When you're talking about photography in the Philippines, you're sure to mention industry vet Sara Black. With 15 years of experience under her belt, she's developed a distinct portrait style that sets her apart from the rest of her peers. This unique style, that involves a minimal aesthetic and feminine eye, has her continuously booked, shooting commercial work and glossies alike.
This time around, Sara is celebrating her 15th year in the industry with a photo exhibition entitled, Now, She Is. The small exhibit, which featured four photographs, celebrated the female form by way of unapologetic nude portraits. “I wanted to depict women with a feminine eye, and remove any of the sexual tension that exists from the male gaze. To remove guilt and shame from the experience of a woman being photographed in the nude, as well as removing guilt and shame from the person viewing the nude. Not to objectify the female body but just to portray it as beautiful,” says Sara.
We dropped by the exhibit and caught up with her to chat about nudity, India, and how the universe always seems to know exactly what you need. Read on!
Why choose nude photography to mark your 15th year in the industry?
"It wasn't like I was thinking, 'Okay I'm celebrating my 15th year, therefore I will take pictures.' I was shooting these women as far back as two years ago and it was coming together as a collection as I was progressing. And then I thought, well, it's my 15th year, I should bookmark it. But this was already happening simultaneously, so I was really just going there. The flow in me was going towards that.
"But I think it's perfect because it celebrates everything that I am as a person and my style as a photographer. I am all about celebrating femininity and that's what the pictures say, so it was such a good fit."
How did your recent trip to India influence your portraits?
"If anything I feel like the India trip really prepared me to mount the show. As a creative professional, as an artist, you're always plagued with this kind of self-doubt. How will the photos be received? Will people understand the photos? Did I get my point across? Did I deliver it clearly enough for me to be understood?
"But coming from India, where I just connected with myself on such a deep level, I don't have any self-doubt! It's amazing! It's like, I am going to serve you the water, and you can drink it or not drink it, you know? I don't have any attachment to whether you think the water tastes good or what effect it's going to have on you. I'm just going to serve it to you and you can have whatever experience you're gonna have from it. So, yeah, the timing couldn't have been better."
Whats the difference between how a male would shoot nudes and how you, as a female photographer, shoot nudes?
"I can't really generalize and speak for all males because, obviously, I'm not a male. But in my experience of looking at nude photos shot by males, there really is this sexual tension. Also for the women, you know, they're trying to touch base with their most sensual parts. And for me, because I'm not connecting to the women on that level, you know, there's no sexual tension when they're naked in front of me, I capture it in a really different way. It's just really soft and beautiful and celebratory as compared to having to play with that, is the person getting turned on or not factor."
How did you choose your subjects?
"A lot of them I found on Instagram. I just put a message out there and I got a bunch of DMs. So, yeah, mostly from there. Some were recommended by other friends or I was working on a particular job with them and we just hit it off chemistry-wise and I ended up shooting them. No formula for finding them. They all just came to me, so perfectly and at the right time."
Does each woman represent something in your life?
"No, not at all! Whoever came, that's who I shot. At the start I thought, 'Okay, let's have a framework. Dapat ganitong body type and ganyan.' But the more I was getting into it, I thought, 'No, the universe will send me who I need to shoot.' And that I have to accept that.
"You know, when you're creating you just have to let this energy flow through you. It's not my voice, I'm an instrument. I'm the vessel for this message to come through, so it's kind of egotistic for me to think that I have the right to just ask people to do this for me. There's a reason why they came to me and why we formed this beautiful connection...can't tell you what it is but that's just it! It is what it is."
How did you come up with the aesthetic for the photographs?
"I think it's really just enlightening on how I've been photographing women for 15 years in my career. A lot of the most iconic images that I've photographed on a commercial level are exactly like this, it's just that it's not the body in focus. So it's really just how my real style is translated into how I'd shoot a body.
"Also the cleanliness of the lighting and nothing in the background, it just helps reveal the message even more. We're not hiding any unpleasant things here, we're just totally revealing everything. In fact, there are two pieces where they're [the models] are just standing straight on. There's no pa-kembot or trying to hide. This is it, shown completely how it's supposed to be."
And how has the reception been?
"So varied and so amazing! Most people [have a reaction of] initial shock because they weren't expecting for it to be that revelatory, I guess. They were thinking maybe the arms will cross the boobs or shots taken from the back or something like that.
"What I really, really loved about the experience was that people started to question why they were shocked. I was speaking to some people during opening night and after really letting the images sink in, people were telling me stories about what their experiences were as they were becoming women or how their family or religion shaped the way they view women.
"Some men, who were initially shocked and didn't know how to react, the more they sat with the images the more it was really just this acceptance. It was more like, okay, I'm really just showing the form.
"It's been received so warmly by a wide variety of people. Part of the show is a mirror installation, so the objective of it is for people to really come and look at the photographs on a personal level. Not to consume the women's bodies, but to look at them and look at yourself in the mirror and say, 'Okay, where am I in my acceptance in looking at my body and where am I in my acceptance at looking at their bodies?' I'm trying to provoke a rational process in people's minds to think about how they view nudity and nakedness."
Our theme for June is all about the different forms of pride. What words of wisdom can you share with our readers to help instill a sense of pride in them about their bodies?
"I think the really big experience with viewing the collection of photographs is just having a lot of body love and just having a lot of self-acceptance with your body and where it's at. People identify too much with the perfect body because we're saturated with all these images and that you have to have a six-pack and all these cuts on your body, but then that's not the reality. People come in all shapes and sizes and the sooner you're able to love and accept your body, it opens up a whole new confidence in your that doesn't exist without it. But there's no shortcut to acceptance, you really have to do it yourself."
Now, She Is was held at Pineapple Lab from May 24 - June 3.