“Playing with Magic” by Sarah Elise Abramson (an Interview with the Photographer)

“Playing with Magic” by Sarah Elise Abramson (an Interview with the Photographer)


Your series “Playing With Magic” is inspired by the magic all around us. Can you explain what this magic is and what its significance is to you?

If anything, the act of photographing keeps me grounded and in touch with my imagination. Sparkling water and reflections of palm trees in a house window appear magical to me. Art exists for many reasons but I believe one of the main reasons is to change our perception. The things that we are familiar with and see regularly start to lose their mystery and allure; they get taken for granted. I try to look for these things because finding the beauty in the delicate corners of this world is what makes me happy. I find it important to my mental health to reap happiness, excitement, and awe from things that most might pass by without a second look. It’s always the little things that matter most.

© Sarah Elise Abramson

Can you talk about your experience with film (over digital, correct?). Why is it so important to you and how does it affect the final product?

© Sarah Elise AbramsonWhen faced with two of the same object, one shiny, one dull, most people would pick the shiny. This is how I see film vs. digital. Yes, film is well on it’s way to becoming obsolete but for me, and others like me, what film brings to the table is irreplaceable. It has a magical quality all to itself. Using film feels more hands on and keeps me more connected to the photographers I look up to like Ana Mendieta and Helmut Newton.

© Sarah Elise Abramson

© Sarah Elise Abramson

It seems like your childhood has had a massive impact on you. Even the quote you included is by Roald Dahl (a big part of my childhood, for sure). Can you talk about your experience as a child and why it’s continuing to inspire your artwork today.

© Sarah Elise AbramsonI was a really shy, quiet kid. Very introverted and always observing. My childhood has had a huge impact on the art I make today as it does for many other artists. From the storybooks I read repeatedly about fairies, wishing wells, dragons, and portals to other dimensions to the make believe games I would play with my friends. We would eat the honey suckles that grew in the front yard of my house and suddenly inherit super human powers. All of this really resonated with me and the memories are so vivid. I think my subconscious pulls from these memories when I’m brain-storming ideas or simply out photographing essentially nothing. Using my imagination is just so much more fun than being logical.

Do you have a favorite piece from this series? Why is it meaningful in the context of your life and the purpose of this series as a whole?

© Sarah Elise AbramsonMy favorite image from “Playing With Magic” is probably the one titled “Pharaohs Horses”. It was one of the earlier images I shot for this series. It had been gloomy all week so I knew if I woke up early and went down to Ports O’Call (where the port and fresh fish market is) there would be a nice layer of fog and gorgeous filtered light. There are several spots in particular around San Pedro that I find to be extra magical. Ports O’Call is one of them. It’s old and creepy yet comforting and pulchritudinous. As I walked around with my camera in hand I passed by the horses. I don’t know if it was the early morning light or the absence of all other people but those horses appeared to be racing across the waters horizon. I’ve been back since then and those horses were still, fixed objects but that morning they were anything but.

© Sarah Elise Abramson

Your work seems very natural and often candid. What’s your process like in planning and capturing these images? Are they as impromptu as they seem?

© Sarah Elise AbramsonFor this series most of the images are very candid/impromptu. With the exception of the portraits, my usual process simply involves wandering around with my camera and letting the light dictate if I turn left or right at the corner. 35mm film was the first format I ever used. So from age eleven to eighteen I mostly shot 35mm and occasionally some Polaroid film. When I got to college I shot with a 4×5 camera, medium format, and digital. For the past 3 or 4 years I shot almost exclusively with Polaroid and Impossible Project instant film. Returning to 35mm after so long proved to be a really crucial step for my growth and development with my work because while I was returning to a format I used years ago it felt like an entirely new experience. It allowed me to see and approach things with a completely new perspective. I look for interesting compositions and patterns in nature and in the shadows. I look for soft filtered light and extremely harsh light. I look for the beauty and the magic that’s all around us but is only recognized by the people paying close attention and the people who can still tap into their imagination.

© Sarah Elise Abramson

© Sarah Elise Abramson

Finally, can you give some advice to the young artists who visit our site? What have you learned so far that you wish you knew when you were starting out?

© Sarah Elise AbramsonI’ve actually had the pleasure of having several young artists telling me that my work inspires them. Words can not describe the elation this fills me with. This is our job, as artists, to inspire. I guess my advice would be to never think that making things is insignificant. As children we’re all encouraged to use our imagination, to draw, to create. As we grow up these things become less important and to some, just down right silly. If it makes you happy, do it. Also, if you try something and it doesn’t come out the way you had hoped, don’t give up. Use mistakes as learning experiences and use them to your advantage. My advice to young women in particular: Your bodies are perfect the way they are. Our society puts ridiculously crushing standards on girls and women today. Ladies, we’re better than that. Our bodies are not dirty things that we should be made to feel ashamed of. Be strong and be proud and respect yourself and your body!

Work © Sarah Elise Abramson // website / instagram / facebook / linkedin