Meet the German photographer Sarah Pabst

"Most of my work is about identity, so in 'Reclusive' I deal with self-confrotation, inner self and healing." Sarah Pabst tells the story behind her intimate and autobiographical project.


From the series Reclusive © Sarah Pabst

Sarah is a German-born documentary photographer and painter and lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina since 2013. She has been awarded recognitions and awards, such as, 'Women in Society' Category of the Picture of the Year (POY) LATAM 2015 and Canon Profifoto Förderpreis in 2014. Her work has been published in Vice, Lensculture, Le Monde Diplomatique, Profifoto, Burndiary, Zeit Online, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Revista Pecado, Brigitte Young Miss, Deutsche Welle and the Max Planck Journal, among others. She has been working on Latin American issues since 2006.

Talk to us about your career as a photographer.

I have always loved photography. At school we had a darkroom that almost anybody used and we used to skip classes and hide there developing film and copying photos. I also painted a lot, so I started to study Fine Arts. I own a masters degree in painting and photography and to me both are very connected. In 2005, I traveled to Latin America for the first time and the camera became more and more of an important tool to be able to talk about what I was seeing, the social circumstances and people. The camera is another language that you have to communicate with people, to overcome your own shyness. In 2013, I moved to Argentina and I somehow think that's where it all started. I noticed, or admitted, that I really wanted to become a photographer.

How has living in Argentina influenced your work?

Very much. Actually I think Argentina made me a photographer. First there's the light - Latin America has a special light. But Argentina is also very inspirational. Life is more difficult here than in Germany for instance. Most people put a lot of sacrifice to be able to manage their everyday life. But at the same time, Argentina is an eternal surviver. That gives you strength. Most of my series have been made in Argentina, focusing on quite different topics, transgender in Mar del Plata, a costal town famous for summer tourism, la Salada, an illegal market in the suburbs of Buenos Aires or Just Mothers, a series on two young single mothers. But overall they all deal with identity. I think also this has to do with me living 12000 km away from my native country, Germany. Through photography you try to find your place in the world.

And somehow, I had to go far away from home to be able to talk about home and see the beauty again in something my eyes had got used too. I am currently working on an ongoing project about my family, World War II and my childhood memories. I also think that boredom is a killer to all photography. You never get bored in Argentina.

From the series Reclusive © Sarah Pabst

Your project, Reclusive, has a very different angle to all your other projects. Could you explain to us a little bit where this come from?

The biggest difference about Reclusive is that I first didn't even know that I was photographing on a project. Before I have always looked for the topic first, do my research and start photographing - always with a subjective and emotional approach but never about something so profoundly personal. Reclusive started the other way around. It is a personal intimate diary about my relationship with my boyfriend (and soon to be husband) who was going through difficult times in the beginning and overcoming personal problems. At the same time, I was far away from my home country. I think somehow we were both lost. I started to photograph us and our surroundings, out of an inner need to have something to hold on to if things turned out badly. It was all very intuitive. Photography was my way to proof to myself that everything was real. But it took me about amonth to realize that I was working on a project. That's when Reclusive was born.

We know you are making a book out of your project, Reclusive. Can you tell us how has it been the experience of producing a book as an extension of your personal project?

I absolutely love it. Making a book is something completely new. I had the chance to work with some really creative minds on the book making since I first had the idea, such as; Verónica Fieiras, Gonzalo Romero, Mariana Maggio and Julieta Escardó. The final book is quite different from the project. A photo is always two-dimensional but it is amazing how they come to life in a book and how different the experience is. I am very enthusiastic about it and can't wait to be able to present the final dummy.

When do you think we could see the book published?

It's in its final steps. I am currently looking for a good print shop to print some first copies of the dummy, which unfortunately is not so easy in Argentina as there are not the same quantity of papers as in some other countries. The book cover is handmade and to me it's important that you don't only see the book but that you can also touch it, maybe even smell it. I love books. I have plenty and often look through the same books many times. Books have to speak to you, every time you open them.

From the series Reclusive © Sarah Pabst

You are a photojournalist. Can you tell us how was the experience of making a project about you and your partner as main characters in the story line. How did you find working with self-portraiture?

First it was very surprising to me that I was actually working on a project about my own life. It's very different to be your own subject than working about someone else's life. At the beginning it took me some time to overcome my shyness and be able to show the work in progress to people. It doesn't only include pictures of me and my boyfriend, but also information that you sometimes wonder if you should keep it to yourself. But it was not until a workshop with Antoine d'Agata that I noticed that I had taken a lot of pictures that I myself was almost absent in them. This was when I started to shoot self-portraits, to be able to really connect with me, with my pain, to be able to express my feelings and be honest. Later I was always wondering when the project will come to an end. But one day, selecting photos for the book project I suddenly felt that I was done, that Reclusive was closed and over, like a chapter that closed for good. I felt that we both healed through the series, that we found our strength in it. That was the most fascinating discovery, that photography had like an therapeutic effect on me. It became another language that allows me to express things words can't do, right from out from the inside. I think this is a change that will be notable in all my future projects.


To see more of Sarah Pabst's work visit her PHmuseum profile.

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