Featured November Artist: Sarah Elise Abramson

On November 6, 2013 by Simon Weedn


Sarah Abramson

I’d known Sarah Elise Abramson for almost a year before I knew how gifted of an artist she was.  I guess this wasn’t surprising as she was one of those people I would casually run into at every punk rock show I went to in San Pedro, yet, hadn’t really talked to at any great length.  It wasn’t until she started posting photos of nudes she had been taking of some of her close friends up on Facebook and Instagram (which have all since been removed by those two companies), as well as a Tumblr page that I became intrigued by her art.  While the photos all had naked women in them, there was a certain composition to them that made them transcend any erotic—or worse, pornographic—labels.  The women and their bodies were beautiful yes, but there’s something else going on in those photos which make the scene captured in every shot truly captivating.  They say pictures are worth a thousand words, and maybe, if I were a better writer, I could compose the appropriate story that each photo seems to tell.  But I guess I’ll just stand back and let the photos tell their own stories instead.  In addition to Sarah’s photography, she creates remarkable paintings and illustrations in her own, self described, “child style,” and is one of the co-curators of a soon to be released zine entitled, Slow Toast.

So I’m interested, how did you start doing art?  When did it start for you when you were little and at what point did it become a little more serious?

Abramson: Oh man, the hard questions… I knew I wanted to be a photographer… since… I mean, the earliest I can remember, I was eleven and I wanted to take a photography class, they don’t offer eleven year old’s photography classes, um, so I made my Mom sign up for an adult class and I would go with her.  She explained to the instructor what was going and he was fine with it and I learned about apertures and shutter speeds and I had an old, all manual, Menalta camera.  I feel like anyone that’s a photographer will know what I’m talking about; when you look through the view finder of a camera, and they’re all different, it’s like, you can focus in on things instead of seeing everything at once, and I just kinda fell in love with that and the sound that it makes when you take the picture; the shutter.   So I was eleven in a class of middle aged realtors and shit.

Being that young, when you were a little kid, what was it that attracted you to photography?  What were you seeing that made you think, “That’s what I want to be doing?”

Abramson: I don’t know.  My Mom says now, and she’s cheesy but I like it, that even as a baby I was a voyeur, I was quiet and I would just watch, like people watch, just watch things.


OK.  Are either of your parents artists at all?

Abramson: No, they’re, like, the opposite of artists.  They don’t really understand much about art,  I think my Mom has a little bit… a little bit of artistic ability somewhere in there.  But I think her Mom, my Grandma Eve, she was.  We used to make books together, write them and illustrate them, and they were rad.

And you do some painting and illustrating stuff as well, was that…

Abramson: My Child Style?

Yeah!  Your Child Style! Again, at what point was that…

Abramson: That actually started, well, I took drawing and painting classes as a kid and also in high school but I was always better at photography.  But I watched that documentary, Beautiful Losers, and it inspired me to start just fucking around painting and that was a couple years ago.  It’s a fun, not serious thing.

I guess going back into the photography aspect of things, now that we have a little bit of the past we can go into present day, when you’re going into your shoots do you have any specific goals for anything you’re trying to do?  Do you have visions in your head?

Abramson: Oh yeah!  Well, I would say like, 50/50.  Sometimes it’s really specific, and sometimes I won’t really have any idea, I’ll just have a location in mind and then a concept, a body, or a prop.  But, it always, even when I have a very specific idea of what I want to shoot it inevitably changes just because of lighting and if there’s people around, because I do a lot of the shoots in public places.  But I think that’s part of what makes them special.


When did you decide you wanted to start shooting nudes?

Abramson: I don’t know the exact moment, I know that I started doing it more seriously when I discovered Franchesca Woodman, and became unhealthily obsessed.  But I don’t know, I feel like nudeness and Polaroids go hand-in-hand, they’re both really raw.

I know that a lot of the women that you shoot are your friends, was it difficult at first to approach your friends to take these pictures?

Abramson:  No, it was never difficult.  I mean, I started shooting my closest friends and they’re all awesome so they were like, “Yeah, for sure.”  But now I have girls asking to model for me, and since I have a body of work I can be like, “You can look at this and decide if you want to,” that’s if I approach someone to model and so it’s easier to find models now.  But it was never super difficult which I guess was kind of surprising, like, most girls are pretty willing to take their clothes off, I don’t know.

To go back to the camera that you use for it, you mentioned you use Polaroids, what was the attraction?  You mentioned that the whole raw aspect of it, is that what attracted you to the use of Polaroids?

Abramson: Oh my god no!  I’m a very impatient person, I like instant gratification and that’s what Polaroids are.  You get to see that moment that just got captured, right there, develop right in front of your very eyes.  It’s the same thing that happens in the dark room when you’re printing.

I notice in a lot of your photos, at least in a lot of the nudes, you tend to kind of obscure faces or sometimes cover up stuff, is it more to focus on the body?  Is something that’s pre-planned where you’re trying to focus more on the body and less on the face or is there a specific reason for it?

SEA:  Um… I don’t know if there’s a specific reason…  I like how it looks like there’s an element of mystery in a lot of the pictures, although it’s not always intentional.  I like pictures that you have to look at for more than one second, like where you’re thinking, “What is going on here?”  and obscuring things causes that.


Cool!  Well we’ve talked about the past and the present, why not talk a bit about the future as well?  Is there any place you hope to go wit the photography or are you kind of just flying by the seat of your pants?

Abramson: No, I have big dreams.  Right now, I’m trying to find representation from a gallery that I think is good, and that thinks I’m good.  It’s proving to be difficult because I make things because I have to, I think that’s how most artists feel.  So it’s not about the money, but I want to work as an artist, I want that to be how I make my main source of income and to do that, I need representation.  But do you mean in terms of projects and stuff?

Do you see yourself working with other types of film outside of Polaroids? 

Abramson: Yeah, totally.  I’ll forever love Polaroid, but it’s just like, really unpredictable, and sometimes I’ll be super bummed after a shoot because we put in so much time and effort, and each Polaroid costs about $4, so if they don’t turn out I get pretty bummed about it.  But, yeah, I bought a new Holga camera so I might start shooting film and I found out they have a dark room here at Angels Gate that apparently we can’t use.

When I set my mind on something, it’s gonna happen.  It’s actually not just meant for the artists here, it’s meant for all of San Pedro to use because this is a fuckin’ cultural arts center.  So it’s ridiculous that it’s sitting there collecting dust.

Well, because we’re sitting out here surrounded by water, I notice that in a lot of your bio’s, like in your online store or on your Tumblr page, a lot of it mentions that you live down by the ocean or on the coast and that your initials are SEA.  How do you think the coast, this type of community and this type of living, has affected your art over the years?

Um, I’m not super into astrology, I’m into it a medium amount, but I’m a sagitarius, I’m a fire sign, and water balances me out.  As a baby, when I couldn’t fall asleep, my Mom would run the shower; water calms me down.  I honestly don’t think I could live somewhere that wasn’t close to some type of body of water.

 Do you draw inspiration from the ocean?

Abramson: Um… maybe?  (laughs)  The ocean is big and scary and we already talked about my irrational fear of fish so…  But look at it, it’s fucking beautiful.


It’s incredible.  So if you don’t mind, could we talk a bit about Slow Toast?  So Slow Toast is a zine that you’re putting out in December, what precipitated the idea to do that?

Abramson: I just got the idea one day to, um, I don’t know… because I wanted to be a curator and I sadly found out that that might not be what I want to do, soo it’s kind of like a better way of curating.  I get to pick art that I like, and that I think goes together well, and put it in a format so other people can enjoy it, with out all the bullshit.  Slow Toast, the name, really, it comes from my eating habits and my bad memory.  I like to slow toast things, like pizza bagels, and I’ll put them on a low toaster setting and I’ll be like, “Allie [Sarah’s girlfriend] remind me that I’ve got a slow toast going on,”  because I’ve burned a lot of things that way.  But it also means, everyone’s in such a big hurry, it’s about being nice and slowing down.

Because John Bagge is kind of your main collaborator on this can you talk about him?

Abramson:  I love Bagge.  We’ve been good friends for a while, we randomly hung out a couple months ago and he told me that he’d gotten laid off from his job working in the art department of some skateboarding company, but he’s still getting money so basically he had a year to be an artist.  Plus, he moved into a house over on 11th (near to where Sarah lives) so I was like, “Hey, do you want to do this zine with me?” and he was stoked on it from the beginning.  Our brains work super well together, like, I’ll kind of have half of an idea and not be able to finish it, and he’ll be able to finish it perfectly and vice-versa.

And how did you go about selecting the artists that you wanted to appear in it?  Was it just people that you dug?

Abramson:  That, friends, and, obviously, it was just all stuff I liked.  We tried to get a wide array of artists from musicians to sculptors.

Was there any type of over-arching theme to it all?

Abramson:  Actually, one appeared, and it was about encouraging kids to not… because when you’re a kid, every kid colors and draws and then at some age it’s considered silly or superfluous, or you grow out of it and it’s not encouraged anymore unless you’re getting encouragement from a teacher, parent, or someone.  That theme came up in several interviews.

That’s cool.  Do you have any thing else you’d like to add or anything you feel like I skipped over?  I guess you have a show coming up in Pedro, do you have any other shows coming up?

Abramson:   I don’t think so…

 I guess no shows for at least ten days while you’re in Argentina.

Abramson:  Um, ok, I’m shooting some boobs in Argentina!  I’m so excited to fucking shoot boobs in Argentina!  I heard there’s this epic, epic, EPIC graveyard, super old and beautiful, and since we’re going to be staying with this photographer dude, he already said he had plenty of boobs for me to shoot.

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