Glasses of water are remarkable things: they can quench thirst, make music and, in the case of Suzanne Saroff, beautifully distort fruits and flowers to create unexpected and surrealistic images. The New York-based photographer has a keen eye for the mundane items that most of us only pay attention to when assembling a grocery list. The result is a collection of highly innovative and dreamlike photos featuring your favourite food.
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You are a photographer and art director, was there anything specific that sparked your interest in visual language?
Photography has always been a passion and creative outlet for me. I grew up in Missoula (Montana) and this is where I developed my love for the art. As a kid, I had a lot of time to dream and think about my ideas, and I started shooting early with disposable cameras. Eventually, I got a DSLR and spent much of my time learning the technical aspects of it, photographing my friends on the mountains, or wildflowers in my backyard.
When I moved to NYC a few years ago, I worked as an art director, which involved conceptualizing for a range of projects. Early this year, I set out to pursue my own photography full time, doing both personal work and work with brands. At the moment, I’m very focused on adding motion, it’s quite thrilling. I can’t imagine my life without creating, it is deeply and intrinsically part of me.
In your work, fruits and flowers are the most recurring subjects. But you also feature animals and other mundane objects, which is very interesting, because you help us see the beauty in them. Can you tell us a little more about your unique eye and how you developed it?
I have always been interested in the little details. I am a really slow walker because I am looking around at everything. During the hikes I did as a kid, I would always fall behind, lost in thought as little things along the way grabbed my attention and inspired me. As an adult, I’ve tried to pinpoint the exact source of my inspiration, make it tangible and take that into my studio. It’s inspiring for me to take something mundane, or ugly even, and give it a new life. I also love working with flowers, they are beautifully complex but simultaneously simple. I love highlighting both of these qualities and using them in my work as expressions. I love how flowers can mirror people since they have so many different personalities.
Glass as a material is a vital part of your work, and its properties help you achieve an amazing result – either in the Perspective series distorting the object’s form or in the Shadows series. When did you start experimenting with it, and what have you learnt about it after all these pictures?
I was at a small restaurant in San Francisco a few winters ago. It was late afternoon and the sun was pouring through the window. The light was hitting the flower vase on the table, and the wine and water glasses. The shadows were sparkling and the moment felt magic. The warmth and familiarity of that feeling are what originally inspired the Shadows series. Perspective was an evolution of this time in the studio.
During the months when I was working on the Shadows series, I was inspired by a single orange sitting on my kitchen counter behind a glass of water – I loved the way it danced as I moved. Perspective started out as an exploration of that playful feeling, which then turned into an entire series. I love how simple glass is, yet with the right light and composition, can create an entirely new feeling. Through my work with glass, I have learned that you can create something meaningful and complex with the simplest of things.
“Through my work with glass, I have learned that you can create something meaningful and complex with the simplest of things.”
Are you working or trying to discover new materials to work with, maybe?
My work is always evolving, and new materials are part of that.
Your photographs often look surrealistic. Is this only due to the natural effect of the water, or do you use Photoshop as well?
All of the distortions and surrealistic qualities are natural effects of the water and glass, which are emphasised by the light. I only use a little Photoshop at the end to edit things like the levels and colour contrast.
You also work with the moving image, like in the series Breathing or Stealing Shadows. How did you learn to do it, and what new layers of meaning do you think the movement adds to your still life photography?
My motion pieces started with experimenting. I had the idea for Stealing Shadows last year when I was in the middle of my Flower series. I just felt a strong urge to execute it right away and was thrilled to figure out how to make that concept come to life. I love working with motion because of its ability to add depth, curiosity and story to the frame, albeit through an unexpected movement or subtle motion. Directing is actually one of the things I’m trying to develop, along with creating pieces that are longer with more narrative.
When looking at your own work, but also the work of other photographers, what do you find captivating in an image?
For me, it is about emotion. Across all photo and art genres, it’s about if there is that thing that pulls me in and makes me feel something.
With its soft velvet background or smooth rose petals, the viewer seems to almost be able to reach into your work and grab the object. Is this tactility something you aim to create, or does it happen more subconsciously?
Texture and tactility are an important part of my photos – it is a way to add layers of depth, giving objects life, while adding feeling. My Velvet series was one of my early series that used texture as part of the concept. That series was all about using tactility to create an emotion, which was a darker one: I was contrasting the concept of death with a lush, beautiful feeling that came from velvet.
In my Flower series, tactility was also front and centre. That series was also about contrast – a dying flower with a glistening paint drip clinging on, which is inherently tactile. Emphasising the materiality was an aesthetic choice to accentuate the concept. Texture and tactility continue to be important parts of my Shadows and Perspective series, along with new projects that I am working on.
I read you work alone, but is there anyone (visual artist, photographer, brand, etc.) you’d like to work/collaborate with?
I do much of my personal work alone but enjoy to work in teams for my larger projects and my commercial and editorial work. I think that ideal collaborations are ones that push everyone’s work to be better, combining perspectives to create something new and fresh. I would love to work with florists like Ruby Mary Lennox in Berlin, or Putnam & Putnam in New York. I recently worked with baker Yossy Arefi, which was fun and brought a whole new thing to my photos.
There are a lot of brands that I would love to collaborate with. It would be great to create movement pieces for activewear and sports – Nike could be an interesting one. I would love to do a collaboration with Gucci and more fashion in general. I am generally inspired by innovative and responsible branding styles.
What are you currently up to? Any interesting projects you can tell us about?
My personal work never stops. Right now, I am working on an evolution of my Perspective series and adding more motion. I just shot a cool editorial with Man Repeller, a campaign for Smirnoff, shot some new work for Glossier, and am working on a collaboration with Vsco. I am also working on a few exciting new shoots right now, and I just recently joined forces with Print & Contact agency, who are now representing me and are a great support. Lots of exciting things to come!
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