Interview with Photographer Sophie Harris Taylor, Francesca Maffeo Gallery

Sophie Harris-Taylor: MTWTFSS Chapter 1. 2010-2015  is a solo exhibition by the artist, who presents an honest and intimate body of work from the private moments of her photographic diary at Francesca Maffeo Gallery, Leigh on Sea, this August.  Aesthetica talk to Harris-Taylor about her practice, the photographic form and the processes of working with the gallery space.

A: What is it about the form of photographic diary that you find so interesting to work from?
The spontaneity of it excites me. It’s never something I try to plan – sometimes the act of taking the pictures can be a challenge and I think this can bring out some kind of uncertainty and sometimes a sense of fragility and vulnerability in the image.

This is a project that will never be finished and complete – I think this takes the pressure off trying to achieve the perfect image. I don’t write a diary but it’s the closest thing that comes to it, its pretty autobiographical.

I presume I will always be using the camera in this way to tell some sort of story of my life. I think looking back at the images they bring memories good and bad and feelings and emotions that I was going through at the time.

A: Do you think there’s something intrinsically intimate about the form, and if so, is this important for you as an artist?
SHT: Definitely, most of my subjects are my closest friends and loves and people in my life at that moment in time. So you can’t get more intimate than that.  I think as an artist the relationship between myself and the subject is fundamental to making this work. The closer I am to the subject the more intimate the pictures can be. There’s an element of trust and understanding and I don’t think I can achieve this in the same way when the intimacy and the relationship isn’t there.

A: How far do you think that truth is a major element of your work? Do you think there’s something aesthetically beautifully to be found in honesty?
SHT: Revealing the truth is something I’m particularly fascinated by. I try not to overthink this when I’m creating the work, it happens quite organically but it’s certainly always something at the back of my mind.

I’m completely aware that I might not be showing the full story, it’s a fragmented diary, some images are months apart and others just days but these moments in-between that are captured are for me as truthful as they get.

I think, yes, honesty can have an incredible aesthetic beauty. If you take someone like Sofia Coppola for instance, taking something truthful and perhaps seemingly quite insignificant and casting that in an incredible light and framing – that to me is far more beautiful than anything fantastical or contrived.

A: With society in such a state of flux and uncertainty at the moment, how do you think your works respond to it in finding hidden, crystallised moments in the everyday?
I’m not sure my work has any direct response to this, not deliberately at least. But we’re so surrounded by these discussions that it can’t help but influence and frame the work of any contemporary practitioner, at least subconsciously.

It’s certainly looking at the smaller things in life that build up the bigger picture and I think the quiet and often repetitive moments in the everyday can be quite reflective. There are often repeated people, poses and places, but the development of these I find very interesting.

 A: Could you describe your processes behind the focus you give on light?
SHT: I’ve always exclusively used natural or available light. Which for me often determines at that point in time whether I pick up my camera – where the light falls never ceases to amaze me, it adds an organic quality to the images and can have so much impact on the narrative.

Working in a studio for instance is very different – where you can dictate your environment. In my work I’ve had to learn to be much more adaptable, embracing what the light gives me and where it leads me, physically and metaphorically. It’s actually something I find very liberating.

A: Your works have soft nuances that engage with the world and are at once detached from it in moments of stillness or transparency. Do you think there is a narrative behind these images?
SHT: For me the images have become memories and over time they take on different meanings and narratives personally to me. I think for the viewer, they can find their own narratives within the work and these will come from their own life experiences.

I’ve been told there’s a cinematic aesthetic in the work. I think this gives the feeling of an image being a still, and therefore infers there is a wider movement and narrative taking place around it. I don’t think there is a need for photography to be over explained, and this allows the viewer to go on their own journey.

A: If your work had a particular intention, what would it be?
SHT: I don’t know if there is just one. I think we all have multiple preoccupations and concerns that overlap and interlink. For me I’m particularly interested in both the strength and vulnerability – it’s OK to be both at the same time and I think we should celebrate that.

Unintentionally I look for aspects in other people, which I can relate to. For me the images we come across every day in the media aren’t honest – in so many ways I probably don’t need to go into. I guess I’m trying to show a different perspective, in  a subtle way though.

Absence is also a recurring theme. Sometimes this is more literal, in empty uninhabited spaces. Other times it is implied in a look or piece of context, it is certainly unusual for me to shoot more than one person at a time. Similarly I like to explore my own presence in the images, sometimes it is quite apparent that I am there, others there is more of a voyeuristic feel.

A: How has working with Francesca Maffeo Gallery been a new experience for you, and has it informed the presentation of your work in any way?
SHT: The opportunity of showing this as a body of work within a gallery space allowed me to think differently about the presentation. In contrast to the book you’re seeing all the work in the same view and it needs to come together as a single body through scale, theme and aesthetic.

The gallery space is beautiful and intimate, and I feel the space is well suited to the work that shares these same values. I’ve tried to think about presenting the work in a certain way that allows the viewer into a little piece of my world. There are some images which are larger and more absorbing, others are smaller and scattered which I hope gives the viewer almost a feeling of glimpsing or just catching something.

A: Could you describe the relationship you have with the gallery in terms of a collaboration when curating the show?
The Gallery really understood MTWTFSS as a body of work and I think we always had the same vision for the show. Over time I’ve built a great relationship with Francesca Genovese, the Director, and we’ve been able to curate the show together.

Sometimes it’s difficult being so close to the work, for instance there were individual images which I’d become emotionally attached to and others I had completely overlooked. Having another voice and seeing the work from a different perspective has been really helpful.

Sophie Harris-Taylor: MTWTFSS Chapter 1. 2010-2015 opens 20 August, running until 15 October.

Find out more about Harris’ work:

Find out more about the exhibition at Francesca Maffeo Gallery:

1. MTWTFSS Chapter 1, 7×5 Series 2, Francesca Maffeo Gallery. Courtesy of the artist and Francesca Maffeo Gallery.
2. Anna, Journeys, Lanzarote (2012). Courtesy of the artist.
3. Changing, Berlin (2015). Courtesy of the artist.