In the lead up to her one night only exhibition and book launch, "Be My Guest", we caught up with photographer Sarah Soquel Morhaim to ask her a few questions about growing up in Baltimore, photography, and working a “regular job”.
Name? Sarah Soquel Morhaim.
What do you do? In all seriousness, I'm mostly trying to be more awake.
Tell us about your project "Be My Guest"? A while ago I decided I wanted to get some very regular part-time job, the idea being to have something to help me structure my time better and do something more like traditional work and see how that affected art making. While I imagined stocking supermarket shelves no one was interested in hiring me except a portrait studio at the mall. The images in this show are of the props we use there. The images are beautiful to me in a formal way, but it's more about the stories and associations I have with them and the specific shoots and people I remember. The images are the ghosts of all that. Like the wear and tear on the #1 prop from all the little kids who've been brought in for their first birthday picture. The props are these bits of representation that are part of a bigger idea of people wanting to make and keep memories, to have their photo taken and be smiling and have this time in their life captured forever. It's brought me back to this very basic place of what photography does. Everybody just wants to look good and be happy and something about a picture feels like proof, which of course isn't reality. There's an accompanying book of images that are from a different time, taken around Baltimore where I grew up when I first started taking pictures at 15. In light of the recent pictures I felt drawn to showing these older images.
Talk us through the relationship between the imagery? Visually the images look really different but there's this subtle relationship between them. They're essentially made in the same way, which is observing the world around and taking pictures as a way to understand it. I'm now spending time in this new place and hence I'm going to take pictures of what I see there. Also the recent images show these props that are scuffed and beat up from all the handling, same with the backdrops, but they're void of actual people. There's something funny to me about how the Baltimore pictures fill in the blank, being full of people, family and kids.
What prompted you to get a “regular job”? I was having trouble focusing and seeing why I was doing what I was doing with photography. I thought that getting some kind of job where I had to show up on a schedule would maybe bring clarity to my time outside of that. I've had done freelance for a long time so in my mind if time got structured somewhat maybe I would focus better in the studio because time there would be more limited. I think I applied to almost 70 jobs, everything you can think of, and that in and of itself was interesting and quite humbling. I wanted the job not to be related to art, photo, or commercial stuff in anyway, but at the end of day the portrait studio was the only place interested in hiring me.
Did this affect your approach to your own personal work? Yes. Working this job and having it involve taking pictures has definitely affected the way I think about the life of an image, its importance or non-importance, and why and when I ask others to look at the images I make. Also the sheer amount of people I have to interact with now at the job affects me. I love hearing people's stories, observing, etc, but I've also had to learn how to not let my curiosity drain me.
What was it like growing up in Baltimore? I grew up ten minutes outside the city in the suburbs. Baltimore was interesting because I remember feeling like we were a city no one cared about. Not as big as Philadelphia, and not as on the map as D.C. There was horrible crime and that seemed like the thing the city was most known for. Also we weren't Southern in a proper way but not exactly Northeast either. So I think that all that led to feeling like we were growing up in a little pocket no one particularly cared about. Like I didn't realize that anyone outside of Baltimore knew who John Waters was till I moved away. But Baltimore definitely has a specific charm to it that I feel lucky to know well.
First photo you can remember taking? I remember making a photogram with my hair and my hands. I also remember taking pictures of my younger sister, who I made wear a nightgown and prance around outside at night.
Camera of choice for this project? I'm not very motivated by gear so the camera could be almost anything. I'll say any SLR, film or digital, will do.
“Be My Guest” releases Wednesday, February 25th from 7-9PM at 970 N. Broadway #212, Los Angeles CA 90012 for one night only.
Published by O.N.O