At Unseen Amsterdam 2017, a number of galleries are presenting new and premiering work by the artists they represent. This week, we sit down with Maryam Eisler, who explains how her extensive work in the arts has influenced her own practice as a photographer.
Born in Iran and raised in Paris, Eisler is a decorated editor and arts patron who is presenting her own photographic series at this year’s Unseen Amsterdam with Tristan Hoare gallery. She holds a BA in Political Science from Wellesley College and an MBA from Columbia University. Eisler is also a regular contributor to Harpers Bazaar Art, and has written articles for Vanity Fair UK, Art and Auction and Canvas Magazine. She has also edited a number of books published by Thames and Hudson, and will be releasing a book of her own images and writing this November titled Voices: East London.
You have an incredibly dynamic career in the arts, with experience rooted in industries that are heavily influenced by photography and image making. Can you tell us a bit about how your interest in fine art photography developed?
My interest was initially sparked by a Man Ray show I visited when I was ten years old at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, where I grew up. I will never forget the impact of that show on my mind. For around ten years from 1993 onwards, I held brand management positions with both L’Oreal and Estee Lauder. This involved a great deal of visual processes, as well as my involvement in the development of advertising and promotional campaigns. I soon realized that it was these creative initiatives that were most exciting to me during my time in the beauty industry – an industry led by image-making.
Last year you released your first public series as a photographer, titled Searching for Eve in the American West (2016). What prompted your transition into an image maker, and what influenced the subject matter in this work?
Four years ago, while making the book Art Studio America: Contemporary Artist Spaces (published by Thames and Hudson), the voyage took our team to New Mexico and the world of Georgia O’Keeffe: her landscape, her sky, her light, all experienced at Ghost Ranch near Abiquiu. I became obsessed by her life, by her work, and by her mind. Inspiration was an understatement, and I promised myself to return to Santa Fe while I searched for ‘Eve’; Eve as mother nature, Eve as the Divine Feminine, Eve as temptress. It was possibly even a search for my own inner identity, set against a barren, almost hostile landscape. I soon realized that I was interested in exploring form vs context, contrasting it with the ruggedness of space and place – a possible metaphor of some sort?
Bending the Will of Hades, from the series Eurydice in Provence, 2016 © Maryam Eisler
Your images are ethereal experiments in light and contrast, revealing a great deal of technical skill in your process. Why is this a technique you return to?
I am interested in the Sublime or the Divine Feminine and all that it encompasses. I am interested in the human figure shown in the context of the all-powerful nature, through an exploration of light and space. More recently, I have developed an interest in the female body, going from a macro vision to a more micro depiction of forms. In a series I recently shot on Wildcat Hill, the original home of Edward Weston, I invite the viewer to guess a little more than usual, exploring these contrasting and more conceptual forms through shadow and light, but also through minimalist lines and curves.
You released another series this year, titled Eurydice in Provence. How does this series meld with and differ from the images in Searching for Eve? How did your goals with this series evolve from the previous project?
Following a shoot I did in an abandoned stone quarry in the Val d’Enfer in Baux de Provence, I returned home to London, and whilst meeting with a friend over lunch I learned from him that the location also happened to be the site where Jean Cocteau filmed his Testament d’Orphee in 1960, a film which I had grown up watching in Paris. So, I went back to my photographs with a fresh perspective, and upon closer inspection, I began to see the story of ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’ unveil itself in front of my very own eyes – a story of loss and lust, love and trust. Call it happenstance, fate or chance!
Eurydice and Persephone, 2016 © Maryam Eisler
You are publishing a book this November titled Voices: East London, which will be comprised of both your own images and words. What are some of the ways you find the process of creating a publication of your images different than creating prints?
I spent the better portion of the last year and a half venturing into the East End of London, photographing and talking to its creative voices, across gender, generations and industries, from film to fashion, from visual arts to music and more. The book is an exploration into the psyche and soul of East London today, digging deep into its history. Documentary photography is different from fine art photography. With the first, you are under the pressure of time and ego. With the latter, you are led by inspiration and timelessness. I would like to think, however, that I have managed to produce good artistic shots in the book while also digging deep into the souls of the personalities I encountered. Most importantly, it is my hope that I delivered an honest portrayal of this incredible community.
Unseen Amsterdam 2017 is fast approaching. What are you looking forward to at this year’s event?
I am of course excited to have my work shown by my London gallery, Tristan Hoare. I am also enthused by the idea of having been asked to judge for the ING Unseen Talent Award. I don’t take this responsibility lightly, and I am humbled by the organisation’s decision to have involved me in the process.