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Matinee: 'An Interview With Sandra Mehl' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

24 February 2018

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 138th in our series of Saturday matinees today: An Interview With Sandra Mehl.

The French photographer Sandra Mehl was interviewed after winning the solo exhibition prize at the Cortona On The Move show in 2017. She discusses her work, the importance of exhibitions and her experience at the Italian photography festival.

Her perspective is, well, refreshing.

In fact, the opening scene provides a perspective itself that is worth the price of admission. Apparently shot with a drone flying over Cortona, which lies between Arezzo and Perugia in southern Tuscany, you get a bird's eye view of the little town that hosts the event.

Mehl begins the interview describing how she met the two sisters who are the subject of her ongoing project Ilona and Maddelena. They were just walking their dogs in their working class neighborhood and she was immediately fascinated by "the fantasy they seemed to have inside them."

At first we were tempted to translate her English into more familiar idioms. But then we thought better of it.

She asked their parents for permission to photograph them and follow them over time. Granted.

She never thought about telling their story, though. Instead she "only made pictures of what made me feel very sensitive."

At first we were tempted to translate her English into more familiar idioms. But then we thought better of it.

What does she mean by a scene making her feel sensitive? That sometimes she feels something watching the two girls at play, inhabiting somewhere they have conjured up away from their familiar neighborhood. And when she feels that, she shoots.

But it is refreshing to describe that feeling as being sensitive. You can have all sorts of feelings, after all, but being sensitive means something outside yourself has affected you.

She goes on to explain why she loves exhibitions. It's the only chance, she says, for a photographer to meet their audience. "It's very important to me," she says, "to know how the audience considers my work."

We might say "what the public thinks about my work." But we'd be missing the nuance of what she means. First, it isn't "the public" but her "audience." The people with whom she is communicating, who are paying attention. And second, it isn't that isolated act of "thinking about" but "considering." As if there is some sort of progression from first impression to examination to appraisal rather than the old seat-of-the-pants judgement we are fond of quickly delivering.

But there's another aspect to exhibitions she enjoys.

And that is being a bridge between her subjects and her audience. Telling her subjects what the audience said about them. And who said it.

She thinks of this as being an ambassador between the audience and her subjects, facilitating a dialog. But in person, not merely via social media.

That's on her mind when she discusses Cortona itself and the value of holding the event in a small town where people can more easily meet and talk to each other. (OK, we idiomized her there. She called it a "beautiful, tiny town" where "people can speak more easily, meet easily.")

After all, she says, "photography is also a history of meetings."

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