We are excited to share our latest interview with Arkansas photographer Sarah Oden. We recently featured one of Sarah’s editorials, Old School, and it left us wanting to know more about Sarah and her work. Enjoy the interview with Sarah below and an amazing portrait series, Chemistry, starring the stunning couple Hart Denton and Sunny Soofiani…
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you first got started in photography.
I have been artistic since I was a child, but I had not been into photography prior to college. I was a Fine Art major and randomly took Photo 1 as an elective. At my University, the photography department was completely analog; we developed our own film and printed photographs in the darkroom. Using light and chemicals to take a strip of film to a finished print fascinated me. The sounds and smells of the darkroom made me feel so alive and at home. I knew right away photography was my medium and I haven’t looked back since. It was the perfect balance of technical and creative to suit my personality. I gravitated towards photographing people and executed my first fashion-inspired shoot for an independent study class. After graduating, it wasn’t possible to maintain my own darkroom, so I focused on digital and learning studio lighting. I haven’t been in a darkroom for a few years now, but I am thankful that my initial photography education was through tactile film processes; I can see how it still impacts my work today.
As the photography field becomes more and more saturated, it’s vital to make an image that both stands out and stands the test of time.
Who or what are your main sources of inspiration?
Of course there are the greats such as Irving Penn, Annie Leibovitz, Sally Mann and Keith Carter whom I will always find compelling. The mood, tone, and emotion in their imagery is undeniable. They each have a unique style that is simultaneously classic and progressive. I really respect that. Lately I have been drawn to quirky, surreal imagery by the likes of Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison, Michal Pudelka, and Andrea Galvani. As the photography field becomes more and more saturated, it’s vital to make an image that both stands out and stands the test of time. The photographers I am inspired by all do an amazing job of that in their own way. When I can tell an image is considered, I am drawn to it. I prefer to cull my work down to the best few, rather than churn out tons of decent images. That’s why I love working with smart models like Hart and Sunny. You can tell that they work well off each other and are dynamic in their posing. That’s the reason I named this series Chemistry!
I’ve always been an avid reader; I read many books about artists and photographers. Most recently was Leibovitz’s “At Work”; it was so motivational. I think it’s essential for up-and-coming photographers to hear the back-stories of seasoned photographers. It’s reassuring to know that everyone started from somewhere; genius doesn’t happen overnight and it isn’t handed to you. It takes lots of determination and constant work to improve your craft. I adore fashion; so much inspiration comes from designers and fashion photographers. I own Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty book, which is total eye candy. I am obsessed with Tim Walker; his images are absolutely magical and captivating. Coming up with concepts and creating fashion stories are some of the most enjoyable things I do. I try to limit myself to shooting high-quality, timeless pieces or sustainable clothing whenever possible. I’m a big eco and sustainable fashion advocate, and hate the current fast-fashion cycle we are in. Numerous documentaries and books on the subject have compelled me to use my love of fashion photography as a platform for raising awareness about sustainable fashion.
What has been the biggest lesson you have learnt since starting shooting professionally?
To steal a rather famous quote, “know thyself”. By that I mean be in tune with your creative eye and embrace your true self. I don’t believe in being confined to one photographic style, but I am conscious of patterns in my work and what I gravitate towards aesthetically. With the relentless social media popularity contest, it can be tempting to emulate certain styles to get more likes or recognition. It can be disheartening to think the only places that are happening are the largest, most glittering cities. Living in a smaller city, I had found myself at times lamenting the fact that I don’t have access to the best talent, the chicest couture, or the most interesting locations. But the more I left Arkansas the more I realized I loved living here. Once I looked at my limitations as a creative challenge and not a setback, I felt so liberated. I hope that photography takes me to many new places, but the grass is also plenty green right where I am.
I think it’s essential for up-and-coming photographers to hear the back-stories of seasoned photographers. It’s reassuring to know that everyone started from somewhere; genius doesn’t happen overnight and it isn’t handed to you.
What would be your dream photography assignment?
I would love to art direct and photograph a large-scale fashion campaign! Having a talented team to work with and plenty of resources at our disposal would be a dream. I would want to create an exciting concept for ‘conscious’ high fashion brands. There are so many innovative designers who not only make beautiful garments but also value transparency and sustainability, whether it be fair trade, environmentally friendly, vegan, etc. I want to work with these brands to make conscious fashion consumption more desirable than cheap, disposable fast-fashion trends.
What is next for you? Are you currently working on any projects that you can tell us about?
I can tell that I am in a transitional period with my work, and it’s very exciting. This year was big for me personally – I got engaged, planned a wedding, got married, and moved twice. I haven’t shot as much as I would have liked, but it gave me a chance to soak up inspiration and process new ideas. I’m eager to start on all the things I have planned! One of my bigger projects is to pick up where I left off last year with my photographic-essay book Considering the Cost: the Hidden Price of the Fashion Industry. It explores how fast fashion is detrimental to the environment, the lives of factory workers and personal style. I want to create a new series that delves further into how slow, conscious fashion can benefit not only the planet but also our unique sense of identity, and free us from the ever-changing trends that neutralize our individuality. The project will allow me to explore more complex set design along with handmade prop and wardrobe styling. I’ll be posting behind the scenes and process shots along with finished work, so everyone follow along on Instagram!
See more of Sarah’s work at:
All images copyright Sarah Oden.