My work "Zhaohui & Davey, Rotterdam 2021" has been selected for the upcoming Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize in the National Portrait Gallery in London!
My new project "Solace" was awarded an honorable mention for the Gomma Photography Grant 2021
For the 35th International Festival of Fashion, Photography and Fashion Accessories in Hyères, I was commissioned by Villa Noailles to shoot one of the festival posters. I photographed dj and activist Barbara Butch for this occasion.
As part of the main exhibition my series Touch is exhibited during Athens Photo Festival 2020 at the Benaki Museum, Athens.
Dates: 17 September — 15 november
Last year I was commissioned by Emerson Wajdowicz Studios (EWS), a graphic design firm based in New York, to work on an extensive photography project focussing on the LGBTQ-community in Xiamen, China. EWS specializes in socially–conscious multi-media design and art, and one of their projects is a series of photography books completely devoted to LGBTQ-themed stories across the globe. Jurek Wajdowicz, a principal of EWS, is also the art director of the entire series. Because of Covid-19 the project has been postponed, but the book will hopefully be published by The New Press at the beginning of 2021.
The polaroid of this young gay couple was taken during my first trip in September 2019.
My project Germano, about my Jewish family history in Lithuania was exhibited at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam from 24 January until 30 August 2020.
This exhibition was generously supported by AFK & Stichting Stokroos.
My work "Jonathan, South Africa 2013" is included in the new photo book Pools, curated and edited by Lou Stoppard. Other participating photographers include William Eggleston, Vivian Maier, Stephen Shore and Hannah Starkey.
I received a project grant by Amsterdams Fonds voor Beeldende Kunsten (AFK) for my exhibition Germano at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam.
For my current exhibition Germano I received financial support from Stichting Stokroos.
My photo series "Coalescence", which I produced for the American Vintage Photography Prize 2018, was exhibited in the beautiful old church "Tour des Templiers" as part of the 34th Hyères International Festival of Fashion, Photography and Fashion Accessories 2019.
Dates: April 25th — May 26th
In November 2018 I received the Rabobank Dutch Photographic Portrait Prize for my portrait "Julian & Jonathan, February 2017"
The Rabobank Dutch Photographic Prize was awarded by the Dutch National Portrait Gallery in collaboration with Rabobank and DuPho. The other four shortlisted photographers were: Carla Kogelman, Dana Lixenberg, Helen van Meene and Wouter Le Duc.
The jury for 2018 consisted of chair Philippien Noordam (Head of Art Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Bart Rutten (Artistic director Centraal Museum - Utrecht), Jitske Schols (winner Dutch Photographic Portrait Prize 2016), Koos Breukel (portrait photographer), Narda van 't Veer (Van Ravesteijn Gallery / UNIT) and Sabine Verschueren (art director)
As one of the ten finalists at Hyères International Festival of Fashion, Photography and Fashion Accessories 2018, I received the American Vintage Photography Prize. As part of this prize I was commissioned to produce a unique photo series using American Vintage clothing.
Coalescence was exhibited at the American Vintage boutique in Paris. The exhibition was designed by the young duo Kim Haddou and Florent Dufourcq, who previously received the Van Cleef & Arpels Grand Prix during the Design Parade Toulon festival.
An interview about my work and the new Coalescence series can be found on the American Vintage Journal.
As one of the 10 finalist at the 33rd International Festival of Fashion, Photography and Fashion Accessories in Hyères I won the American Vintage Photography Prize 2018!
I was one of the ten finalists selected for Hyères International Festival of Fashion, Photography and Fashion Accessories 2018! The opening week of the festival took place at Villa Noailles from the 26th until the 30th of April.
For the past sixteen years, curator and and art critic Raphaëlle Stopin has been in charge of the photographic section for the Hyères festival. This year's jury consisted of Bettina Rheims (president of the jury), Bill Mullen, Jed Root, Ezra Petronio, Charlotte Collet, Jean Colonna, Serge Bramly, India Mahdavi, Saskia de Brauw, Alessia Glaviano and Daragh Soden.
My work Hypnagogia was exhibited as part of JIMEI X ARLES Photography Festival in Xiamen, China.
Curated by Chen Wei.
In June 2017 my work Julian and Jonathan was shown as a 3-minute projection at Nuit Des Images - Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne.
I received a four-year Stipendium for Established Artists by Mondriaan Fund!
My project Touch was exhibited at the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre as part of JIMEI X ARLES International Photography Festival in Xiamen, China.
Curated by Chen Wei.
Between Us - Written by Darcie Imbert
8 page publication of my series Between Us in the the HOME issue #60
By Laura from the Gomma Grant
Sarah Mei Herman, with her series "Solace".
"The beauty of things lies in the mind that contemplates it." (English proverb)
In an ideal world, constituted and thought out fr the people by ideas of an overpowering system, it is a challenge to find one's identity, especially if it's comfort lies beyond the boundaries, that seem irrefutable.
This tender body of work invites us to partake in the process of becoming open minded and living one's undefined by external circumstances, not through harsh resistance but humbleness and the embrace of all that makes us human.
exhibition text Jewish Historical Museum
On view now in the Kunstkabinet: a presentation by photographer and artist Sarah Mei Herman (Amsterdam, 1980). In 2016, Herman found a box of photos taken by her grandfather Mordechai. Together with his youngest brother Jehuda, he ran a photography studio in Kaunas, Lithuania before the Second World War. The studio was called Foto Germano, Lithuanian for Herman.
Foto Germano specialised in family portraits. Herman recognises her own work in the portraits that her grandfather made in the 1920s and 1930s: the composition, the still faces and subdued looks. The discovery was the starting point for an investigation into the pre- and post-war history of the Germano family. During a stay in Kaunas, Herman conducted archival research and explored the places where her family members lived and worked.
In 2016, she visited Tonia Levin (1925-2019), the daughter of her grandfather’s eldest brother. At that time, she was the only living family member who had personal experience of the photo studio. Levin barely survived the Holocaust and moved to Israel after the war.
Levin’s memories are central to this installation. Using archival documents, letters, multimedia elements and recent family portraits, Herman has composed an ode to Levin and the strength with which she rebuilt her life after the war.
Julian & Jonathan, 2017
The jury report on Sarah Mei Herman’s winning portrait:
‘In principle, a double portrait is complicated. Is it actually a portrait? After all, this is not about a single person. Your eyes constantly go from one to the other. Yet everything comes together in this picture. The photo is subdued, the timing is exceptional. It is clear that this picture is about the mutual relationship between the two people portrayed. The photo calls for an insight into the relationship between these people. The tension between both is palpable. The photographer also plays an emphatic role and squeezes, as it were, herself between them. This creates a triangle relationship in which everyone has taken their position. The father looks towards the camera, the photographer’s half-brother looks away. Ultimately, there was the photographer who observed and ruthlessly captured the situation. The light and the view that you are granted through the net curtain reinforce the confrontation. In a time of superficial scanning and quick judgment, this is a portrait that invites you to look closer.’
Jury Philippien Noordam (chair, Head of Art Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs); Bart Rutten (Creative director Centraal Museum, Utrecht); Jitske Schols (winner Dutch Photographic Portrait Prize 2016); Koos Breukel (portrait photographer and curator); Narda van ‘t Veer (Van Ravesteijn Gallery / UNIT) and Sabine Verschueren (art director).
Shortlist Sarah Mei Herman: Julian & Jonathan; Dana Lixenberg: Lil’ Kleine; Hellen van Meene: Sophie and Lola; Carla Kogelman: Benthe; Wouter le Duc; Marieke Polderman
Het juryrapport over het winnende portret van Sarah Mei Herman:
‘Een dubbelportret is per definitie gecompliceerd. Is het feitelijk wel een portret? Het gaat hier immers niet om een enkel persoon. Je ogen flitsen voortdurend heen en weer. Toch vloeit alles in deze foto samen. De foto is ingetogen, de timing is uitzonderlijk. Duidelijk is dat de onderlinge relatie tussen de twee geportretteerden het onderwerp is. De foto roept op tot inleven in de relatie tussen deze beide mensen. De spanning tussen beiden is invoelbaar. Ook de fotograaf speelt een nadrukkelijke rol en wurmt zich er als het ware tussen. Daardoor ontstaat er een driehoeksrelatie waarin iedereen zijn positie heeft ingenomen. De vader kijkt in de richting van de camera, de halfbroer van de fotografe kijkt weg. Tenslotte is daar de fotograaf die observeert en de situatie meedogenloos heeft vastgelegd. De lichtval en de blik die je door de vitrage naar buiten wordt gegund versterken de confrontatie. In een tijd van vluchtig kijken en snel oordelen is dit een portret dat uitnodigt om beter te kijken.’
Jury voorzitter Philippien Noordam (Hoofd Kunstzaken ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken), Bart Rutten (Artistiek directeur Centraal Museum, Utrecht), Jitske Schols (winnaar Dutch Photographic Portrait Prize 2016), Koos Breukel (portretfotograaf), Narda van ’t Veer (Van Ravesteijn Gallery / UNIT) en Sabine Verschueren (art director).
Finalisten Sarah Mei Herman: Julian & Jonathan; Dana Lixenberg: Lil’ Kleine; Hellen van Meene: Sophie and Lola; Carla Kogelman: Benthe; Wouter le Duc; Marieke Polderman.
By Darcie Imbert
Sarah Mei Herman's images traverse the precious vulnerability of adolescence, using imagery to explore questions associated with the tender period that spans from youth to adulthood.
‘Between Us’ is an ongoing series of photographs by Sarah Mei Herman from different projects sewn together with the same red thread, each image confronting the transitionary space of youth and illuminating the role of familial relationships in the construction of one’s own identity.
Growing up as an only child, Herman developed a curiosity for sibling-hood and her photography led her in pursuit of a greater understanding of what sibling intimacy meant, she comments, “by photographing them throughout their youth, it seemed I could be a part of it.” The sibling relationships she documents symbolise the multi-faceted meaning of “home” as a concept that extends beyond the four walls that frame your existence.
The use of everyday objects that provide the backdrop for her powerful portraits represent the mudaneness of inanimate items when separated from the individuals that breathe life into them. The intangible entity that transforms a house into a home is demystified by the symbiosis between the subject and their surroundings in Herman’s work. She notes the stains on the carpet that were made by the two brothers photographed in the series, serving as a reminder of their childhood. The surroundings of your upbringing play an important role in the consolidation of personal identity; memories are cued by the physical environment. “For my long-term projects, I choose to photograph inside their houses, because that’s where they share the intimate space of their home,” she remarks. This series unintentionally challenges the boundaries between who we are and where we are. Home is a human construct that refers to the sights, smells and sounds that cultivate emotional connection.
Not only is Herman intrigued by the intimacy among her subjects, she also explores her own emotional connection to them as the image maker. She describes the meditative process of creating photographs and the symbiotic relationship between them: “I work with analogue film and a medium format camera, therefore the process is quite slow.” This approach allows space for contemplation: “a quietness, a stillness, like the sound has disappeared for a moment and that’s why it’s the moment between us. It’s a moment in which someone turns their gaze inside.”
Herman’s photography could be described as documentary, a visual representation of the evolution of self. The formation of identity is intrinsically linked to the “other”; the identical twin sisters act as an interesting example of this in Herman’s work, addressing the taboo of familial intimacy. “They were almost one body, they kissed and hugged each other in a really beautiful way,” she says. Her work boldly traverses the grey area of kinship in adolescence, surveying the boundaries between passionate love eros and brotherly love philia. Adolescence provides a terrain ripe for experiment, granting the experiences that help to construct your relation to “the other” later in life. She comments on this phenomenon as a natural exploration: “I photographed two teenage girls in Ireland that I saw walking hand in hand in the street. They could have been lovers or best friends, yet for me personally, that does not matter. In my practise I do not seek answers, I merely try to capture the moment.”
Adolescence is marked by a constant state of becoming and Sarah Mei Herman captures the fleeting beauty that is amalgamated by the perpetual changes endured in youth. Her images show both resilience and loneliness, comfort and uncertainty. A period of uncontrollable ephemerality, grounded by the relationships and ordinary objects that quilt together a patchwork of self.
Meditations on portrait
by Tatiana Rosenstein
When I first saw the work of the 33-year-old photographer Sarah Mei Herman I was impressed by her skills as a narrator, the quietness of her protagonists – a father and a son, a boy and a girl in love, siblings, teenagers and kids – and they seemed to talk to each other and to me in a silent language. Surely in front of the camera people show different degrees of vulnerability and the photographers decide to reveal the special moment with an appropriate visual response. Herman’s narration unfolds after a series of portraits, photographs of people she watched for years, and sometimes she tells a story in a single image. Sarah Mei is fascinated by a period of the human being's life, which one can define as “transition”. Her protagonists are children, teenagers, young adults who seem to be caught on thresholds: a child to become a teenager, a teenager on the threshold of the adult world.
Some of her photographs remind us of the French artist Edouard Manet, who lived in Paris in the 19th century, when the French capital was considered to be a center of world art. Manet knew how to capture his subjects’ faces and expressions in just a few details, with a few brushstrokes. He was also one of the first artists who noticed alienation of people from each other. In his famous work “Breakfast in the Studio” the characters are at the same space but hardly pay attention to the surroundings and to each other. In the same way the protagonists of Sarah Mei, seem to be together, sometimes very close, building a noticeable bond between each other, but they still live in their own world. Following the philosophy “less is more”, she shows the portraits of people in a very ‘un-staged way’: they are natural without any sense for self-presentation, dressed ordinarily, matching the bare settings. The background is neutral and nothing distracts from the portrayed.
Sarah Mei Herman belongs to the generation of the most promising young portrait photographers in Europe. A graduate of the prominent Royal College of Art in London, she had – shorty after receiving a Master's Degree – her first solo exhibition in the Soledad Senlle Gallery in Amsterdam, the city where she was born and where she is based now. In the same year one of her portraits was displayed at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Herman was honorably mentioned at the Magenta Foundation’s Flash Forward award and was selected to publish her portfolio in Foam Magazine Talent 2010 edition. Most recently she had a solo exhibition at the prestigious Le Chateau d’Eau in Toulouse and at Kahmann Gallery, which shows her works.
Artist to watch
By Jill Miller
A photographer and video artist, Herman portrays the unspoken but highly noticeable bond between family members, especially siblings and twins. As she states, "The most fragile and elusive things between people often seem to exist beyond the reach of language. I am fascinated by relationships between people, the physical closeness between them or what sets them apart and the necessity of this physical proximity to others. Following a less is more philosophy, her photographs and videos are quiet and subtle. Her subjects are at ease and dressed ordinarily without primping, matching the bare settings that are obviously comfortable or familiar to the participants. the scenes are common and un-staged, adding to the overal natural tone the scene. This tranquility is by no means dull or pedestrian. The images grab your attention and emit an intense psychological sensation. Upon first seeing her photograph of Jana and Feby in the press release on artily.org, I was immediately drawn to the serene, powerful look in Feby's eyes. My mind immediately leapt to the awesome expression in Dürer's Northern Renaissance masterpiece, Self-Portrait at 28. He portrays himself Christ-like and wearing a fur-trimmed coat with a riveting gaze that makes you unable to look away, as if you are being drawn into a staring contest with him. Herman in remarkably proficient in capturing this type of psychological connection in nearly all of her portraits. Also, the photographs do not cross over into saccharine sentimentality, a difficult task to accomplish when your entire oeuvre is centered on children and adolescents.
Herman was born in Amsterdam, studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in The Hague and then earned an MA in Fine Art Photography from London's Royal College of Art.
She is represented by Soledad Senlle Art Foundation, which exhibited her premiere solo show in November 2010, the same year her work was selected and displayed at the National portrait Gallery, london, for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize. Her Photographs were also exhibited in Singapore International Photography festival. - MJP
Interview by Marc Feustel
Your work focus mainly on stages of childhood and adolescence. What is it that draws you to these phases in particular?
I’m drawn to the fleetingness and vulnerability of these stages. The constant changes that occur during them. In these stages our relationship to others is constantly evolving.
A child has the ability to escape from the everyday into an endless world of imagination. I think this is one of the most enviable aspects of childhood. They can experience an endless wonderment about things. Children just are. Pure and real. I love their directness. In their being they can seem totally separate from the adult world.
The transitions from childhood to adolescence, and from adolescence to adulthood can be a time of extreme loneliness. These transitions can make closeness impossible during certain stages of life; like a young girl suddenly losing closeness and intimacy with her father because she is not a child anymore, or a boy feeling miles apart from his older brother. On the other hand incredibly close friendships can exist at a certain stage in life, before relationships are formed with partners from outside… like the twins Jana and Feby who I have been photographing for the last 5 years. I’m also very interested in the ambiguity that often exists between femininity and masculinity. Up to a certain age, these boundaries have not yet fully set and can sometimes still be blurred.
You grew up as an only child. When you gained your half brother Jonathan, when did you first decide to start photographing him and his relationship with your father?
I started photographing Jonathan when he was about four years old. The first series I did of my father and half-brother (and grandmother) was during a trip to South Africa. I started photographing them in a very intuitive way, without really asking myself why. In the past two years I have become more focussed on the triangular relationship between the three of us. The series is as much about the relationship between a relatively older father and his younger son, as it is about my relationship to them and my memories of being a young child which are now in a way mirrored in my half-brother Jonathan. Not being my father’s only child anymore, taking these photographs was also my way to relate to my half-brother, who is 20 years younger than me. A way to get closer to him.
You have done several series involving your family members. Do you always work with family or friends, for example in the case of the Siblings series? How different is it for you to work within the intimacy of your family versus working with strangers?
I don’t always work with my own family: my father and half-brother are a very important subject in my work which I will pursue, but apart from that I work with people outside of my family who I have slowly got to know by photographing them. The projects on people outside my family started from the point where we were total strangers. Trust builds up slowly over time with these projects and visiting the same people again and again becomes almost like a ritual. Of course there’s a difference between photographing my own family and people from outside my family. But in both situations moments of intimacy are created between us. This all depends on how close they allow me and my camera to get.
In the series Jonathan, and indeed in all of your series, there are virtually no images that portray joy or laughter. This strikes me as slightly unusual for images of children. Is this a conscious decision on your part and if so why do you avoid this kind of image?
It’s not so much a conscious decision, but I search for a certain stillness and withdrawnness which one can’t get to when capturing laughter. The people I photograph are physically present, but often mentally absent or in another space. For me, by capturing these moments of stillness, the delicate and tender things between people can be revealed.
For my brother his seriousness and stillness is very much how he is. I try to get a bit closer to his inner world... children can be extremely serious, and these are the ones that I’m drawn to most. When I photograph I’m concentrated and close to my subjects, and so are the people I portray. I never tell them not to laugh.
Your photographs often seem to focus on moments of physical or emotional tension between people. What attracts you to these moments? Do you intervene when you are shooting to stimulate tension or do you take more of a 'fly on the wall' approach?
I’m drawn to the things between people that are hard to put into words. Sometimes gestures and body language can reveal so much, and make things very palpable. I’m interested in the boundaries of the body, the closeness and distance between individuals, how people relate to each other, how they respond to the other’s presence, the importance of our physical proximity to others. By isolating my subjects from the rest of the world for one moment, I explore the thresholds between them, both physically and emotionally.
I try to find the delicate balance between staged photograph and snapshot. There is no single way in which I always work. Sometimes I have a certain image in my head, but most of the time it’s an interaction between the subject and I. Sometimes I see something happening which I then ask them to act out or perform again.
Photographing children has always been a controversial issue, as can be seen in the lengthy discussions that surround the work of Sally Mann or Elinor Carucci. What is your reaction towards those that see photographing children as exploitative?
I think Sally Mann and Carucci are able to make these photographs because they are the mothers of these children. In my opinion Sally Mann has photographed the sensual beauty of fleeting childhood, in a very direct and honest way, without trying to make it look any more or less beautiful then it just is.
I don’t think photographing children is exploitative as long as your intentions are honest, genuine and loving. I never feel that I’m exploiting children or young adolescents. I am very careful and never put any pressure on them. It is a collaboration between them and me, and I take them very seriously.
Are there any photographers or movements that have influenced or inspired you?
I draw inspiration from many different fields: cinema, photography, painting, literature. Cinema is an important source of inspiration for me and I’m particularly drawn to the subtle magic-realism in certain Spanish and South-American films. In terms of photographic inspiration I’ve already mentioned Sally Mann, but, although his work is very different to mine, I’m also very intrigued by the way that Philip-Lorca diCorcia is able to get close to people. I also discovered the Victorian photographer Lady Clementina Hawarden’s portraits of her two adolescent daughters. These images, mostly of the girls posing together, are very intimate and seem to speak of adolescence, eroticism, sibling- and mother-daughter relationships.
bio & artist statement
Sarah Mei Herman studied photography at the Royal Academy of Fine Art in The Hague, from which she received her BA in 2005. In 2010 she completed her MA in Fine Art Photography at The Royal College of Art in London. Herman received several grants from Mondriaan Fund, Prins Bernard Cultuur Fund and Amsterdam Fund for the Arts. Her work has been shown internationally, among others at The National Portrait Gallery in London, Le Chateau d’Eau in Toulouse, Centre Wallonie – Bruxelles in Paris, Musée d’Art Moderne in Liege, Benaki Museum in Athens, JIMEI X ARLES International Photofestival in Xiamen and at Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne. Her work has been included in several art collections such as Rabobank Art Collection, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and AMC Art Collection. Herman was a finalist for Hyères Festival of Fashion and Photography 2018 where she received the American Vintage Photography Prize 2018. That same year she also won the Rabobank Dutch National Portrait Prize. In 2020 her project Germano, about her Jewish family history, was exhibited at the Jewish History Museum in Amsterdam. In 2023 "Germano" will be exhibited more extensively at Kaunas Photography Gallery in Lithuania, where Herman started this project during an artist in residence. In 2021 Herman’s series “Julian & Jonathan” was on show at Museum Technische Sammlungen in Dresden for the Hellerau Photography Award 2021. Earlier this year Herman won the third prize for her series “Touch” at the prestigious “Zilveren Camera” in the category “Documentary International”. Currently Herman is finalizing a commissioned photo book by Emerson, Wajdowicz Studios about the Chinese LGBTQ community. The book “Solace” will be published by The New Press in New York and launched after the summer. Recently she received an honorable mention by the Gomma Photography Grant for this project.
In her practice, Herman examines the relationships and intimacy between people, what brings them together or sets them apart, and how physical proximity to others is a human necessity. Her main artistic focus lies on the intimacy within families, with a special interest in sibling relationships. In part, this interest has developed from her own family circumstances—growing up without siblings and always wondering what it would be like to have a brother or sister. With the works Herman attempts to get a deeper understanding of how this intimacy between siblings forms, how it manifests itself and how it can be expressed.
Another recurring theme in her works is young adults. Herman captures adolescence and the fleeting beauty of the continual changes they are going through. She is drawn to the intensity, vulnerability and sometimes loneliness of this fragile and transitory life stage. With this she explores the gray area between friendship and love, and the constant state of becoming as young adults navigate the ambiguity of relationships into adulthood.
Herman primarily works on ongoing projects repeatedly photographing the same subjects over time, often over many years.
Herman's work is generously supported by Mondriaan Fund
lives and works in Amsterdam, NL
For prints and other enquiries please contact me at:
+31 6 42 20 09 33