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Born in the Alps, documentary photographer Sophie Ebrard started her career in the bright lights of advertising. Ten years later, and with a fairly impressive job title to her name, she took the bold leap to leave it behind and follow her love for photography instead.
With an ever-growing appetite for travel, Sophie is not the sort of photographer to sit still. Currently spreading her downtime between London and Amsterdam, she is notoriously difficult to pin down; one minute found photographing in the sweltering tropics of Thailand and the next kite surfing in the cool breeze of Cape Verde. Although, her work isn’t all water sports and sunshine because the portraits she takes en route are pretty stunning too.
Rather than being defined by any singular theme, Sophie’s photographs are instead inspired by the natural beauty and individual characters she stumbles upon during her travels. Her portraits drift between that of intimate family moments spent on the Mediterranean Coast, to photographic documentations of her travels through the likes of New Mexico and the boxing clubs of North London. Whereas the subject of each series differs according to where in the world Sophie finds herself, underlying each and every shot is her intrinsic fascination with travel and her eagerness to discover and document the new. Taking inspiration from the 24 years she spent growing up against the scenic backdrop of the Alps, Sophie’s portfolio toys with sparse landscapes and expressive portraiture and is perfected by her distinctive use of pastel colours.
Speaking on her love for travelling alone, how her seven-month-old son is already racking up multiple visas and what makes the perfect shoot, Sophie lets SUITCASE in on her nomadic world as a photographer…
SUITCASE MAGAZINE: At what point did you realise that photography was something that you were good at?
SOPHIE EBRARD: I had been thinking about moving into photography for a long time before I actually took the leap. My friends had told me that I had talent, but it takes courage to leave a well-paid job for the unknown. Talent is not when your friends tell you that they like your work, but when people who don’t like you have to admit it’s good.
Three years ago, I was on a film set for the advertising agency I was working for at the time. I was so bored that I was killing time by taking a picture. I knew the director did not really like me. Nothing personal, just the fact I was his client I guess. One day he saw my pictures and seemed really surprised by their quality. He told me that I should be a photographer. That’s when I realised I should probably give it a go.
SM: Did you ever look back?
SE: Being a photographer is what makes me happy, it gives me an excuse to go out alone in the world and travel. Photography also gives me a purpose to meet new people and discover new places, and that’s something I’ve always wanted to do. There’s a beautiful quote from the French photographer Raymond Depardon that says: “I think photography was inside me. Once I found it, it became stronger than me and I took refuge in it.” It really resonates with me.
SM: You tend to use film and natural lighting, but with digital photo technologies and photo manipulation rapidly evolving, what keeps you loyal to such traditional methods?
SE: The instant results of digital photography take me out of the experience. There’s a certain anticipation involved in the film process that is exciting and creative and there is something beautiful and tactile in having the original negative of a photograph. A digital file is just not the same.
Also, shooting a roll of images without being able to tell what you are getting makes you concentrate more. As a writer you can go back and rewrite an article, but as a photographer you can’t go back to that moment. You can’t ask someone to do the same movement again because it will never be right and it will never look as natural. Once that moment is gone, it’s gone forever, so you have to be focused.
I also feel that when you shoot digitally you have a tendency to check your camera screen. Once you do that, you lose the connection between you and the subject. They suddenly become self-conscious and once that happens you’ve lost the moment. When I shoot using film, it’s almost like the image does not exist. It’s easier for me to disappear and for the subject to almost pretend that I’m not there.
SM: How important is travel to you both personally and professionally?
SE: Travelling is my life, it’s what I do – so much so that my friends find it hard to keep track of where I am. My son who is seven months old has already travelled more than my parents in the last ten years. He has three visas on his passport and many more to come.
SM: Do you think there is any particular reason why your photography has become so defined by travel?
SE: I love to be on the road, meeting new people and discovering new places. Being in another country makes me look at things differently and pay attention to simple details, much more than I would in my day-to-day life. I suppose that is why my photography has become so defined by travel.
Travel is also a necessity for me. I love living in Europe but the lack of light makes it almost impossible to shoot all year round. I love to play with contrast, light and shadows; hence the need to escape London’s grey skies.
SM: You mention that you love to travel alone. Why do you like it so much?
SE: Travelling on your own gives you a unique sense of freedom. You are far away from all life’s constraints and you can do whatever you want, whenever you want to do it.
I also believe that you start to understand yourself better when you travel on your own. You learn a great deal by meeting people you would not normally meet, seeing new scenery and putting things into perspective. Everything is possible when you travel on your own. It’s a great feeling and something everyone should do.
In fact, a few years ago I started to write a book about being a woman and travelling on your own. I wanted my stories to inspire others and get them to experience it as well. Don’t ask me where the first draft is though, it’s still somewhere on my computer.
SM: How do you think your style has developed since you have started?
SE: My work constantly evolves and changes as I evolve as a person. I would say that today my photographs are more personal than they have ever been. I’ve stopped taking pictures that I think will get me work and instead I just photograph what my heart tells me to. As a result I believe that I shoot much better photographs.
SM: What makes the perfect photo shoot?
SE: Perfect light conditions, a great crew, and the energy and butterflies I get when I am taking a great picture.
SM: Is there a certain way you like to go about photographing when you arrive in a new country?
SE: I feel that it’s always better to start shooting straight away, before your eyes get used to seeing things. I’m always a better photographer when I’m caught by surprise and when the beauty of the place or of a person excites me. Your eyes get used to things very quickly so, in a way, you have to start taking pictures on the way from the airport.
SM: Do you think growing up in the Alps has inspired your work?
SE: For sure. In a way the Alps still define me today. Even though I live in East London where trees are hard to find, I’m still the little girl who grew up surrounded by beautiful mountains in a small town on the outskirts of Grenoble.
I feel like you spend the majority of your adult life escaping where you are from in a quest to discover new things, and then you slowly come back to your roots. For the past four years I’ve spent more time in the Alps. I’ve come to realise that the view from my parents’ house is probably one of the most beautiful in the world. The Alps continue to inspire me and so I will always go back there.
SM: Your career sends you jetting off to all corners of the world, but what is your favourite place to go on holiday?
SE: A few years ago I bought a place in Cape Verde. It’s the best place on earth to kite surf. The light and colours there are truly beautiful, I’ve never seen water such a striking shade of blue. The people are also very interesting to photograph, every time I go I shoot a different body of work.
SM: And finally who are your heroes or heroines, photographers or otherwise?
SE: I certainly find inspiration in the work of other photographers. If I had to pick three, I would say my biggest influences are Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus and Stephen Shore. These photographers have travelled the world, met lots of interesting characters and seen beautiful sceneries along the way; exactly what I wish to do.
Interview by Anya Lawrence, @anyalawrence
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