Interview with Sophie Gamand, Photographer
Interview with Sophie Gamand, Photographer
Recently, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Sophie Gamand, photographer. Sophie is originally from France and she now resides in New York City, where she photographs dogs as the subject of her work.
KATHERINE CARVER: What were your beginnings as a photographer and when did you realize it would become your chosen form of expression?
SOPHIE GAMAND: I think I demanded my first camera to my parents when I was ten years old. During high school, I worked with an analog camera I had taken from my Dad and developed my own black and white photos. At that point, photography was just an art medium amongst others for me. I integrated photos into paintings, montages, etc. Then I stopped while studying Law. In 2007, I discovered the world of digital cameras and I bought a simple DSLR and started photographing again. It was very liberating! I did a lot of self-portraiture, with heavy Photoshop work. It was easier than painting and I could achieve the results I wanted more quickly. Since then, the presence of photography has grown in my life, especially after I moved to New York in 2010, when it became my main activity. I even met my husband through photography!
KATHERINE CARVER: Did you study photography formally?
SOPHIE GAMAND: No, I did not study photography. Since 2010, I have taken a couple of classes here and there, just to tie up loose ends. For example I took a studio lightning class in 2011 and that completely changed the way I photograph. I also took a class about carrying long-term projects and it was very inspiring. I don’t believe in studying the arts extensively, but I believe taking a class every once in a while is a great way to push your boundaries, and meet fellow artists.
KATHERINE CARVER: How do you describe your style?
SOPHIE GAMAND: I think I am in-between fine art and commercial photography. My work used to be very dark, but with dog photography, I became more commercial. Now I am navigating between both worlds. For example my Wet Dog series won a big fine art award, but is also the subject of my first commercial book…
KATHERINE CARVER: Can you describe the time when you first realized that photographing was absolutely something that you had to do?
SOPHIE GAMAND: As a child, I was obsessed with it. I am not sure why. I loved taking portraits, especially close-ups. I wanted to be sucked in the faces I photographed. I think I was a lonely child and seeking more love and tenderness in my life. Photographing faces was like hugging those people, being very close to them. I loved photographing animals too, because there was no expectation from them. And also, I did not have to talk to them.
KATHERINE CARVER: What was the impetus that inspired you to begin photographing dogs?
SOPHIE GAMAND: In 2010, having moved to NYC, I wanted to reinvent my photography. I was used to taking self-portraits, in the intimacy of my studio. I was very scared to take my camera outside and photograph strangers, so I signed up for a documentary class. The first assignment was to go in my neighborhood and photograph a stranger. It was very scary. As I wandered in my new neighborhood, I saw a vet clinic and it looked so safe and inviting, I decided to hide in it! I thought I could photograph someone there. And as I was sitting in the waiting room, I saw a dog peeking from behind a wall (shown below). He looked completely worried and out-of-place. I snapped a portrait and it fueled everything! I became obsessed with the idea of urban dogs and the place they occupy in New York, and with all the things we do with and to dogs here.
KATHERINE CARVER: What was the impetus that inspired you to begin photographing wet dogs in your work entitled, Wet Dog?
SOPHIE GAMAND: For one of my projects I wanted to photograph the grooming process, and how we alter the way our dogs look. It is a project I called “Metamorphosis”. I met with a groomer who let me set a studio in his grooming parlor and I photographed his work. During the process, he started bathing the dogs. I loved the way the water played with the fur, the dogs looked dramatically different! And then I noticed their irresistible expressions, and I knew I had something unique and fun. I want to show the humanity there is in dogs. Photography is a great tool for that because it allows me to capture half a second – the moment their expression is the most poignant. Something I would probably not really see with naked eyes. I knew dogs had a wide range of emotions and facial expressions before I started Wet Dog, and I believed those had not been explored fully by contemporary photography. My mission was to photograph dogs as I would photograph humans. That’s why I focus on headshots. I care about the face, the eyes, the soul, what makes dogs human. Wet Dog allows me to magnify those expressions.
KATHERINE CARVER: Where do you show/exhibit your work?
SOPHIE GAMAND: Mostly online. When living in Europe, as a photographer, I spent a lot of time organizing exhibitions, and trying to be shown in different places. After a while, I lost touch with my own creativity because I was too caught up in marketing and logistics. So now I take it as it comes. I would love to exhibit again at some point, but I want to focus on creating and producing images. I would also love to create a mix media show. My Wet Dog series won the Sony Awards and I went to London to see the exhibit. As I entered the room, there they were, nine (9) of my wet dogs lined-up on the wall. It was amazing. I had goose bumps and teared-up and giggled. I think I whispered out loud “oh my god they are so cute, my little babies.” I wanted to kiss each and every one of them, and tell them the bath was almost over. Seeing your work exhibited is amazing. The series will be exhibited in Paris in September 2014 as well.
KATHERINE CARVER: What does “being creative” mean to you?
SOPHIE GAMAND: It is the blood flow. The ideas and desires are constantly there. I tried to live without the creative life in the past, but it was clear I could not escape it. Creative ideas are all I think about, day and night, until I act on them and make them happen. If I do not act on them, I become depressed and difficult to live with. They work like visions almost. Sometimes they are strong and ready to go, so I just create the images, take the photos, write, and then it’s done. At other times, I am not sure what the idea is exactly, I cannot see the picture in my head yet, and I go crazy. It’s hard to explain, but I guess it is like phantom pain. My soul wants to create that thing that my brain does not visualize yet. There is nothing to be in pain for, but the pain is there and it is real and overwhelming. I know it might sound a little crazy, but I literally feel like I am dying. I used to be lost during those times because it was really painful and confusing, and nobody could help me through them. Then I realized those dark moments were part of my creative process so now I try to embrace the cycle more. I am very lucky to have found a wonderfully supportive husband, also a creative person, who totally understand those cycles and respect my creative process.
KATHERINE CARVER: What is the most challenging aspect of being a photographer?
SOPHIE GAMAND: With my work, photographing dogs, one of the challenging aspects is to not having access to my models all the time. I am very jealous of artists who live with their muse! Sometimes, the idea is ready and I need to photograph it NOW. But I have to wait days, weeks, before my models can come to the studio. It makes the creative process less smooth.
Generally speaking, I would say that photographers are faced with a huge challenge nowadays: everyone thinks they are a photographer; and everyone can be one, technically. So how do we define ourselves in the constellation of photographers that surrounds us? Also some people still think photography is not an art per se. Photography can take many shapes: you can be at the service of a client, in which case photography is simply a tool; you can use photos in intricate art pieces; retouch or not; you can document stories, etc… Photography takes so many different shapes that it is difficult to educate the public to what constitutes good contemporary photography.
KATHERINE CARVER: What inspires you to keep going and what keeps you motivated?
SOPHIE GAMAND: I don’t have a choice! I am obsessed with what I do, and I cannot explain why. I want to become better: a better artist; and a better person. I keep receiving new ideas and desires. I have a list of maybe 20 series I want to photograph involving dogs. I don’t think I’ll have the time or energy to do them all, so I don’t have the luxury to just stop.
KATHERINE CARVER: What is the most rewarding and satisfying part about being an artist and creating photographs?
SOPHIE GAMAND: When you finally start making a living photographing, you know that you will not have to divide yourself anymore. I want to be whole with my art, and I want to be able to focus on just that: creating more images and projects. I don’t think about my art in terms of rewards or satisfaction. I don’t do it for anybody in particular. I just don’t have a choice. I cannot do anything else with my life, or I would go crazy.
KATHERINE CARVER: What are you working on now?
SOPHIE GAMAND: I have a long list of projects in a notebook. I try to focus on one or two projects at once, but right now I have about 4-5 series I am working on in parallel – all involving dogs. I have 2 series ready to be released but I don’t seem to ever find the good moment to release them… I am working on my first book – the Wet Dog book – and another big fine-art project that is very demanding. I also work on several projects for animal rescues.
KATHERINE CARVER: What artists inspire your work?
SOPHIE GAMAND: I have stopped looking at what other artists do, because it can be very destructive. All my life, I self-doubted myself and my art. So now I feel the need to protect my inner artist from all the amazing stuff that’s out there! If I really had to mention names, it would be William Wegman because he has photographed the same breed of dogs since the 1970s and made a career out of it! It reminded me that freedom can be the death of art. Sometimes, setting ourselves strict limitations is the most inspiring thing. The other artist that blew my mind was Jill Greenberg, for her esthetic and her use of light. I thought, if you can combine Wegman’s creativity with Greenberg’s sleek looks, you are golden!
KATHERINE CARVER: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
SOPHIE GAMAND: Start doing. Stop thinking, questioning, agonizing, etc. Things only come to those who do. Do what you love and love what you do – that means, follow your gut feelings when creating, but also be proud of every single piece you put out there. Hold your art to the highest standards.
KATHERINE CARVER: How can people view and purchase your art works?
My best work is on www.sophiegamand.com.
With my Striking Paws website, I help rescue groups and participate in charitable projects.
Instagram and Twitter accounts: @SophieGamand
Striking Paws Facebook: www.facebook.com/strikingpaws.
The photographs included in this blog post are courtesy of Sophie Gamand.
You can read additional interviews here.