Sophie Barbasch is a New York based photographer. She has been photographing her cousin Adam for 7 years now. As delicate as it is mastered, her serie, entitled Fault Line, captivates by its authenticity. Initially, I contacted Sophie hoping she would comment some of the pictures she shot, but she found a better idea. Because of the beautiful complicity she has with her model, she suggested doing a cross interview with him. Touched by the sincerity and the clarity of their exchange, I chose not to translate it and to present it to you as is. Good reading.
Sophie: This project has almost become an archive of your life. So many documents now exist, going back seven years now.
Adam: I think we can incorporate that change in perspective. Growth within a project is really interesting, especially since I’m a teenager. It’s a time of constant change and constant shape-shifting.
S: Do you feel like the pictures are a departure from reality? Are they about some sort of fantasy space?
A: I don’t feel like it’s fabricated. It’s not completely reality, it’s not completely fantasy, it’s this interesting in-between, at least for me.
S: In terms of the landscape here, what do you think it means—the fact that we’re in the middle of nowhere? How does that factor in?
A: I’m a person who’s very influenced by pop culture and fashion and visuals and celebrity. We are shooting in the middle of nowhere, and I’m a person that lives in the middle of nowhere, but I am so shaped by pop culture and obsessed with pop culture. I think the places I draw from are a cool juxtaposition to the blank landscape. It’s like two worlds colliding. Sometimes I look at the pictures and I think that I make sense in the environment or I blend with the environment or it’s my home. And then there are other shots where I’m a complete anomaly. But I think it reflects how I feel, because sometimes when I’m in the woods, I feel so at home, and other times I hate it.
"There’s the cliché of the muse that’s organic and pure that I think we’re trying to go against." Sophie
S: What is your experience of being photographed, is it comfortable? You said it’s not a total performance, but is there some performative element? You have always really understood how photos work.
A: Well, I feel comfortable enough to shoot. But I never feel so comfortable that it’s boring. I think sometimes my uncomfortability with being photographed is interesting. It makes it more human. The shots that we both agree feel right in the moment are usually when I’m not acting at all.
S: A lot of people are very uncomfortable when they’re photographed—it’s a little bit like deer in the headlights. And even if they’re not, they can’t go beyond just being themselves. I don’t know how to describe it. I feel like there’s a space you inhabit where you’re yourself and then also maybe another persona. It’s like an expanded space. I don’t know if that’s about how you’re comfortable in front of the camera, or if it’s more tied to what you’re thinking about.
A: Sometimes I get caught up in the fact that we’re photographing me, we’re photographing my body, we’re photographing my face. But I think most of the time I genuinely feel like we’re photographing the moment as a whole. I know that’s very cliché, but I think that, yes, the focus is literally on me, but it’s sort of more about a moment you and I are having. It’s not about my face, or the way my expression is, or how I angle my lips.
S: Getting back to this idea of the landscape—when we first started shooting, it was almost about capturing the feeling of needing to run away from an isolated place—like get on the road and get in a car and get out of here. And now nature features differently. It’s more about this pastoral, ideal nature, and how that has to do with ideas of the organic or feminine. There’s the cliché of the muse that’s organic and pure that I think we’re trying to go against.
A: If you think about Venus, like in the Botticelli painting—she’s coming out of the sea, but she’s also completely out of place. We associate her femininity with nature, but that’s just because we’ve been told to. She’s sort of like a middle finger in that space. She’s so confident and she doesn’t belong. And I think we’re trying to capture that.
S: I keep thinking about the picture where you’re in the ocean and the light is converging on your forehead. I guess all those myths are sort of in the back of my mind. With the ocean I was thinking more about Ophelia but also trying to avoid Ophelia. There are so many damsels in distress in these compromised positions. When I photograph you, I try to capture both vulnerability and also a kind of pushback or resistance. It can either come through hiding from the lens, like looking inward, or confronting the lens. I don’t think that when you close your eyes and look away that’s a passive or submissive stance.
A: Yeah, that mood has a lot of purpose. It’s not looking away from a camera, it’s more like, I’m going to give you this much of me and I’m going to keep a certain amount hidden.
S: Recently, we’ve been getting out of nature and seeing how the real world can complicate things. And so two of the pictures I wanted to talk about are the wig picture in the parking lot and the parking lot at sunset. They get back to this idea of a girl on the run, like escaping from home, which is such a heavily deployed trope. It made me think of Thelma and Louise or Lana Del Ray or some sort of…
S: Hahaha. Something in motion. And the sense of empowerment that comes with being able to get on the road and leave. But it’s also a different feeling—the idea of the muse in nature and the muse in a parking lot, they’re two different characters.
"These pictures break rules that are in place in other areas of my life." Adam
A: It’s sort of like the trope of the preacher’s daughter who ran away from home. But it’s also like, was she running away from home, whatever that is, or can she find a home wherever she goes, because she has this comfort and sense of self that allows her to be present and at home anywhere?
S: I think about the mood of these images, because you want a character that’s comfortable, that’s empowered, but you don’t want to oversimplify it. You want to have that vulnerability come through, and then how does sexuality come into play?
A: It’s like Beyonce. Beyonce is sometimes too perfect to relate to. But Lady Gaga, this androgynous, Bowie, sexually-driven flawed person…I love Beyonce, but I’d much rather see someone confronting the camera and looking ugly and angry than being absolutely perfect.
S: I think it also has to do with the question, what does rebellion look like? I think that’s always shifting. Do you feel like there’s any sort of rebellion in any of the photographs for you?
A: Definitely. Just rebelling from gender convention. These moments are moments that I can’t have all the time at school or at home. These pictures break rules that are in place in other areas of my life.
"in a sense, when you are not conforming to your assigned gender, it sometimes feels safe and right to go to the other extreme" ADAM
S: It feels like, more and more, you can break them in a lot of different spaces, right? Like at school?
A: Yes and no. It really depends. But I think I’ve gotten a lot more anxious at school, honestly, than I was before. I want to embrace my feminine side without losing touch with…I don’t want to be a caricature of what breaking the rules looks like.
S: Are you always changing what that means?
A: Yeah. I like to keep people guessing. I could show up to school in stilettoes, fishnets and booty shorts one day, and then the next day be completely covered in baggy clothes and dark eye makeup. I think there is more risk in a picture where I’m in very neutral, bland clothing and a wig and maybe some makeup and a pair of heels than there is in a dress, full wig, full everything, because it’s what everyone expects. It’s a less talked-about space, true gender non-conformity. Because in a sense, when you are not conforming to your assigned gender, it sometimes feels safe and right to go to the other extreme, but there’s this sort of completely undiscovered nuance and a totally different space in between that is way more subversive. It’s like an unfinished thought as opposed to a period. Wearing a wig is vulnerable because I’m a boy in a wig in Maine in this area. But there is also that mask, that duality—it’s also armor covering my natural hair.
S: On the one hand, it’s standing up to certain expectations, but on the other, like you said, it’s still an expectation. I think, whatever gender you identify as, when you have that wardrobe or hair and makeup, then maybe there’s this idea of performance.
A: I think there is a certain amount of performance involved because everyone talks about, “oh, I’m capturing the real you, or look into the camera and be completely you, or be completely comfortable.” But I think we’ve found a thing where I’m not being completely myself, but I’m being animated enough that you can see through the animation to a truer, more vulnerable person…I think it’s more performative to try and be the real you.
A: A lot of people criticize escapism or fantasy.
S: As being oversimplified?
A: Yeah. But if you get to see a fantasy someone has constructed for themselves to feel like their best self, isn’t that very real?
S: You learn something about them.
La jeune photographie européenne est à l’honneur au 104 , qui accueille jusqu’au 30 juin l’incontournable festival Circulations. Parmi les exposants, on se laisse surprendre par le travail de l’Italien Umberto Coa.
© L’Observatoire Magazine – 2019