"Screen touch, Xiamen" by Sarah Mei Herman

Mar 30, 2017

Sarah Mei is a Dutch photographer who centers her work on personal relationships, intimacy between people and transition ages. Her images, focused on portraiture, are quiet and at the same time very intense, creating strong narratives that reveal the physical closeness between people but also what sets them apart. Selecting tranquil atmospheres and avoiding over-acted poses, her sitters seem always at ease, which in turn helps in establishing a true psychological connection with them. For her series “Screen touch, Xiamen” Sarah Mei photographed young people and their intimate relationships in the streets of Xiamen and at the university campus, a great collection of contemporary portraiture that bare witness of youth culture and current times.


Following we present the nice interview that we had with Sarah Mei:


am - First of all thank you very much for your contribution to our project. Can you please introduce yourself for us?

SMH - Thank you for inviting me! I was born in Amsterdam, where I’m currently living. I studied philosophy for one year but then I decided to apply to art school. I gained my bachelor’s degree in photography from The Royal Academy of Fine Arts in The Hague in 2005, and in 2010 I received my MA in Fine Art Photography from the Royal College of Art in London where I studied for two years. Recently I was artist in residence at Kaunas Gallery in Kaunas, Lithuania, where I am doing a project about my Jewish family history. My grandfather grew up in Lithuania and used to have a photo studio in Kaunas where he made family portraits. I’m working towards an exhibition and a publication in which I will combine archive material with my own photography as well as sound recordings.


am - How did you start in photography?

SMH - By my early teens I was already fascinated by photography. My mother always photographed a lot and has several beautiful cameras, which I started to borrow at some point. Photography became a complete obsession during a trip to South Africa, which is my father’s home country. We traveled extensively through the country by car, and from the back window I photographed everyday scenes. I returned home with more then 40 rolls of film.


am - What inspires your work?

SMH - Observing people and how they relate to each other; the intimacy between them and the transitions young people go through while growing up. Cinema is also an important source of inspiration to me.


am - What is “Screen touch” about?

SMH - I produced the work Screen Touch during a four-month period as artist in residence at The Chinese European Art Center (CEAC) in Xiamen. I was curious as to the differences but also at things that are universally recognizable: the things that tie people together and the meaning of friendship and love.

I photographed several young people and their intimate relationships, finding my subjects in the streets of Xiamen and at the university campus. With some of them I built up a closer friendship photographing them repeatedly, further exploring the ambiguity of some of these friend- and love relationships.

One of the first things that caught my attention in Xiamen was the ubiquitous use of smartphones, mainly by young people. I realized that, in a strange way, the smartphone somehow functions as a tool for intimacy. It disconnects people but paradoxically it has the ability to bring them closer together. It appears to have become an alternative way of achieving contact with each other: sharing intimacy through the screen. I’m fascinated by this contradiction, which I would describe as detached closeness. The smartphone is not the main subject for this body of work but it became an important source of inspiration.


am - Who are your favourite photographers / artists?

SMH - Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Nan Goldin, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Alec Soth Marlene Dumas and David Claerbout.


am - When you are not taking pictures, what do you do?

SMH - I love travelling, going to the cinema, good food and good wine together with friends and family. Also dancing, singing, practicing yoga and visiting art exhibitions.


am - If you could travel and stay in a place for one year, where would you choose to go?

SMH - I think that would be Japan.


am - What’s your favourite movie?

SMH - I’m a real cinephile and there are so many films and film-makers I love… Cria Cuervos by Carlos Saura from 1976 made a great impression on me, and it is a film I have come back to many times. I am mainly drawn to films in which the psychology of relationships is explored. Among my favourite film directors are Michael Haneke, Francois Ozon, Julio Medem, Pedro Almodvar, David Lynch.


am - What is your favourite photo book?

SMH - As with films I don’t have just one favourite photo book but one that I really love and often look through is “A Story Book Life” by Philip-Lorca diCorcia.

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