Interview by Álvaro Martínez García –
I spoke with Sophie Barbasch, one of the runners up of the Photograd x Loupe competition, about her most recent project Fault Line. She documents the idiosyncrasy of her own family, using her ability as an artist to navigate through her own past.
Álvaro Martínez García: How did you choose photography as a medium?
Sophie Barbasch: I was always taking pictures, but it was during college I that chose photography as my medium of self-expression. Before that, I had been focused on drawing and painting. I don’t know what it is about photography that I find compelling. But even when I feel bored and burnt out, about life or specifically photography, I get pulled back into it.
ÁMG: How did your cousin Adam feel about having such an important role in the project? Was it a decision you made beforehand or something that developed as the project progressed?
SB: I didn’t initially set out to do this project, but Adam is a compelling subject and it developed bit by bit, with his improvisation and collaboration. I identify with him, both in general and within the context of our family. In any given family, there are multiple narratives – multiple ways to move through the dynamic and experience it. I feel like we share an experience and a narrative.
ÁMG: Being that this project is about your family, it’s inherently about you too. Do you see yourself reflected in the pictures on any level?
SB: Yes, I do. I think of this as my perspective. These are my feelings, my storylines, my memories. I am using my family members to portray my version of events, albeit a non-narrative version. That’s not to say that they don’t share some of my opinions. The ambiguous part of the project, and of family life in general, is figuring out how to parse all the differing experiences and figure out where each person’s story begins and ends, how it connects to the others. You can talk forever and still not understand or believe someone’s experience. Images cut through that, a little bit – there’s nothing that is technically being said, so it’s harder to deny.
ÁMG: The characters of your project seem to be looking for something they haven’t found in this world yet. Is there any resignation in these people, or is there hope?
SB: That is so nicely phrased, I’m glad you think so. That is my goal—to imply they are searching for something that hasn’t been found. I go back and forth in terms of hope. For me personally, there is both a lot of hope and a lot of ambivalence about that hope, which is why I did the project. The idea of gravity, of a gravitational pull acting on people, is something I think about a lot. It’s a way to visualise the tension between hope and resignation. There are pictures where people are holding each other up, or themselves up, or falling down, either actually or by implication. This is one way I try to express the notion of perseverance vs. giving up.
ÁMG: Even in the pictures where more than one person is portrayed, the solitude seems to remain present. Are those moments of solitude deliberately selected out of the experience with your family, or is that loneliness always there?
SB: The solitude is both true and also selected and performed. The photos are meant to emphasise something not normally on display. The body language is chosen to imply separation and disconnection, as well as certain power dynamics. Some of the moments happen naturally, but a lot of them are staged to make the characters look isolated.
ÁMG: Did the making process help you solving any problems within your family?
SB: The short answer is no. Sometimes I think photography will provide big life answers, but it hasn’t so far, unfortunately. What it did do was help me build a strong relationship with my cousin.
ÁMG: Did you enjoy making this project? Was it painful at any point of the process?
SB: It is enjoyable and sometimes stressful, as any project is. I wouldn’t describe it as painful, in part because the experience of making pictures is usually separate from the experiences that motivate them.
ÁMG: Do you plan on choosing your family as the subject of any future body of work?
SB: I think of this project as having multiple chapters, so I see it as a continuing body of work.
ÁMG: Do you think that the viewer can relate to the problems that you photograph, or do you think that each family’s experience is totally different?
SB: Tolstoy wrote: ‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ I think that’s funny and true. In terms of this project, nothing is explicit, so if a viewer relates to it, maybe it has to do with relating to a tone or feeling or mood. I don’t think there are narrative elements in this work that would resonate with someone, but I think there are implied dynamics that might feel familiar.
ÁMG: What’s next for you photographically?
Right now I am working on editing a project I shot about a railroad under construction in Brazil. I’m also shooting in New York, though that is a bit more open-ended.