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Sarah Hermans

The Belgian photographer on shooting B&W, everyday details and the concept of 'distance'

Born and raised with a view of Belgium's picturesque landscape, the photographer’s interest in nature - both of the outdoors and that of people - allows her to capture everyday details with a strong sense of nostalgia. She sees photographs as surfaces, ready to interact with one another. Preferring to hand over the meaning of her works to her viewer, Hermans gives us a rare glimpse into how her work does in fact reflect her ideals.

Distance is something that holds a lot of my work together on different levels. The idea of giving something, but not having you control what you're given

Dazed Digital: What would you say is the most prominent theme in your work?
Sarah Hermans:
Distance is something that holds a lot of my work together on different levels. The idea of giving something, but not having control over what you're given. Or even fully understanding it. Art that appeals most to me really is work that makes me feel stupid at first because I don't get it. What happens after, this inbetween phase where one has to figure things out, is of more meaningful to me than art that opens your eyes to fact A or fact B. Obviously I'm fascinated with nature, the nature of things, of people.

DD: What catches your eye the most in the everyday?
Sarah Hermans:
How things interact with each other. That's also what I find interesting about photography itself, how translation into a photograph works, how the photographs themselves interact, and can be pushed to be read in a specific way and eventually have to interact with you. I see photographs as surfaces, so that's what I look for. I guess it's a very shallow thing.

I can photograph a window but I'm not showing you a window. When people get to see photos, they immediately go beyond these surfaces. In some of my work that's an easy thing to do, in more abstract work it's not. That's where you have to go further, but also where many stop, and I like that play. Either way, all of this is actually the reason I don't like to discuss my work too much. I photograph, I give them to you, then it's up to you.

DD: There is a large use of black and white in your work, is there something that attracts you to this?
Sarah Hermans:
I suppose that's often the graphical aspect that comes through, or creating distance. I'm not sure. I like shooting black and white and the entire process in the darkroom. It really reminds you that the photograph is just an object. As for the people, that was the way we had to shoot in our first year (of my Bachelor degree), using black and white film, so it came without much thought. The theme of melancholy was something I wanted to work with back then, so in that way black and white suited the concept aesthetically.

DD: When someone looks at your work, how would you like them to feel?
Sarah Hermans:
Do you know the Paradise series of Struth? He writes: "They present a kind of empty space: emptied to elicit a moment of stillness and internal dialogue. You have to be able to enjoy this silence in order to communicate with yourself, and eventually with others."


 Text by Emma Hoareau