© Sophie Harris – Taylor, courtesy Francesca Maffeo Gallery

We last spoke to you in 2015. How have things changed for you since then?

Quite a bit. My work has gradually shifted to become more about other people than myself. That being said, my ideas still tend to stem from some aspect of my own vulnerability and experiences – and I’m still documenting a lot of my own life too.

Perhaps I have become more confident to explore projects even if, at first, I have no idea what I’m really doing. I tend to rely on friends and my partner for encouragement as there is often some doubt in those early days.

At the same time, I’m now represented by the agency Swerve Represents for my commercial work, so I’m learning more about the advertising world and how my photography can work for brands. The income has given me the financial freedom to develop my personal work more.

I also became a mum last year. In some ways, it has been the biggest change… and everything that comes with that, it’s almost too much to sum up!

Let’s talk about the featured project Epidermis. What was your motivation behind it?

I began to reflect on my own past and feelings towards my skin; I struggled with severe acne when I was younger. Back then, there were no idols or role models, people to look up to who had anything but flawless skin, and I struggled with my own self image.

We’ve come a long way since then, with body positivity and people more generally speaking out about beauty standards and promoting diversity.

However I still felt that there was a lack of the representation of skin in an honest and open way. Epidermis for me is a way of showcasing beautiful women in skins less often seen.

I’ve always been fascinated with skin, inspired by artists like Jenny Saville and Lucien Freud and the way in which they interpret the subject matter. I wanted to try and capture some of that same raw humanity and emotional connection through a camera.

© Sophie Harris – Taylor, courtesy Francesca Maffeo Gallery

Were there any moments or experiences you had while making the work which stick out or you feel have taught you something?

It made me realise that we are a lot more self-critical and conscious of our own appearance than others. Regardless of how severe the skin condition, it seems it can be equally impactful on people’s mental health.

Casting most of my subjects through social media, I realised how easily we create masks. Some of the women I photographed who seemed so outspoken and confident on their profiles were actually fairly anxious and shy in person. In a way, this possibility for expression is a positive aspect of social media – though it is the cause of so much of this anxiety to begin with.

What does it mean to you that you’re showing these particular works in a gallery exhibition?

A lot! I made the work for print and it’s such a shame that these days photographs rarely get printed unless they are in an exhibition. So many photographs, series, projects and stories just exist online – although Epidermis has had great coverage, for me the work really comes alive at a large scale. I want the viewer to be confronted with the skin in all it’s uniqueness.

A lot of your work concerns women and identity – physical and perceived identities, beauty ideals and stereotypes, how we see ourselves and also how we view each other… is this something you think you’ll be working on for a long time yet? Tell us a bit about what you have planned for the future.

It’s rarely something I think about and it’s only when l look back do I realise the similarities and themes that arise in my work. It’s relatable; you don’t need to be an artist to get it.

Now, after Epidermis, I’m working on a series about the realities of breast feeding which came about after the birth of my son. No one could have prepared me for the minefield of breastfeeding. I, like many other women, had an idealised but perhaps unrealistic expectation of it. The images I’d seen out there tended to represent breastfeeding in quite a generic and non-informative way. So I’m exploring this. Aesthetically, it’s more of snapshot style than some of my other work and shows a bit more of a variety of emotions.

© Sophie Harris – Taylor, courtesy Francesca Maffeo Gallery

Much of your work is highly intimate and often explores sensitive subjects, requiring the people you photograph to allow you and us as the viewer to see them vulnerable. How do you approach this, especially with those who are strangers?

It’s often a tricky one. In reality, I am very shy when it comes to approaching people. I don’t think it’s the fear of rejection – it’s the fear of going up to a total stranger and stumbling on my words. I’ve found online casting to be really useful, I can take time to cohesively explain my ideas and let others mull over them.

When it comes to aspects of other’s vulnerabilities particularly, I think it’s important to let people come to their own decisions and not feel forced in anyway to be part of something.

It helps that a lot of my work stems from personal experiences – opening up that conversation and letting others ask questions creates a more honest dialogue.

Going back a little, tell us about your journey to becoming a photographer.

I guess I’ve always been doing it in some way back to when I was in my teenage years. I was always the one documenting everything. University opened my eyes to photography as an art form and that’s where I probably began to find my voice. And over the past ten years, it’s been something I’ve grown more and more confident with.

The camera is really just the medium for me that I use to express my own ideas and explore subjects I’m interested in – but equally, it could be a brush.

© Sophie Harris – Taylor, courtesy Francesca Maffeo Gallery

Can you pinpoint one piece of art that has strongly influenced you?

I’ve chosen this image Amanda crying on my bed, Berlin, 1992 by Nan Goldin – but really I could have picked any work of hers. Her two bodies of work, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency and The Devil’s Playground had some of the first photographs I truly connected to. The intimacy, emotional honesty and human connection was mind blowing to me. Her images taught me that photography didn’t need to be formal; it could be spontaneous and captured out of love.

Finally, what are you currently reading/watching/listening to?

I haven’t got much time to read anything more than articles right now; the little one keeps me fairly occupied. I’ll Try Anything Once by The Strokes – from one of my favourite Sophia Coppola films Somewhere – has been playing quite a bit. At the moment, I’ve been watching things mostly to switch off. I’ve just finished This Way Up with Sharon Horgan and Aisling B, and the new Simon Amstell stand up is also on point.

‘Epidermis’ is presented by Francesca Maffeo Gallery at theprintspace Gallery, launching 7.30pm, 05 September. Runs 06 – 13 September. Full details here.


© Sophie Harris – Taylor, courtesy Francesca Maffeo Gallery