Sophie Barbasch is a photographer based in New York City. She earned her BA in Art and Art History from Brown University and MFA in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design. Sophie has had her exhibitions internationally and her work has been featured in prominent print and online blogs and magazines. Her ongoing project ‘Fault Lines’ is taking place at the small town of Brooklin, Maine. It is an emotive, intense and deeply symbolic body of work featuring her family members with a goal to “show the weight we all carry and how we are both connected and isolated from each other.” In our interview below she’s telling about her work and interests in detail:
I was born and raised in New York City, which is where I’m currently living. I went to college at Brown University and did my MFA at the Rhode Island School of Design. In between, I worked at the International Center of Photography. I have always loved learning languages and have made a hobby of that. I also played piano and soccer growing up. More recently, photography has spilled over into my hobby time, but I would like to get better at French. And learn French cooking!
I got into photography when I was in high school just for fun. I took pictures of my friends, travels, sunsets, dogs–really anything. Now, I dedicate parts of the year to photographing, so I’ll go away, sometimes for a month or more. I’ll shoot extensively and then come home and process everything. I also shoot when I’m at home–I try to make it a regular thing.
I photograph to figure out what I don’t know. I like the process of going out into the world to make work. It gives me an excuse to talk to new people and explore new places.
A photograph is unique when it is emotive, affective, when you can tell it was made with urgency–when you can feel the photographer’s presence and see their opinion. It helps if you can relate to the subject of the image, if only indirectly.
I’m still defining it. Before my current project, most of my photographs were about seeking, which is to say, they were more about looking for answers than providing them. The images allude to events; they are suggestive but not narrative. This vein of inquiry is challenging for me, primarily because it is hard to talk about. I make photographs that are not easy to explain precisely because I have no words to express what motivates them. So that is difficult in terms of communicating with an audience. Nevertheless, I am committed to this mode of visual expression. Sometimes we think that photography is best at conveying clarity, truth, knowledge, etc., but I think it is better at revealing ambiguity and that space where knowledge is suspended, out of reach, and we are searching.
My series Fault Line is about my family. A fault line is where the earth splits in an earthquake. To me, it seemed like a relevant title because there has been a lot of upheaval in my family relationships.
Like most people, I feel conflicted about my family. I am very critical but also very attached. I love my family members even though some of the relationships are less than ideal. Working on the project is a way for me to address this ambivalence and hopefully learn something about it.
Recently, people have told me that they think the images are tender. At first, this was disappointing, since I would like the photographs to express conflict. But I suppose it also makes sense. My family is sort of my lifeline–it sustains me.
I also show my cousins in the photos (which usually depict them) and I pay close attention to their responses–to see what surprises them about the image compared to the experience of posing for it, what they notice, what they feel, etc. Their reactions give me cues on how to move forward.
The photograph with the clearest story from this project is the one (see below) in which my father and I are sitting back to back. We were estranged for 8 years. I took this picture when I saw him again after that long period of silence.
I am planning a project that deals with gender and power. I’m not yet sure what form it will take, but I’d like it to be critical and I’d like to take some new risks. Right now I’m really inspired by the work of Morgan Ashcom, Stacy Kranitz, Justine Kurland, David Favrod, Sarah Palmer, and Doug Aitkin.