2014 - Ongoing
Sarah Mei Herman studied photography at the Royal Academy of Fine Art in The Hague, from which she received her BA in 2005. In 2010 she completed her MA in Photography at The Royal College of Art in London. Herman received several grants from Mondriaan Fund, Prins Bernard Cultuur Fund and Amsterdam Fund for the Arts. Her work has been shown internationally, among others at The National Portrait Gallery in London (2010), at Le Chateau d’Eau in Toulouse (2014), at JIMEI X ARLES International Photofestival (2016 & 2017) and at Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne (2017). Her work is included in several art collections such as Rabobank Art Collection (NL), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (NL) and AMC Art Collection (NL). Herman was a finalist for Hyères Festival of Fashion and Photography 2018 where she received the American Vintage Photography Prize 2018. That same year she also won the Rabobank Dutch National Portrait Prize 2018. In September 2019 she started working on a commissioned book about the LGBTQ community in China for Diverse Humanity (the final book will be published in 2021). In 2020 her project Germano, about her Jewish family history, was exhibited at the Jewish History Museum in Amsterdam. This year Germano will be exhibited more extensively at Kaunas Photography Gallery in Kaunas, Lithuania. Last fall Herman's series Touch was exhibited at the Benaki Museum as part of Athens Photo Festival 2020.
Sarah Mei Herman examines the relationships and intimacy between people, what brings them together or sets them apart and how physical proximity to others is a necessity in these relationships. Throughout her work Herman explores the gray area between friendship and love, and the constant state of becoming as young adults navigate the ambiguity of relationships into adulthood. Herman primarily works on ongoing projects photographing the same subjects over many years.
I started this series in 2014 during a four-month artist in residence in the Chinese coastal city-island Xiamen. Instead of focusing on the cultural differences, I wanted to research the things that are universally recognizable: the meaning of friendship and love. I started photographing several young adults, primarily women, and their intimate relationships. I found some of my models in the streets of Xiamen, but most of them at the Xiamen University campus.
Amongst the young women I met, many were in a lesbian relationship. In China gay-sexuality is not illegal anymore but it is still unaccepted by the older generations. None of the young women I photographed are able to speak openly to their parents about their sexual preferences. This is a remarkable contradiction in this fast changing modern China. At this moment, many lesbian girls have secret relationships. With my still life images in the series, I attempt to refer to this hidden and secret female universe.
Since my work period in 2014, I have revisited Xiamen several times. Each visit I met up with some of the same young women again, capturing their changes over time. With some of them I built up a closer friendship, which allowed me to photograph them repeatedly. During these encounters I not only attempted to touch upon the intimate moments between my subjects, yet also, upon the proximity between the subjects an myself.
In this ongoing series four recurring young women are portrayed over time: Haiqing, Linli, Xiaoli and Liyao. They are all connected with each other, since they studied at the same university. Fortuitously in the past years, three of them moved to Europe - to The Netherlands and Germany and the last 3 portraits in the submitted selection were made in The Netherlands, where I am based. In this body of work, my observations of these fascinating young women and their relationships, became part of a mosaic narrative.
Linli - Image number 5, 10, 12 & 16
I met Linli during my first work period in Xiamen in 2014, while she was a student at Xiamen University and lived in one of the dormitories for women. I photographed her together with her close friend Yafang (10), who was living in the same dormitory. Together with her first girlfriend Naomi when they were very much in love (5), alone in the tiny apartment that she secretly moved into together with her girlfriend (12) and finally two years after that in 2017 together with her fiancé (16), to whom she got married in 2018.
Xiaoyu & Liyao - Image number 7, 14, 19, & 20
The first time I photographed the couple Xiaoyu and Liyao was in 2015. They were in an open relationship for 4 years. In 2017 Xiaoyu moved to Utrecht, The Netherlands, to study at art school. One year later Liyao followed and moved to Amsterdam to study. They separated shorty after but are still close friends. The last portrait in the series of Xiaoyu, was taken in her student room, together with her new girlfriend Qiumo who was visiting her from Beijing. The portrait of Liyao was recently taken in the park close to her apartment in Amsterdam.
Haiqing (image 1, 6, 8, 9, 15 and 18)
Haiqing was the first person I photographed when starting my project in Xiamen and still is an important subject throughout the series. I was immediately struck by her quiet and a the same time, powerful appearance. From the beginning she was very open about being a lesbian. When I returned to Xiamen in 2016, Haiqing was in a new relationship with Ling (8). The year after I visited her in the flat she had recently moved into, together with that same girlfriend. I photographed her standing on the terrace of their flat (15). In 2019 Haiqing moved to Germany to study there and to live in a country where she can be open about her sexuality. The last photograph of her was taken in Amsterdam, when she was visiting (18).