering around, taking busses to unknown places and getting lost. My apartment was right on the beach and I loved walking past the sea just before sunset when the beach was full of young couples sitting closely together, or taking photographs of each other (or of them selves). I noticed that people clearly showed that they were a couple in particular ways: like the boy always carries the girl’s handbag for example. But I never caught anyone kiss in public.
After a while I started to feel more at home and more comfortable approaching subjects for my project. I photographed several young people (mostly girls) and their intimate relationships, finding my subjects on the beach, in the streets of Xiamen and at the university campus. With some of them I built up a closer relationship photographing them repeatedly over time. Since my four-month work period three years ago, I got the possibility to return to Xiamen three times. The first time was in 2015 to teach a workshop there at Xiamen Art College, and then again in November 2016 because my work was exhibited at Jimei x Arles International Photofestival 2016. The last time I was there was very recently: in November 2017, again for the Jimei x Arles Festival, this time my work was part of the 2017 edition. Each visit I meet up with some of the same girls again, capturing their changes over time. Going back to the same subject repeatedly is an important aspect in almost al my work. During these encounters I attempt to touch upon the intimate moments of proximity between my subjects and me.
What was your exposure to photography before?
I started photographing when I was about eighteen or nineteen years old. I do remember being fascinated by the idea of being a “photographer” since I was quite young. My mother was always photographing a lot so I grew up with photography around me.
After highschool I studied philosophy for a year, which I loved, but I realized that I really wanted to go to artschool. During a trip to my father’s homecountry South Africa, I strarted photographing obsessively. I came back home with about 40 films.
That year I aplied at The Royal Academy of Fine Arts in The Hague where I studied for my bachelor degree in Photography from 2001 until 2005.
Do you know immediately when you have taken a good portrait? Is there a split second when you press the button and you know you have made the shot?
Most of the time, I do know when I have taken a good photograph, but not always. Sometimes the photograph which I did not expect to be the best turns out to be the one. I do love that feeling ; looking through the camera and seeing everything coming together…
"In my work, I focus on young people during the stages of life in which the transitions are very rapid. The clothes these young people wear form an important part of who they are and who they want to be. When photographing I pay a lot of attention to the clothing, the colours, and how this works within the image" [American Vintage Photography Award: Sarah Mei Herman]
Do you always have a camera with you?
No actually I don’t often carry a camera with me. The Mamiya 6x7 I mostly use is a bit to big and heavy to carry around. And I guess I work in a planned way, in the sense that I meet up with the person/people I photograph. It is not that I accidentally run into them. When I’m travelling I do carry around a 35 mm camera.
What is the purpose of a portrait for you?
In a portrait I attempt to express something which normally is not visible; a certain intensity and quietness which comes to the surface. It is something that arises between the photographer and the person portrayed. For me a portrait is as much about the person portrayed as it is about me as a photographer. The interaction and trust which are involved are very important to me.
Who were your early influences?
Film/ cinema is an important source of inspiration for me. I see as many films as I can. I’m interested in films which focus on human relationships and have a lot of psychological depth.
Some of my favorite directors include: Francois Ozon, Carlos Saura (Julio Medem, Almodovar, Michael Haneke and many more…
Also literature can inspire me a lot. Photographers I love are Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Nan Goldin, Sally Man, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Christopher Anderson…
Did you assist?
assisted the same photographer for several months during my bachelor studies in The Hague. After graduating I assisted various photographers for a short period, but I havn’t done that since many years.
Have you considered moving into fashion ?
I would love to work in fashion. In my work I focus on young people during the stages of life in which the transitions are very rapid. The clothes these young people wear form an important part of who they are and who they want to be. When photographing I pay a lot of attention to the clothing, the colours, and how this works within the image.
The American Vintage Photography Prize is an amazing opportunity for me to make a fashion series, and getting the freedom to completely work in my personal style. I hope this will open more doors into the fashion photography world!
digital or film?
Always film. I love the quality and the process ; to physically have the negatives in my hands in stead of just having the image on a harddrive. I also really prefer the way of working, not seeing the results immediately and not being able to show them instantly to the person I photograph. I feel that this can interfere with the way someone presents her/himself in front of the camera.

American Vintage Photography Award: Sarah Mei Herman

Why did you choose China as a subject ?
When I applied for the residency at the Chinese European Art Centre (CEAC) in Xiamen I had never been to China before (never Asia even) and I was particularly curious about visiting a place in which the culture and language are completely different and unknown to me. I wanted to learn about the differences but also about the things that are universally recognizable: the things that tie people together and the meaning of friendship and love.
Before deciding to apply for this residency I met up with the director from CEAC (Ineke Gudmundsson). She told me about the city Xiamen and the beautiful beaches and coast. And about the curiosity of the Xiamen residents towards foreigners and about the fact that girls and women often walk hand in hand as a sign of friendship. This was something that immediately triggered my imagination… Where I am from this kind of intimacy of holding hands in public usually is between couples, not so often between friends. I found this form of intimacy very interesting bearing in mind the fact that a public display of affection between men and women in China seldom occurs.
I was anxious to know to what extent I would be able to gain entry to the youth and their relationships. And to what extent they would reveal themselves to me. Also I wondered whether it would be possible to find young lovers prepared to show there affection in my presence.
You won the American Vintage photography Award. What will you do then ?
The American Vintage Photography Prize consists of prize money as well as a commissioned series for the brand. I will use the prize for my personal photography projects and hopefully also to cover a trip back to Xiamen, so that I can follow up on my ongoing work project there.
How is it like working with American Vintage ?
I havn’t started working with them yet. I’m still in the process of making a plan for the new series, and I will probably shoot this upcoming July. For the commission I have “carte-blanche” which is very exciting !
How did you develop this photo project ? Do you try to get to know someone a little bit before you take a portrait?
When I first arrived in Xiamen, I felt completely lost in this to me unknown city, where I wasn’t able to speak the language nor read any signs. It took a bit of time to find my way around and prepare things before leaving my apartment, like having my address written down in Chinese, as well as the place I was heading. The first few weeks I spent most of my time walking and wondering around, taking busses to unknown places and getting lost. My apartment was right on the beach and I loved walking past the sea just before sunset when the beach was full of young couples sitting closely together, or taking photographs of each other (or of them selves). I noticed that people clearly showed that they were a couple in particular ways: like the boy always carries the girl’s handbag for example. But I never caught anyone kiss in public.
After a while I started to feel more at home and more comfortable approaching subjects for my project. I photographed several young people (mostly girls) and their intimate relationships, finding my subjects on the beach, in the streets of Xiamen and at the university campus. With some of them I built up a closer relationship photographing them repeatedly over time. Since my four-month work period three years ago, I got the possibility to return to Xiamen three times. The first time was in 2015 to teach a workshop there at Xiamen Art College, and then again in November 2016 because my work was exhibited at Jimei x Arles International Photofestival 2016. The last time I was there was very recently: in November 2017, again for the Jimei x Arles Festival, this time my work was part of the 2017 edition. Each visit I meet up with some of the same girls again, capturing their changes over time. Going back to the same subject repeatedly is an important aspect in almost al my work. During these encounters I attempt to touch upon the intimate moments of proximity between my subjects and me.
What was your exposure to photography before?
I started photographing when I was about eighteen or nineteen years old. I do remember being fascinated by the idea of being a “photographer” since I was quite young. My mother was always photographing a lot so I grew up with photography around me.
After highschool I studied philosophy for a year, which I loved, but I realized that I really wanted to go to artschool. During a trip to my father’s homecountry South Africa, I strarted photographing obsessively. I came back home with about 40 films.
That year I aplied at The Royal Academy of Fine Arts in The Hague where I studied for my bachelor degree in Photography from 2001 until 2005.
Do you know immediately when you have taken a good portrait? Is there a split second when you press the button and you know you have made the shot?
Most of the time, I do know when I have taken a good photograph, but not always. Sometimes the photograph which I did not expect to be the best turns out to be the one. I do love that feeling ; looking through the camera and seeing everything coming together…
"In my work, I focus on young people during the stages of life in which the transitions are very rapid. The clothes these young people wear form an important part of who they are and who they want to be. When photographing I pay a lot of attention to the clothing, the colours, and how this works within the image" [American Vintage Photography Award: Sarah Mei Herman]
Do you always have a camera with you?
No actually I don’t often carry a camera with me. The Mamiya 6x7 I mostly use is a bit to big and heavy to carry around. And I guess I work in a planned way, in the sense that I meet up with the person/people I photograph. It is not that I accidentally run into them. When I’m travelling I do carry around a 35 mm camera.
What is the purpose of a portrait for you?
In a portrait I attempt to express something which normally is not visible; a certain intensity and quietness which comes to the surface. It is something that arises between the photographer and the person portrayed. For me a portrait is as much about the person portrayed as it is about me as a photographer. The interaction and trust which are involved are very important to me.
Who were your early influences?
Film/ cinema is an important source of inspiration for me. I see as many films as I can. I’m interested in films which focus on human relationships and have a lot of psychological depth.
Some of my favorite directors include: Francois Ozon, Carlos Saura (Julio Medem, Almodovar, Michael Haneke and many more…
Also literature can inspire me a lot. Photographers I love are Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Nan Goldin, Sally Man, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Christopher Anderson…
Did you assist?
assisted the same photographer for several months during my bachelor studies in The Hague. After graduating I assisted various photographers for a short period, but I havn’t done that since many years.
Have you considered moving into fashion ?
I would love to work in fashion. In my work I focus on young people during the stages of life in which the transitions are very rapid. The clothes these young people wear form an important part of who they are and who they want to be. When photographing I pay a lot of attention to the clothing, the colours, and how this works within the image.
The American Vintage Photography Prize is an amazing opportunity for me to make a fashion series, and getting the freedom to completely work in my personal style. I hope this will open more doors into the fashion photography world!
digital or film?
Always film. I love the quality and the process ; to physically have the negatives in my hands in stead of just having the image on a harddrive. I also really prefer the way of working, not seeing the results immediately and not being able to show them instantly to the person I photograph. I feel that this can interfere with the way someone presents her/himself in front of the camera.