These Intimate Portraits Are an Antidote to Icky Ads
Writer and photographer Elyssa Goodman talked with photographer Zora Sicher on the importance of having a dialogue with your subjects.
All photos by Zora Sicher
Women are overlooked far too often in photography. How can we continue to combat this erasure? My answer is this column, “Woman Seeing Woman.” While it’s just the start of solving this problem, I, a female writer and photographer, hope to celebrate the astoundingly powerful female voices we have in photography by offering a glimpse into their work.
Whenever I think of Zora Sicher’s work, the first image that comes to mind is a young woman in a burgundy swimsuit sitting on the stoop of a Brooklyn brownstone. The woman stares into the lens unperturbed by, and even challenging, its presence. I was captivated and unable to look away, a difficult experience to engender in me as a person who sees so a lot of photography professionally and lives in our current, highly visual landscape.
The image was published during the summer of 2016 in a print spread and online slideshow by New York Magazine’s The Cut. It was part of a feature that tasked photographers with photographing their friends in the season’s best swimwear. Sicher had gathered her friends in that Brooklyn brownstone. And she shot them on film as they sat and talked and laughed and leaned and stared with their swimsuits wrinkling and their hair frizzing.
All the photos in Sicher’s contributions to the slideshow feel like a look inside a person’s life. They're a pleasant deviation from the made-up faces and well-oiled bodies in swimsuit spreads usually foist upon us. This, I would learn, was not just a directive from The Cut, but Sicher’s own style. Her work for Pringle of Scotland, Dazed, and Allure all evoke this sentiment. It's as if the person you’re looking at isn't just a hanger for advertising.
“I don’t feel good walking into a situation where there’s no conversation. It has a lot to do with the relationship between me and the person I’m photographing,” Sicher told me over the phone. She was in Mexico, where she's spent time on and off for the last few months and where she will be curating an exhibition this coming February. “I think you can tell that there’s a conversation between how the person wants to be represented [and] my lens.” She wondered if some male photographers don’t question, respect, or explore that dialogue between subject—especially female subject—and photographer the way some women do. “I’m so sick of this thing where I don’t feel like there’s any conversation between the man who’s photographing the woman. It’s like, This is the way I want to see you, this is what’s happening.” Sicher, when we spoke, was over it.
For a long time, she said, that dialogue was missing in her own work. But as she began to develop conversations with her subjects, meaning began to develop, too. “I’m in a part of my life where I just want to talk to people all the time. I want to understand where all these different people come from,” Sicher explained. “I never really wanted to be the quiet photographer.”
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