Artist Spotlight: Elizabeth Herman

We are back on the blog with another Artist Spotlight. If you are new to the blog, this is a  feature, where we spotlight photographers and artist that are inspiring others with there instant film work. We try to provide our readers with a new spotlight each week, so if you would like to be featured or know of someone you would like to see on the blog, drop us a line.  We love putting people in the spotlight!

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This week, our spotlight is on French photographer Elizabeth Herman. We came across Elizabeth in the Snap It See It Flickr group, and we were immediately blown away by the portraits she is posting. We have featured her images in a few of our Featured Fridays and thought it was about time to meet the person behind the lens.

With all of our spotlight interviews, we ask people to send along 10 or so images to go with the feature. As luck would have it, Elizabeth could not decide on which images to send, so she sent a ton of portraits and a ton of landscape work as well. Since her portrait work is what had originally drawn us to her, we narrowed those down to 14 images, and thats what we are going to showcase today. Don’t worry though, we are going to run her landscape work in the next few weeks as a stand alone feature. Trust me, you will not want to miss that!

In the meantime, please be sure to check out more of her amazing work on social media and be sure to show her some internet love.

Tumblr | Facebook | Flickr

Tell us a little about yourself. Where you are from and what you do.

I live and work in the Dordogne region in the south-west of France. I started work as a photographer’s assistant in Paris in the early 80s, where I learned shooting and print-making. It was then then that I started to produce my own images, and first encountered the surreal thrill of instant photography. Since 1989 I have worked for many regional organizations (Aquitaine government, Libération, Sud-Ouest news, Télérama, Virgin, Gironde Magazine, Nova magazine), mostly reporting and shooting for news articles and events. I have photographed people and places locally  and internationally, traveling from Andalusia to Quebec. My work has featured in private and collaborative exhibitions in Paris, Bordeaux, Angers, Toulouse, Nice, Milan, Ancora, Amsterdam amongst others. Throughout the 90s and early 00s my visits to Berlin allowed me to capture the opening-up of East Germany in images of streets, upheaval of the cityscape, nightlife; the social and urban transformations of the German capital.

I continue to explore other countries, my adventures permit me to reveal the illusive mystery of everyday life through the viewfinder of my little Leicas, Rolleifleix and Polaroid cameras. Polaroid is unpretentious. It has allowed me to make a sort of visual encyclopedia of the daily lives of those people and places I have encountered.

How did you get into instant photography?

I started working with polaroid in Berlin in 1994. It was a sort of log book, a roadmap. I started to incorporate polaroid with my color film travel photos, along with things I had written, things which surrounded me, street life, everything that I was doing in photography at the time with my Leica M6 and Rolleiflex T. I used to shoot in medium format and 24x36mm with the Leica. I always had with me a polaroid 600, the classic polaroid 600. I took first the analog black and white film and then the polaroid instead of using color film. It was good for me to make a sort of visual log book.

What is your favorite camera used for instant photography?

I don’t have a favorite. I have worked with many polaroid cameras over the years. For square format I have an SLR 680SE, SX70 Alpha 1, Polaroid close-up 636, for Pack 100 I have used Land 330, Land 250 (I have since sold them). But in the studio I prefer large format, 4×5” as well as Pack 100.

What instant camera have you not shot with, but would love to try?

Of course I don’t own the cameras that I would most like to use. The Konika Instant Press for any Pack 100 film and for 4×5 inch film the Chamonix Saber, which I have never had in my hands. The  4×5″ Saber is a portable mini-chamber designed for traveling, which can also be adapted to use polaroid film. I would very much like to have the Chamonix Saber.

What’s your favorite Impossible film or pack film type?

I first used Impossible film in 2010. I started with Impossible PX 600 Silver Shade. I used and liked black and white round frame, that’s a nice one. I tested only last week the latest generation of impossible film, black and white 600 2.0, and I think it is good. Good contrast, black, white, not too much grey but I will continue to shoot with this.

How have you incorporated instant film into your regular workflow?

It’s funny, I don’t know how to talk about myself. It’s strange to have someone asking me questions to get to know me. Working with instant film is… I have always been and remain impatient. It’s immediate work. I am in the moment whether I am taking pictures in the studio or in the countryside. For 3 or 4 years now I have been working with expired polaroid film and large format film in the studio, my favorite film is Chocolate, sepia and when I am lucky polaroid 55 and 52… anyway, to explain that I need to start at the beginning.It’s the magic. There is a magical element to working with expired polaroid film. There is the immediacy, adrenaline, contrary to what I had done for many years before in black and white and developing color film (which I still love because one doesn’t need a photo laboratory). The smell of polaroid film I love a lot. It has allowed me to rediscover photography after a break of 6 or 7 years while I was raising my son John (even if I still took photos), instant photography has allowed me get back in the saddle so to speak.  And ever since I have been addicted to polaroid. I discovered social network forums like polaroid-passion.com and polarnoid.net and I posted some of my archives from Berlin which generated some commentary and through that I have had contact with other polaroid photographers who have worked in other formats from whom I have learned, formats like 100, 4×5” etc. So I managed to find this film via eBay and the forums etc.

How would you describe your voice or vision with instant photography? (does it differ from your other work?)

I have always worked instinctively. At the moment I’m working on a series of portraits based in Bordeaux, working with people involved in food industries, butchers, cafés etc. I transplant them into the studio according to my rules, in front of the camera and I take polaroid and color film photos of them. There is always a project waiting. I hope to exhibit them in collaboration with Franck (Munster) in Bordeaux. Tomorrow anything could happen!

Any personal projects we should know about?

I always have projects. I started out with portraits and landscapes, these are two areas in which I excel apparently, that I love to do. Tomorrow I might return to las Negras, in Andalusia, rent a cheap bungalow and spend time in the desert around there, 7 or 8 hours with my little optical chamber. I work like that. I have collected strong images because I have sought them out. I am a hunter of images. That’s how people can understand my work for themselves. I don’t really know how to respond to these straight-forward questions.

What other photographers do you look up too?

Everyone who came before. The avant-garde above all. I don’t really know, I really like Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Berenice Abbott, Lee Miller, Man Ray, Diane Arbus, Weston, Newton. There are a lot.

What advice would you give to someone just getting into instant photography?

If they are any good, continue. But it is difficult, for sure to earn enough to live etc.  I don’t have any grand philosophical answers. If you are passionate, if you can express yourself through what you are doing, super, continue.

Where does your inspiration come from? Do you seek it out or wait till it finds you?

My inspiration when I was young came from the laboratory in fact. It was thanks to chemistry and thanks to the dark-room that photography came to me. Do I seek it or do I wait for it to find me? Now I seek it out. Am I not a hunter? I hunt images. I provoke. That is the only way to continue the voyage.

Comments

  1. mike sweeney says:

    This is a very worthwhile read. Thanks for posting.

  2. Herman elizabeth says:

    Thank you Mike.

  3. Thank you for sharing, I love the portrait work! I also love this:
    “Do I seek it or do I wait for it to find me? Now I seek it out. Am I not a hunter? I hunt images. I provoke. That is the only way to continue the voyage.”
    Nothing really happens to you if you sit in your room and wait for it to find you… I guess.

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